7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Emmy Laybourne

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Emmy Laybourne, author of MONUMENT 14. GIVEAWAY: Emmy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lina won.)
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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Emmy Laybourne, author of MONUMENT 14) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent -- by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: Emmy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lina won.)

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Emmy Laybourne is a novelist, lyricist, and actress. She has
acted in movies, television, and improv groups including Chicago
City Limits and UCB. She lives in Chestnut Ridge, New York, with
her husband and their two children. MONUMENT 14 marks her
fiction debut. The trailer for Monument 14 features an original song.
A companion piece to Monument 14 can currently be found at
Tor.com. It’s called "Dress Your Marines In White" and it’s free!

1. I only write if have at least 2 hours in front of me. Most days, it takes me at least 45 minutes to calm down my mind and get ready to write. It’s a horrible 45 minutes, during which time the temptation to check emails and answer phone messages is nearly unbearable. But if I can wait it out, I will eventually find my way into the core of my own creativity.

Now, if I do all that suffering and finally get there and the words start to flow and then all of a sudden I have to stop because, say, it’s time to pick my kids up from school, or I have a dentist appointment, or I have to go have lunch with some dearly beloved friend – it makes me want to gouge my heart out.

That’s why I leave myself at least two hours to write – preferably four or even six.

(How long should you wait before following up with an agent?)

2. I write five days a week. When I am working on a novel, if I do not give it a certain amount of my bandwidth, I lose momentum. I think of it this way: I’ve asked a group of characters to come and hang around me while I tell a story about what is happening to them. I owe them my attention. It’s sort of like inviting guests to a party – if I don’t pay attention to them, they get bored and wander off.

Now, this is not to say that I write 5 days a week every week! No, I have to take weeks off at a time when I need to prepare for a book launch or a play reading.

But if I’m focusing on writing a novel, I try to clear my schedule as best I can so that I can not only write 5 days a week, but also:

3. I write at the same time each day. That way the party guests know when to show up! I used to know a comedy improviser who did eight shows a week in a big Off-Broadway improv company. He said that at 7:55 every night, whether he was working or not, he’d start to get an adrenaline rush and mind would suddenly sharpen up. You can train yourself to work that way too. Come 9 a.m., your ideas will start flowing, if you’ve started writing every weekday at 9 am for a month.

I happen to like writing in the morning. That’s when I have the most juice. I try not to do “office work” like answering emails or, ahem, writing blog posts in the morning. But I don’t want to spend my best stuff on emails and witty FB messages!

4. I don’t judge until it is time to edit. When I was working as an actor, I used to reserve a chair for my inner Critic. (Yeah, with a capital C.) I would rehearse the scene and then I’d sit down in the chair and review the scene as the critic, “Wow, you’re never going to get this part! You’re too old for it and why are you making your voice all dopey like that? They’d be crazy to hire you and your pants are horrible.” Then I’d stand up and turn and face the Critic chair and defend myself. “Screw you!” I’d shout. “I could totally book this and my voice sounds great and I’m only 28 and these pants are awesome!”

Then I’d go change my pants and ace the audition.

I don’t let that creepy Critic sit down with me when I start to write. My desk chair just isn’t big enough for the two of us.

5. I eat three meals a day with protein. Writing is hard. It takes brain power! A salad or a slice of pizza just ain’t gonna do it.

6. I don’t watch shows with “Real” or “Housewife” in the title. Because they make me sad and because I have better things to do. Like making soup. Or reading novels in my genre. Or giving myself paper-cuts. I’m being snarky, but the truth is that we tend to think of TV as something that entertains us – and gives us something, but I think it takes more than it gives. That wired, drained feeling I get after watching TV for a couple hours – I don’t like it. Plus, there’s so much reading to do!

(What to write in the BIO section of your query letter.)

7. I woolgather. Sometimes I’m too hard on myself. This is a trait I suspect I share with everyone on the planet. And today, with email and Facebook and so much media at our disposal every second of the day, I think we don’t allow ourselves the vague, do-nothing, star-gazing time that human beings need. So I walk.

Walking satisfies that part of my personality that always wants to be engaged and active and productive, but it’s a trick. The part of my brain I’m feeding is the dreaming part. The woolgathering part. When I think of woolgathering, I imagine a little Shepard girl wandering the mountains and plucking tufts of wool off bushes and brambles. That’s the kind of walking I love the best and I always find bits of wool along my way, if I keep my focus soft. Bits of dialogue. Phrases to describe scenery. Actions my characters are destined to perform. That’s my favorite – suddenly my characters come to tell me things they’re going to do that shock and surprise me, yet seem totally inevitable.

GIVEAWAY: Emmy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Lina won.)

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