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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Olivia Newport

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 Olivia Newport. GIVEAWAY: Olivia 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: Kaylyn won.)

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Olivia Newport, author of THE PURSUIT OF LUCY BANNING) 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: Olivia 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: Kaylyn won.)

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Olivia Newport's novels twist through time to discover where
faith and passions meet. She chases joy in Colorado at the foot
of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is. Her
husband and two twentysomething children are welcome
distractions from the people stomping through her head
on their way into her books. Find her on Twitter or on Facebook.
Her latest book is the May 2012 historical romance,
THE PURSUIT OF LUCY BANNING (Revell).

1. Take the long way. Shortcuts rarely pay off when it comes to research and preparation. Grabbing a quick fact here and there results in an unpersuasive random sensation in the finished text—which then turns out not to be finished after all. Writing is about more than crafting and reshaping the words that make it to screen or paper. It’s about wisely sifting the possibilities of what to write about in the first place.

2. Be your own nemesis. Writing leaves little time for preening. Criticize yourself. Someone else is going to do it anyway. Being tough on yourself is your best defensive move. Even when you’ve written something to be proud of, outline three ways it could be better.

(How many agents should you contact at one time?)

3. Unpeel the truth. Just because something happened in real life doesn’t mean it belongs in your novel. The catalyzing event is more likely to become the germ of a character’s experience, rather than a verbatim account. The final value may be emotional or spiritual, rather than factual. The truth the novelist seeks goes beyond accurate details.

4. Play chess well. Think three plays ahead. Or four. Or six. How is your character going to respond to the next event you plan to drop into the plot, and how will you counter that reaction by upping the tension? Anyone can learn the rote rules for moving a bishop or a rook or a knight, but the winner patiently waits for the angles to converge.

5. Sign your work. One valuable reason to write multiple manuscripts before trying to publish is pumping up your novelist muscles. Your own review, or the opinions of a few trusted readers, may reveal signature strengths that you can employ strategically in the manuscript you finally sell. Do you excel at creating tension? Unpredictable plot complications? Sympathetic characters? Suspense? Romance? Historical detail? Rather than rushing toward the exuberance of seeing your name on a book, relish the satisfaction of leaving a particular, distinguishing mark.

(Literary agents share helpful advice for new writers.)

6. Wear a consistent hat size. Admire, analyze, and adjust, but don’t compare. Avoid reading the work of other authors and thinking you could do sooo much better. If you like an author’s writing, articulate what you can learn from it for your own work. If you don’t like it, be specific about what disappointed. From every reading experience, find the takeaway that will make your own writing stronger. No matter your degree of success, keep a level head about steady hard work.

7. Stuff cards up your sleeve. Always have something else to move on to. The market is not always ripe for the idea you have, and you can’t expend all your creative energy dragging it around from agent to editor. Or you may get 20,000 words into a project and realize the trajectory is into the dumpster. Move on. When you do sell a project, be ready with six more ideas. Always have something up your sleeve that you’d love to write.

GIVEAWAY: Olivia 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: Kaylyn won.)

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Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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