7 Things I've Learned So Far: Joanne Brothwell

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 Joanne Brothwell. GIVEAWAY: Joanne 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: Simeon 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 Joanne Brothwell, author of STEALING BREATH) 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: Joanne 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: Simeon won.)

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Joanne Brothwell is the author of STEALING BREATH, a
paranormal romance from Crescent Moon Press (March 2012).
Find Joanne's blog here. Also, you can find Joanne on Twitter.

1. Learn The Craft. This is advice I wish I’d listened to before diving into writing my first novel, head-first. Instead, I wrote the first draft and then started to learn about writing. Tip: this method is painful. If I’d put that time into learning the craft instead of just powering ahead, I would have saved myself innumerable hours wasted on revision. Or was it time wasted? Perhaps, it wasn’t all a waste. Learning how to write after the first draft may have its advantages. Firstly, I had more of an investment in learning the information (I had a manuscript I wanted to sell), plus I had the ability to put the learning into practice (on my manuscript). So, um, ignore this advice. Just write.

2. Revise. Be prepared to revise, rework and rewrite that manuscript. Being a writer includes a great deal of time consuming, non-creative work, and the sooner we accept that, the closer we are to having a product that might just sell. First drafts are the fast, easy part (Well, not that fast!), but the revisions go on for long after those final words are typed on the last page. Hunker down and revise.

Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to be wrong. Let go of the heart-wrenchingly difficulty scene that took us three weeks to write, remove the perfectly fleshed-out character we love, or the delete the terrifying monster we were convinced was our greatest brain-child ever. When I’ve admitted to cutting 50,000 words in one sitting, people are amazed. What? Why? It hurts, yes. It’s disheartening. But sometimes, it’s essential to making the story work. Don’t get too invested in anything, keep an impartial, detached attitude about your book. This is business. If it doesn’t work, cut it, end of story.

(Adapt your book into a movie script -- here's how.)

3. Seek out critiques. I have to admit, I hate critiques. I absolutely loathe them. When I get a critique in my Inbox, it usually sits there for a day before I can even open the document. When I read through it, I’m typically screaming profanities in my mind the entire time. After, I turn off my computer and vow to delete the person from my Facebook account immediately. Instead, I tell my husband what an evil individual they are, cry a little, and sleep on it. The next day, I get up and get working on the revisions.

It’s quite possible those harsh words will come up later if your manuscript ever makes it to an editor’s desk, so rather than get stuck on being defensive and stubbornly sticking to your guns, why not save yourself the time? Which brings me to the next point.

4. Don’t be defensive. Defensiveness is a roadblock to communication, and sometimes when we defend our little baby (our manuscript) too much, we inadvertently silence the person from providing potentially valuable feedback. Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of being asked for feedback, only to have it met with reasons why the feedback is incorrect or worse yet, a hostile reaction? We all want to be right, and have a need to be seen as competent, but we have to check our egos at the door. Instead, be open and listen. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

5. Listen to your gut. This point may seem contrary to the previous two, but I need to put it in so we stay true to ourselves! Along the way I had a lot of unsolicited advice and opinions from friends, family and other writers, and if I’d listened to it all, my novel would be completely unrecognizable. I always listen carefully to advice, mull it over for a few days, and then extract the information that is useful to me, and leave the rest. The heart of my story has stayed the same, even from that very first draft. I knew from the beginning it was a story I yearned to read myself, and that was the story I wrote, despite the advice. My gut kept me on track.

(What does it mean when an agent says "This isn't right for me"?)

6. Seek out opportunities. Don’t be a wallflower. If you’re an introvert like me, stop it! I’m sure most writers enjoy their alone time, but if you want your career to move forward, shyness is not a virtue. If you are shy, pretend to be an extrovert, it works! Fake it ‘til you make it, baby. Join writer’s groups and talk. Enter contests and put your work and yourself out there. Go to conferences and promote your book and make sure you chat up industry people, such as super-cool editors (Chuck of the GLA blog!). Who knows what can happen. One day you may just end up on a very reputable blog!

Recently I attended two conventions where I promoted my book like a wild woman. I pitched it to every reader I came across, every blogger, to a movie producer; I even plugged it with a movie star! Yes – you heard that correctly – I told Kat Graham of the Vampire Diaries about my book! Kat was not only interested, but she also asked for a promotional postcard so she could buy it!

My point? Kat Graham would have never have heard of my book if I’d been a shrinking violet.

7. Always, always put your loved ones first. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Writing can very easily become all-consuming, the way it sucks up time and brain space. If we’re not careful, our passion in life can become the enemy to our friends and family members. Whenever I hear my children complain about my computer being more important to me than them, I know I need to scale the writing time back and ramp up my real life. Besides, who wants to be a one-dimensional person? Live your life, and enjoy it; and the added side benefit is that your writing will reflect your real-life, well-rounded existence.

GIVEAWAY: Joanne 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: Simeon won.)

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If you're interested in a variety of my resources on your
journey to securing an agent, don't forget to check
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