5 Things Working in Business Taught Me About Writing

Last month I found myself in a little cafe in Brussels with four artists, discussing an upcoming art exhibition at which I was going to do a reading. One of the artists asked me whether I agreed with the view that once a writer has committed creative ideas fresh from his brain to paper, he should leave them in this raw state. It was on the tip of my tongue to retort that my agent would have a heart attack if I did this! I didn’t say it, however, because I was pretty sure that the artists would be shocked at the suggestion that creative work be polished for the marketplace. Guest column by Helen Grant, who was born in London. Her first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was shortlisted for both the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the Carnegie Medal in the UK. She now lives in Brussels with her family and two cats. Delacorte Press will publish her second novel, The Glass Demon, in 2011.
Author:
Publish date:

Last month I found myself in a little cafe in Brussels with four artists, discussing an upcoming art exhibition at which I was going to do a reading. One of the artists asked me whether I agreed with the view that once a writer has committed creative ideas fresh from his brain to paper, he should leave them in this raw state. It was on the tip of my tongue to retort that my agent would have a heart attack if I did this! I didn’t say it, however, because I was pretty sure that the artists would be shocked at the suggestion that creative work be polished for the marketplace.

Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title

Guest column by Helen Grant, who was born in London.
Her first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was
shortlisted for both the Booktrust Teenage Prize and
the Carnegie Medal in the UK. She now lives in Brussels
with her family and two cats. Delacorte Press will publish
her second novel, The Glass Demon, in 2011.

The conversation got me thinking. Creativity and business sense don’t have to be at odds. Before I became an author, I spent over a decade working in consumer marketing, and many of the things which I learnt from my days in business have been as much use to me as a writer as the many books I have enjoyed and inspiring experiences I have had. This is what working in business taught me about writing.


1. CHOOSE YOUR TARGET

It’s tough starting out as a writer. The agent who eventually took me on receives about 15,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year and only takes on a handful of new authors. The odds are against you, so don’t make things any worse by submitting material in the wrong format or sending it to an agent or publisher who doesn’t deal with that kind of work. You wouldn’t market babyfood to seniors—so don’t send a romance novel to someone who only takes on crime. Pick your target.

2. INVESTBUT INVEST WISELY

Some of my friends are surprised that I had to fund things like my own author website—I guess they thought my publisher would pay for "all that." In fact, since I began writing I have personally invested in travel (for research and for initial meetings with my publisher), website design, launch events, promotional materials and book trailers. Because I am paying for these things myself, I cost them very carefully, look for the most cost effective suppliers, and always ask myself whether they are going to pay back in terms of increased sales or awareness. If not, why do them?

3. BE DISCIPLINED

When I worked in marketing, I had to be at my desk before 9 a.m. and I was often there long after 5 p.m. Now I write from 8 a.m. until 12.30 p.m. or 3 p.m., depending on what time my kids’ school day ends. The great Victorian writer Anthony Trollope, who got up at 5.30 a.m. every day to write before going to work for the post office, said: "There are those ... who think that the man who works with his imagination should allow himself to wait till—inspiration moves him ... I was once told that the surest aid to the writing of a book was a piece of cobbler��s wax on my chair. I certainly believe in the cobbler’s wax much more than the inspiration." Trollope wrote 47 novels, of which most are still in print over a century later.

4. BE GREAT TO WORK WITH

It’s no different from working in an office; your colleagues would like you to be cheerful, productive, meet your deadlines or flag problems up before the deadline has been missed. I’ve worked with office prima donnas and also with people who can’t be relied on to do their bit on time for a project that affects a lot of departments. It’s dispiriting. Don’t give anyone a reason to think that they would be happier if they didn’t have to work with you any more.

5. TAKE CRITICISM GRACEFULLY

When I was a junior marketing assistant, I once worked with a boss who would call me into her office to discuss a report it had taken me a whole week to produce, and have her red pen out ready to scribble all over it before she had even read the title page. She just assumed that whatever I produced would not be the way she wanted it. Being a junior, I couldn’t show anger at this. I have never had any agent, editor or copyeditor be as harshly critical as that manager was. By comparison, it’s quite easy to accept constructive criticism of my writing by a friendly editor; after all, the aim is to produce a better book at the end. Perhaps if I ever run into that manager again, I should thank her...

Image placeholder title

The quickest way to get an agent's attention
is a professional submission. That's why you need
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, 3rd. Ed.

It has dozens of query letter examples (novels,
nonfiction, short stories, kids books and more).


Payal Doshi: On Letting Rejection Bring You Clarity

Payal Doshi: On Letting Rejection Bring You Clarity

Middle-grade author Payal Doshi discusses the sometimes-disheartening process of querying a novel and how she used rejection to fuel her passion for writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Writer’s Digest Conference Announcements and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce that our 2021 Annual Conference will be virtual, registration is open for our 2021 in-person Novel Conference, and more!

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

In this article, middle-grade author Rajani LaRocca discusses how the synopsis for her newest release, Much Ado About Baseball, guided her writing process.

From Script

Adding Your Personal Connection to Your Stories and Building Your Brand As a Writer (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, Script’s Editor Sadie Dean interviews Dickinson creator/showrunner/EP Alena Smith, learn how to divide and conquer as screenwriter in the business and creating fruitful relationships. Plus, a brand new Script Talk video interview with writer/director/actress Djaka Souaré about her journey as a mentor and mentee in the WOCUnite and #StartWith8Hollywood mentorship programs.

Poetic Forms

Englyn Penfyr: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the englyn penfyr, a Welsh tercet form.

Editorial Road-Mapping: Start Your Self-Editing Process Here

Editorial Road-Mapping: Start Your Self-Editing Process Here

Editorial road-mapping begins with a challenge of willpower and ends with a battle-plan for transforming your manuscript into the book you dreamed it could be. Let editor Kris Spisak give you that map!

6 Tips for Writing a Summer Romance Novel

6 Tips for Writing a Summer Romance Novel

Summer. Three whole months of bright sunsets and glittering water and endless possibility. Here are 6 tips from romance writer Rachael Lippincott for capturing a tiny bit of that magic in the pages of your next summer romance novel.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Running Empty

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Running Empty

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, consider what happens when resources begin to run low or out.

5 Tips for Creating a Fully Realized Historical Setting

5 Tips for Creating a Fully Realized Historical Setting

Research is more than just reading books and articles. Here, author Nekesa Afia gives her top 5 tips for writing a historical setting that will engage and wow your readers.