There are so many things I want to tell you.
They range from the practical - don't get too attached to that expensive new handbag, it's just going to fall apart in the middle of a Boston subway station during rush hour, six months after you bought it (and yes, you'll survive the humiliation and the hordes of irritated onlookers, but you'll never find the sunglasses that fell out) - to the vital - when you're wondering if it's worth going out of your way to do something that will make your partner's life fuller or happier or easier: yes, the answer is always, always yes.
But I'm supposed to concentrate on writing, and I know that's the thing you dearly want to hear about, so I'll do my best to stay on topic.
You're a study in contradictions, now, so full of hope and fear. That's perfect, believe it or not, because you're going to need the good and the hard to survive. Here's what I've learned, six years down the line (in outline form, of course):
- You are simultaneously better than you fear you are, and not nearly as good as you hope to be. So believe in yourself, and while you're at it, go to those writing classes you've been wondering about. Go to more than you can afford, and more than you think you need. Even if the class isn't good (which is rare), you’ll always take away at least one lesson, one gem of wisdom or craft that will inspire and aid you, and often you’ll take away many more.
- Hold on to that belief in yourself, that precious conviction that you'll succeed. You're going to need it when you:
- Learn as much about the industry as possible. The information will be depressing at best and terrifying at worst, but don't shy away from it; you need to know it. Yes, all of it: the gloom and doom, the predictions about the end of art and culture, the harsh truths of how much (or little) authors make.
- Now that you've faced reality, remember that belief in yourself. Pick it up off of the ground where it fell in despair, dust it off, and hold it close. You'll find that it's stronger now, and one day, it will be able to pick you up when you fall, and carry you.
- And you'll need that, because the rejections will roll in, great bruising waves of them, and you're going to have to figure out how to get back up when they bowl you over, and keep writing, anyway.
- Keep writing. Even when it's impossible, even when it's killing you, it will always be your greatest joy and best hope.
- Be patient. No, I really mean this. Be patient. You've learned from your research that the publishing industry moves at a snail's pace – and that’s on good days - so there's nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, from rushing.
- No, your manuscript isn't finished yet, no matter how anxious you are to start querying. See #7 above.
- Listen to your gut. Your CPs and beta readers will be invaluable, and will help you more than you can imagine, but when they're done and you're sitting with a "finished" draft, only you will know if it's truly finished.
- No, your manuscript isn't finished yet, no matter how encouraging your readers are. See #s 7 and 8 above.
- Be kind to yourself. You're going to make many mistakes as you learn, and being angry with yourself for making them is going to accomplish exactly nothing. So stop it. Cultivate compassion for yourself instead.
- Take all of that extra energy you have now that you're not wasting it on criticizing yourself, and use it to be vigilant and unrelenting about protecting your writing time. No one - not even the people you love the most, and often especially not them - is going to do it for you.
- Yes, your manuscript wasn't finished when you started sending it out. That's OK. See #11 above, then learn from it and move on.
- Other writers are not competition; they're community. They're honest and generous and talented, and building relationships with them will only help you. You'll have people to talk to who understand you, and even without the other benefits - skilled critiques, enthusiastic support, hard-won wisdom and advice - that alone is worth its weight in gold.
I'm running over my word limit (yes, you'll continue to overwrite; just resign yourself to a lifetime of editing), so I'll leave you with my unending support, and a true belief that you’ll succeed. I believe in you, and that's saying something.
- Liz Blocker
I give permission for my entry to be included in the e-book compilation without royalties and/or separate compensation.