Do you ever wish you could go back and have a chat with “Baby Writer You?” I think about that sometimes, about the things I’d tell that shiny, awkward, clueless soul.
But like parenting or dating, or any other hands-on life thing, you have to figure it out for yourself. Like learning how to adult, until you really get the hang of it, you don’t know how much you don’t know.
Besides, shiny “New Writer You” wouldn’t believe you anyway.
So logical, practical advice only then. Advice that even clueless Baby Writer Me could relate to…
1. It gets harder.
A few *cough* decades ago, I listened to an audiotape (on cassette!) of Nora Roberts in a Q&A session. When asked what she wished she had known when she began, she answered: “It gets harder. It gets harder. It gets harder.”
This is the biggest oxymoron of our chosen path.
As the writing itself gets easier, the writing life gets harder. You have higher standards, more pro-writer tricks up your sleeve, and many more demands on your time as you try to execute those stellar skills.
If you are published, and earning a living as a writer, there are demanding deadlines to adhere to. If you are unpublished, or not quite able to quit your day job, you have a double set of deadlines – those from the day job and those from your writing life.
In each of those scenarios, you have the rest of your world clamoring for attention too: kids, spouses, parents, volunteer commitments.
I truly believe this is why most writers have an insatiable caffeine addiction. We need the extra zing to juggle all those flaming commitments while still nurturing the creative juggernaut in our brains who sends out the stories.
Perhaps that’s why so many of us write in our pajamas. It’s our little rebellion against all that adulting Grown-up Writer Us has to do.
2. Story trumps everything.
She’s quoted in this Jerry Jenkins piece, explaining how and why story is the most important element of any story.
What grabs readers isn’t beautiful writing, a rip-roaring plot, or surface drama; what grabs readers is what gives those things their meaning and power: the story itself.
And so first you have to create the story, which doesn’t start on page one, but long before it. Because the story is not about an external plot-level change. The story is about an internal change — a change that the protagonist enters the story already needing to make. Thus the protagonist walks onto the first page with a long standing driving desire — an agenda — that she hasn’t been able to achieve because an equally long standing misbelief (about human nature) stands in her way.
And here’s the last thing I wish I’d known: backstory is the most fundamental, present, and meaningful foundation of the story. Or as Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
Bonus: I highly recommend reading that entire Jerry Jenkins list when you are done here. Forty established authors and writing instructors answer the question asked by the title of this post: Writing Tips 40 Experts Wish They’d Known as Beginners.
3. Done is better than good.
Stories like Fifty Shades of Grey really brought this home to me. The writing doesn’t have to be brilliant. It just has to contain themes that are relatable and universal.
And the book has to be done so people can buy it and experience it for themselves.
Despite Anastasia’s penchant for saying “Holy Crap!” and her preoccupation with her “inner goddess” (not to mention Christian’s preoccupation with bondage), millions of people downloaded this book.
Why? Because the story had a compelling hook. The story grabbed them, and the author kept upping the stakes so they would stay glued to the page.
At its heart, Fifty Shades was a love story, not a spanking story. Mega-agent Donald Maass pointed out that, “The prose is plain.” and “The unfolding of Anastasia and Christian’s relationship happens mostly through dialogue.” In other words, it was easy to read.
Yet, most of the writers I know couldn’t read it. Probably because of those skills in their writing toolbox, etc. They couldn’t see that the finished compelling story trumped the beautiful sentences we all strive for.
As important as those sentences are to us, Fifty Shades proved that the readers couldn’t care less. Pretty sentences don’t feed their reading addiction, story does.
Bonus: Donald Maass and Lisa Cron – both amazing teachers – analyze Fifty Shades across three posts. The links to all three are here.
4. Find your peeps.
No one else will understand the joy of writing classes and conferences or the addictive frenzy of NaNoWriMo. Get some writing pals so you can experience these things with friends who will share your giddy happiness.
Plus, when the going gets tough — and it will — it’s your writing friends who will help carry you through those hard times until things get fun again.
We’re writers…we LOVE fun.
5. Give back, to others and yourself.
For most of us behind the scenes here at WITS, this blog is one of the ways we pay forward all the help and advice we were given during our newbie stage.
Although the writing world is small, it is easy to get lost, particularly for introverts. Volunteering and giving to others is one way to expand your writing world and to join hands with others. If you do that often enough, you will end up with your own set of writing peeps!
But what about giving back to yourself?
Exercise and proper nutrition and hydration are the simplest ways to give back to yourself. Sure, it’s hard to get motivated. (And put on makeup. Or pants.) But you’ll feel better if you do.
Continuous learning is another fantastic way to give back to yourself. It expands your knowledge and your network.
It might be a conference you go to every year, an online class or an active Facebook group, but DO expand your own knowledge. It will tap into your inner superhero, and help you tell better stories.
I’ll leave you with this quote by Ray Bradbury, one of my faves.
Bonus: If you need more Bradbury quotes, we have a whole post on him.
What advice would you give to “Baby Writer You?” Is there a piece of advice you were given that really resonated? Share it in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.