October 26, 2008
I’m a writer of historical romance; my 15th book for Harlequin Historicals (Templar Knight, Forbidden Bride) was just released and now I’m beginning another medieval historical romance. Looking back on where I started as a raw beginner, I wish I’d known some things besides spelling and grammar:
1. The importance of reading–both in my own chosen historical romance genre and outside of it–especially nonfiction, literary fiction, and how-to books (for example, How To Write a Damn Good Novel (James Frey); How To Make a Good Novel Great (Linda Seger). How other writers handle sticky issues of point of view or pacing can be terrifically helpful; it also helps to keep up with what publishing houses are buying which genres. This changes through the years-- lines get dropped, new lines start!
2. Advantages of joining an advanced critique group, with published authors. I suffered, being a beginner, but I learned fast and saved a lot of learning-curve time. I also wish someone had warned me about “toxic” groups, the ones where you generally feel worse after the session instead of encouraged and fired up. This can be pretty subtle; women in particular tend to take harsh criticism as “something is lacking in Me.”
3. The value of workshops, conferences and writing classes, not only to learn the craft of writing and current trends in fiction, but to establish a network of writing friends and at least talking-relationships with some editors.
4. The importance of the basics of grammar and punctuation. Poor English will get a manuscript rejected faster than anything else. I keep Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition and Jan Venolia’s Write Right on my bookshelf.
5. Learning to read rejection letters between the lines. When a rejection letter is a “real” letter, as opposed to a form letter, there’s much that can be gleaned. A hand-scribbled “Sorry” note at the top is really a compliment. A “not our cup of tea, but send something else” is to die for.
6. The importance of writing every day, even in small blocks of time. Even 10-minute blocks of time every day are precious. If you wrote 1 single page every day for a year, you’d have a 365-page novel by the year’s end. Two pages per day = six months.
7. How to laugh and maintain perspective. Writing is easy (someone said); you just sit at your typewriter until the blood stands out on your forehead. And: writing is not magic. Magic is not magic, either.