October 26, 2008

Seven Helpful Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was a Beginning Writer

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.


Eliza Knight said...

Fabulous list! Your books are wonderful, congrats on another release!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

I love the list....simple and to the point. And easy to remember. Thanks for sharing them with us.

~Anna Kathryn

Ginger Simpson said...

Thanks for sharing so I can see that I'm on the right track. I'm already doing many of the things you wished you'd done...now if I can just achieve your same status. *lol*


Phyllis Campbell said...

Well...at least I know I'm on the right track. Maybe it'll happen for me someday. (crossing fingers) Thanks for the tips!


Abbey MacInnis said...

What an excellent list. :-) All great points to keep in mind. :-)

Anne Carrole said...

Agree with all those things--especially writing every day--which I'm off to do now!

Penelope West said...

Wish I'd known some of those things on your list! I do and have done some of them, but others ... well, let's just say I have something to work on there! Thanks for your tips.

Kristi Ahlers said...

See I love this list because I actually do some of the things mentioned! It's good to know that my instincts are somewhat on track...Thanks so much for sharing!

Lynna Banning said...

Ginger and others,
You are already on the publishing track since (1) you're working at your writing, and (2) you are already following some of these suggestions.

Another thing I wish I'd done when I was starting off is find a published-author mentor the instant I put a word on the first page. I finally did meet up with one, and by that time I had the whole manuscript finished. She read it and her [absolutely million-dollar] advice was: "Get one step closer to your characters" by which she meant (I know NOW) use "deep point of view." I could have saved myself a whole rewrite if I'd heard such advice earlier. But I did rewrite,
and sold my first book!

Mentors (not friends, but writers)
are invaluable.

Lynna Banning said...

I don't mean to be a balloon-popper here, but one thing I had to learn is that "it" was not going to "happen for me" like a ray of sunshine falling from heaven. I had to MAKE it happen
by working hard and sometimes listening to advice it was hard to hear; what I wanted in early critique situations was "I love it" comments. Until someone said "Get over it" and I began to really listen.

Writing can be very humbling.

Gerri Bowen said...

Those are great tips, especially going for the deep POV. Thank you, Lynna.

Donna Hatch said...

Great advice! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Can't wait until I can say my 15th book has just been released!