To celebrate her third blogiversary, Carrie Butler is hosting a blogfest about how authors have found their path. Over sixty authors are writing notes to themselves when they were first starting out on their journey. Please visit the list on Carrie’s blog to see what people came up with. I am excited to contribute my voice to the chorus.
Here is my note to myself:
Listen To all voices. Follow your own.
It may feel like you are blindly wandering down your writing path, but you have a good sense of direction. Trust yourself and learn what you need to know along the way. Don’t mistake inexperience for ignorance. Read every book on the craft of writing you can find. Take notes and revisit your favorite guidebooks often. Put yourself out there and join critique groups. They won’t all work out, but some will. Look for words of wisdom wherever you can. Listen to every voice you can hear, but don’t ignore the voice inside your own head.
You will encounter many conflicting voices along your path to publication. Most of them fall into one of three groups – friends and family, critique partners, and teachers. Your friends and family love you. They may not love what you write. You can’t let the fear of upsetting people hobble you. If you’re worried that Aunt Matilda will recognize herself in one of your characters, you won’t be able to write as authentically as you should. Some family members will not be supportive. They will worry that your book about a cheating husband that gives his wife an STD will be misconstrued as being autobiographical and reflecting poorly on them. Write the book anyway. They will be much more enthusiastic about your next book that has to do with child abuse, cancer, and friendship. You can’t hold back. Write what you feel compelled to write. Aunt Matilda doesn’t need your approval before deciding which houses she will list as a real estate broker. You do not need her approval when you are planning your plots. Listen to your love one’s opinions, then close your office door, and write your book.
The path from concept to finished book can be a long, lonely journey. You will need to commiserate with other writers about the frustrations and joys of the writing process. A critique group can keep you going when you are stuck in the murky middle of a project. That being said, choose your friends wisely. Don’t share your early drafts with just anyone. Look for critique partners that are in similar places in their writing careers, write similar types of books, and can give non-judgmental critiques. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a group that isn’t serious about improving their writing or isn’t supportive of you as a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you how your book “should” be, especially before it is fully realized. Look for those few people that can nurture you with constructive criticism and have the wisdom to help you hone your own voice.
You will make many mistakes along your writing path, and you will make many more. One mistake to be careful of is allowing your insecurity to allow you to take bad advice solely because you are paying for the advice. Don’t go on that intensive three-day workshop where four authors send in the first fifty pages of a work-in-progress and the instructor rips your manuscripts apart. It will be brutal and set you back for over a year. Don’t believe the teacher when she tells you that if you want to write women’s fiction, a romance needs to be the central part of the plot, the main character has to be young, and you can’t have the main character get diagnosed with cancer. You know better. Look at your bookshelves and see all the books that do not conform to those strictures. Not all advice is good advice. Take the nuggets of truth in her advice and leave the other stuff behind. Do keep all of your class notes though. Sometimes it’s hard to absorb all the information coming at you. After you’re finished licking your wounds from that weekend, take the intention behind the instructors words to heart and make sure you temper the darker parts of your work with humor. Go ahead and write about difficult subjects but make sure there is a light to balance out the darkness. A dark chocolate torte is enhanced by a little whipped cream and strawberries on the side. Seek out as many good teachers as you can. Listen to what they have to say, then make your own decisions. Study your genre like you would any other topic. Instead of writing what someone else thinks you should write, write a good book and then figure out where it fits in within a larger genre.
You will always be a student of writing. Look for wisdom wherever you can find it. Everyone has something to offer. Learn to listen to all the voices through the filter of your own vision.
Author of How To Climb The Eiffel Tower (10/14)
permission granted to use my entry in ebook compilation