“7 Things I’ve Learned So Far” (this installment written by Kristen Lepionka, author of The Last Place You Look) is a recurring column where writers at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction, as well as how they got their literary agent—by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
1. There’s No One “Right Way”
What works for someone might not work for you, and that’s okay. But the world—specifically, the Internet—is full of people, and they all have suggestions. Some are good, some not, and lots of them are conflicting. Try to take it all in stride and trust yourself when it comes to deciding what is right for you. And try not to compare your journey to anyone else’s journey through the wild world of publishing. It will only gunk up the gears and make producing good work even harder. This applies to every step of the way: writing, querying, submitting … even after signing a book deal. Just focus on you, and doing the best writing of your life.
This guest post is by Kristen Lepionka. Lepionka is the author of THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK, forthcoming in Spring 2017 from St. Martin’s/Minotaur Books. She grew up mostly in a public library and could often be found in the adult mystery section well before she was out of middle school. Her writing has been selected for Shotgun Honey, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grift, and Black Elephant. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats. She is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.
2. Don’t Wait Around for Inspiration
Most of us have had a project that wrote itself. We sat at our computers, bathed in gentle sunlight, surrounded by many leather-bound books, and brilliant words flowed from our fingertips like we were mere conduits for the Big Idea™. Wouldn’t it be nice if all projects went like that? Well … they don’t. Inspiration isn’t nearly as important as hard work. Put in the work, and the ideas will come.
3. Be Patient
Patience, allegedly, is a virtue. It’s one that I do not possess. But being a writer requires that we fake it, at least. There’s a lot of waiting involved in the publishing process. Waiting to hear from agents on your query. Waiting to hear from other agents once you have an offer of representation. Waiting for your agent to read your revisions. Waiting for editors to read your manuscript once you’re on submission. Waiting for your contract, your cover, your pub date, your next pub date—in a sense, the publishing process is essentially a series of increasingly intense periods of waiting. Learn to embrace it, because it isn’t going to change. Refreshing your inbox every 2 minutes will not, unfortunately, yield results any faster. But practicing (or faking) patience instead opens up a whole lot of time to be productive and write your next masterpiece.
4. Find Your People
This one goes out to the introverts in the back: You’re going to need people to make this thing work! Lots of people: critique partners, beta readers, your agent, editor, publicist, writer friends, conference attendees, etc. You can’t do this alone, and really, you won’t want to. A community of other writers to bounce ideas off of is priceless. Not a joiner? It’s okay: You don’t have to become a card-carrying Toastmaster in order to find a community. Online ones totally count. Consider entering a contest like Pitch Wars, which comes with a built-in community (also which, as a former mentee and current mentor, I’d be lost without). Great things happen when you expand your circle and put yourself out there.
5. Get Your Sh*t Together
You have to be organized: your writing process, your deadlines, your events, your expenses, etc. It’ll make you more efficient right now, and save time and frustration later when, say, you have to file your taxes or be somewhere on time. Not an organized person by nature? I hear you: “Chaos is creativity! Also, entropy!” Yes. I know. Being organized is boring and hard for a lot of us. But figure out what works for you. Maybe it’s a spreadsheet. Maybe it’s a fancy planner. Maybe it’s a bunch of alarms in your phone. Maybe it’s a list that you handwrite on your arm every morning. It doesn’t matter, as long as it works to keep you on top of things.
6. Take Yourself Seriously
You know the old adage about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have? Well, same goes for writers, except not about clothes (we all know that sweatpants are the appropriate writing uniform). Act like you have the career you aspire to. Don’t sell yourself short and introduce yourself as an “aspiring writer.” Don’t hide under a cloak of self-deprecation and aw-shucks-little-old-me embarrassment when talking to someone about your work. (I constantly struggle with this one.) Be brave. Say you’re a writer, because you are one. When someone asks about your book, don’t say two words and melt into the wallpaper—tell them about your book! Invest both time and money in your career, because you’re a professional, and you’re worth it.
7. Keep Moving
Above all, you have to keep coming up with ideas. Even when you feel bogged down by all of the above—especially then—you still should be looking ahead to the next thing. Celebrate accomplishments and milestones, and take time to recharge as needed, but keep moving forward. Your future self will thank you.
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