This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned
So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk
about seven things they’ve learned along their writing
journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Lara
her first novel, The Hero. When she’s not writing,
she works as the publications coordinator at
Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Lara is a graduate
of Boston University and the University of Chicago.
Visit Lara online at LaraEhrlich.com.
1. We can learn from writers at all stages, not just from published authors, editors,
and agents. I have learned the most about my own writing from participating in
a critique group with my fellow unpublished writer friends. Amazingly enough, almost
everyone stumbles over the very same issues. After helping your friends work through
their sticky spots, you’ll be able to spot these same problems in your own work, and
you’ll know how to fix them. Which leads directly into #2…
2. Make friends. Sure, the actual process of writing is solitary, but the profession
doesn’t have to be. Go out there and meet other writers. Form critique groups, take
classes, e-mail authors whose work you admire. It’s so incredibly helpful and uplifting
to have a group of people who are going through the same issues you are, and who can
relate to your work, your angst, and your obsession.
3. Write a complete first draft before revising, and for the love of God, don’t
show anyone your rough first chapters! Readers are so helpful once you have a
first draft and you know your story. But when you’ve only got 20 pages and a hazy
idea for a plot, your book could still go in any direction. It could become something
completely different, and you won’t know what it is until you get there. So get there,
4. It’s OK to follow tangents. I’m a firm believer in tight plots and flabby
first drafts. For that first draft (the one we’ve agreed you won’t share), feel free
to follow any plot twist that seems interesting and let your characters have free
reign. You never know where they might take you—a single twist in the plot or line
of dialogue might change the course of the entire novel! Once you’ve got the whole
first draft down, you can go back and trim the fat.
5. Work at your own pace. Some books take a month to write, some books take
twelve months, and some take twelve years! There’s no standard and there are no rules.
We’ve all uttered the desperate wail, “Why is this taking so long?”—especially if
we know other writers who are querying agents or reviewing jacket art. When you begin
to despair that you’ll never reach the end, step back and remember why you want to
be a writer in the first place. You love writing, right? So enjoy it!
6. Breaks are good! We writers can often been pretty militant by nature. We
must write an hour a day. We must forge ahead even when we don’t feel like writing.
We must set goals and stick to them. These are good “musts” to follow, but we must
also be nice to ourselves. If you’re frustrated and down, take a break. Take a day
off, a week off, a month off your book–but not from writing. Work on something completely
different. If you’re writing a high-fantasy novel about fairies, shoot off some essays
on modern technology. If you’re writing an investigative biography of Jim Perdue,
give slam poetry a shot. Get some distance, then come back to your book refreshed
and excited to get to work.
7. Start a blog. A blog is great for networking (hello, agents!) and provides
instant gratification. If your book is taking forever (see #5 above), you can develop
a readership by writing witty and entertaining blog posts. And if you’re a perfectionist
who has trouble letting go of your work, blogging will help you muster the courage
to get your writing out there.
If you’re writing fiction and want to
make your prose sizzle, check out
Fire in Fiction by agent Donald Maass.
Want more on this subject?
- Want to pen a guest column? Write me at email@example.com
about formatting? Check out Formatting
& Submitting Your Manuscript.
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