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 humor
and travel writer Hollis Gillespie.
and travel columnist, with her column appearing
every month on Atlanta magazine’s coveted
back page. She is also a best-selling memoirist,
NPR commentator, professional speaker,
comedian and guest on the Tonight Show
with Jay Leno. She runs Shocking
the largest writing school in Atlanta, which
offers workshops on blogging and social media.
These days she gets most of her exercise
running to catch flights.
1. Social and digital media are now essential as well as inescapable. As a
writer, if you don’t update your skills so they include social and digital media then
you might as well lumber off to your secret lair to languish with the other old elephants.
If writing is your craft, these tools are now necessary for you to continue it. Other
professions are subject to updating—you
don’t see doctors who cure fevers by blood-letting anymore—and
writers are not exempt.
2. There is no such thing as a “finish line.” When you sell a book, you are
creating a new job for yourself, one that will hopefully replace your old one. It
almost doesn’t matter how successful you become, you still never feel relaxed enough
to rest on your accolades. There have been times as recently as, like, yesterday,
when I’ve told myself that if the restaurant where I waited tables in college knocked
on my door right now offering me my apron back, I’d jump at it.
3. Literary agents have very, very specific needs when it comes to material. When
you pitch an agent, you have to make sure your material is perfectly in line with
the genres she represents. Most likely, that agent has cultivated relationships with
publishers that specialize in a very particular line of books. When considering an
agent to pitch, at the very minimum make sure there is a book in her client list that
strongly compares to your own manuscript.
4. No one is going to steal your memoir idea. Stop worrying about that.
5. No one is going to sue you for how you portrayed them in your memoir. Stop
worrying about that. They might not like what you said about them, but since when
is it illegal to have a low opinion of someone? I usually put it to my students this
way, “If someone in your life has behaved like a volcanic @sshole, you’re not legally
liable just because you noticed.”
6. Fear is the most creatively corrosive element that writers have to face each
day, and it comes disguised as so many things. The one I see encountered most
often has a lot to do with #5 above. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a student
recount the most fascinating—and
marketable—life story, only
to insist they can’t write about it because they’re afraid of how it will be taken.
7. It helps to write your story as though no one will read it. That goes a
long way toward solving #5 and #6 above.
resource is Writing
Want more on this subject?
on writing memoir.
author’s tale of how his memoir came to be.
I’ve Learned So Far,” by a memoir writer.
about formatting? Check out Formatting
& Submitting Your Manuscript.
Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
the most complete database of agents and what genres they’re looking for? Buy
the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!