by Erika Marks
Hello, friends! I hope this finds everyone ready for the holiday season—and by ready, I mean totally freaking out! (Just kidding. Well, sort of.)
I know this time of year is one during which we can’t help but be especially reflective, not on just this past year but the years before it, and, of course, the one ahead.
It also seems to be the time of year when the world becomes especially list-happy with everything from books to bagels getting put on a Best of/Worst of list somewhere in the world. So I thought, why not add a Best/Worst list of my own during this season of reflection?
Recently, I met with a great writing group and one of the students asked me—after I’d told them that I was 20 years writing and submitting before I got my first book contract—if I would have done anything differently along the way, and if so, what?
Today I’m sharing my list of the best and worst things I may have done on my writing journey.
And because I like good news first, let’s start with the best things I did for my writing in those years.
1. I wrote every day.
Now I’m sure—no, I KNOW—there were exceptions to this. Life steps in (or gallops or tramples or…you get the picture) but during those times when I was in a story, I never left its side. For me, when it comes to writing, distance does NOT make the muse grow fonder. Even a bad day of writing kept me connected to my characters—and that connection got me back to the screen the next day (even if it was only to delete every word I’d written the day before).
2. I moved on to a new story when a current one needed to be shelved.
It’s hard, I know. We write and we edit, we cut and we add. We nurture the darn WIP like a baby bird and we cannot bear the thought that it might be for nothing, which of course it isn’t, because no matter what comes of the novel, whether it’s sold or shelved, our craft is stronger for it. But all that said, it still stinks to bid it adieu and move on to a new WIP love. But it’s necessary. And I did it more times than I can count.
3. I kept a spreadsheet of the agents I queried.
I know it sounds goofy and anal, but when you query agents for as long as I did, a good memory doesn’t cut it. I wanted to keep track, really keep track, of who I had sent what to, if they’d offered to see my next project, if they’d offered advice. All those pieces of correspondence ultimately brought me to my current agent, a fabulous relationship that I truly believe was 20 years in the making, and every contact I made led me closer to it.
4. I listened to feedback.
I know this sounds obvious; so obvious, I almost didn’t add it to the list. But there was time when I DIDN’T listen to feedback, and I wish I had earlier.
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Okay then! Boy, that was fun. Yay me, right?! Cheers on some good moves, Erika! High fives all around!!!
Well. Now it’s time to put down the toasting glass and get on to the NOT so good news…
So, deep breath. Some of the worst things I did on my writing journey (be warned, it’s not pretty):
1. I sent my work out too soon.
How soon is too soon? You know the scene in the movies where the writer pounds out THE END, bundles the fat stack of typewritten pages into an envelope and mails them off gleefully? Yup. That soon. I can’t honestly tell you the first manuscript I did a real round of edits on. (You think that’s an awful confession? Wait till you get to number 2.) Forget getting other readers, I didn’t even take the time to reread it MYSELF! Gah. DOUBLE Gah.
2. I queried before my novel was finished.
Now we’re getting to the really ugly confessions, friends. In the pantheon of dumb moves, this is a biggie. But hear me out! I was excited about the concept, I was positive the idea alone was so sellable that I just had to get it out into the universe before someone else declared it! So imagine my excitement when the requests poured in immediately…then imagine my panic. Same goes for the previous worst: When an agent requests a manuscript that isn’t finished or isn’t ready, nobody wins. The moral: For the love of Pete, JUST WAIT.
3. I didn’t read.
For a long, long time, I wasn’t a reader. And it showed in my writing. (And other places too, I’m sure.) Only when I committed to reading—and reading widely—did I truly begin to understand how to build/tell/shape story.
4. I tried to write to trends.
We’ve all been there. We write and submit our own original ideas. Meanwhile, we keep reading about yet ANOTHER debuting author whose (fill in the blank with popular trend of your choice here) novel is joining the ranks of the growing rage and collecting big bucks. We think how much easier it would be to just write one of those books instead, right? For me, it wasn’t. I had neither the passion nor the stamina for a book I had built on trend.
Which leads me to one of the most popular pieces of advice but still one of my favorites: Write the book you want to read.
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So there we have it! Yet another Best and Worst List to add to the ranks. Thank you so much for letting me share mine, friends—now I’d love to turn it back to you. If someone asked you what the best and/or worst thing you did on YOUR writing journey was, what would you say?
Erika’s previous post here at WITS: 7 Tips For Finishing The First Draft