Pay no attention to that woman behind the screen. She is ruse, a diviner, a peddler of dreams. But even Oz needed a Great and Powerful Wizard to get things rolling.
The first question I asked myself was, “What can I possibly add that hasn’t already been said?” If you were to type Advice for Writers into your preferred browser, no doubt you would yield a crop’s worth of enterprising responses–many cultivated by the finest minds this world ever read. When measured against the likes of Fitzgerald, Salinger, Bronte, Steinbeck, and Lee, how might this fledgling writer hope to contribute wisdom?
I soaked in this thought for a while, until I came up with this: writers are like spiders. The majority of us, on the outside, will look quite a bit alike: eyes, ears, mouth, a body (some a little hairier than others). But soon enough these overt similarities run out. For once we writers go to work on our craft, we produce a web all our own, something singularly, respectively unique. On my journey, there have been webs that inspired me, unknowingly galvanized my design; webs I thought a little gaudy or bawdy or simplistic for my taste. And then, occasionally, webs so erratically complex my brain actually itched. But that’s what I love about being a writer. You can’t emulate my web. And I cannot emulate yours. We are homogeneously unalike!
The Web’s Profit
– Write. There will be moments–several of them–when you look at your work and its apparent lack of appeal and think, “That’s it. I’m done.” Then, after a good night’s sleep, or perhaps a few hours with that book you rely on to bring you back over the edge, you will, with slight abashment, return to your pen, your pencil, or whatever device it is you’re using to tell the story, and once more labor to write. This chain of events will likely occur so long as you both shall live. It will be difficult more often than it is easy, but a writer must write. Always write. Never stop writing. For it is in that uncomfortable peace a writer sheds their downy feathers and sprouts their grownup wings; the ones that move you from the branch, and eventually, into the sky.
– Support. This, too, will look different for everyone. But it is absolutely imperative a writer have a small team of diverse people (writers and non-writers) invested in both the writing as is, and the examining of it through a critic’s eye. People to butter you up on dry days, and peers not the least bit afraid to hurt your feelings–without flinching tell you the writing stinks worse than cow-pie. And boy does it hurt something wicked. But for a writer to survive, they need both.
– Learn. I am not going to say you should take a writing class every month, spend hours each week in critique groups, or attend every seminar held within 3,000 miles of your home state. Those are not bad things. Not at all. But for me, personally, I found my way elseplace. And as a result, perhaps it took me longer to get where I am today; but would I change the development of my web? Not even for a Pulitzer. So. What I am going to say is that a writer must constantly be learning — growing their skill-set, stretching comfort zones, trying new things, failing at those things. The trough–as I like to call The Writer’s Resources–is abundantly full. And while a lot of it will be slop, some of it won’t be. Some it will go on to feed you the rest of your ever-writing life.
– Be Present. The writing community is an affectionate one. You should have a voice. Twitter, WordPress, Blogspot, Facebook, Pinterest — these are wonderful places to get to know other writers (and readers), and have them get to you. Yes, the good writing, the compelling characters, the navigable yet unpredictable plot–these will almost always stand apart from the poorly written novels. Should you keep at it, humbly accept criticism, and preserver despite a crushed ego, chances are that eventually the writing be recognized by someone. However, before that day arrives, a writer should be their very best advocate, taking full advantage of the available publicity. There are virtually–pun intended–thousands of online groups tailored to your specific likes and wants. Whatever you write, there most certainly is a place to share it.
– Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. Oh, and you should definitely edit. If you do not personally know of someone willing and able to scour your book with a strong monocle and leave lots of bloody pen-marks, HIRE A PROFESSIONAL. It will be well worth your money to do so. And if you’re hope is to publish traditionally, this is an absolute must. Now, even those excellently proofread/edited novels will contain minor errors: extra spaces, a missing or wrongfully placed quote, double printed printed words. But these kind of mistakes should be few and far between. Because, as a reader, don’t you just hate when you’re neck deep in a deliciously tense sense–the characters are about to kiss for the first time, the prince is seconds away from slaying the dragon, the bad guy is about to get his just desserts–and then this happens: Edgar stood alone on the ledge, playing with the idea of death. He could do it. He could jump. All he would have to do is lean forward, close his “eyes–Annnnnnd, cue the screeching record. I have just been ripped from the prose. Edgar? Edgar who? The only thing I am focused on is that icky quote looking like a polyester white pantsuit after Labor Day. Edit!
– Publish. This is fairly explanatory. Publish your writing. And not just mainstream. Blog. Jazz up a friend’s website for free. Seek out the indie magazines, or enter a poetry contest. It doesn’t matter if you win. It doesn’t matter if you feel it’s the worst thing you ever wrote. The fact is you wrote it. And without even realizing it, you will get better. And better, and better, and better. Which WILL lead to publication. So leave your fingerprint as many places as possible so that, when the time comes to query the agent of your shiny dreams, you can proudly declare “My work has been published in Writers Who Rock Magazine.” All agents–whether they be the kindly sort, who very politely decline to see more; or the other kind, that gets their kicks from making first-time authors feel like a bag of empty peanuts–do understand and empathize with how competitive the market is these days. The agents worth your time will appreciate the effort you made in getting your work out there, even if they don’t actually remark on it in the form letter. But it only takes one, or so I hear. One agent to say, YES!!! And then you take the extra copies of the manuscripts you have lying around the house, spread them out on your bed, and roll around in them, gaily shouting “I did it. I did it. I. DID. IT!”
When all else fails, publish anyway. Once you’ve done your part and the writing is in the best shape it could possibly be, then it’s time to take the leap of faith. As I said before, great writing will stand apart from the rest. If you’ve put in the blood, sweat, and tears, your masterpiece deserves to be seen and read and fallen in love with. Someone will get it. Someone will cherish it. Someone will understand it.
Writers, if I can be of any assistance or help, please feel free to email me below. For legal reasons, I cannot read any manuscripts or unpublished works, but I would be more than happy to speak with you about the writing process itself.
Best of luck to you!