Friday, January 10, 2014

Lessons from 2013...

I wanted to start the New Year with a post dedicated to what I have learned as a writer throughout the last year, in the hope that other writers might benefit from it.

I'm hopeful that 2013 brought a year of much success for my fellow writers, though I'm sure we all suffered from a variety of ups and downs.  Writing is a tough gig and each experience can teach you something new.  For me, at least, 2013 was certainly a learning year.

Here are the top ten things 2013 taught me:

1)  Learn the rules and then experiment.  If you want to be the next great writer, you need to become yourself on the page.  Experiment with the rules, format and structure of your writing.  Try something you've never tried before.  Take time to learn what it is that makes your style truly yours.  If you try something and it doesn't work, you've lost nothing.  Every piece of writing you try teaches you something.

2)  Take your time.  And this applies to first drafts, editing, querying, being on submission.  Learn and apply.  Don't just rush out the same old habits you did the year before.  Applied learning takes work and dedication  Think about high school, college, university - all of these things took practice and studied concentration.  Your writing deserves the same.  You don't apply the things you learn magically overnight.  So slow down and really hone your craft, word by word.

3)  Voice comes from confidence.  Yeah, this was a really hard one for me to figure out.  I searched for voice everywhere.  I tried fragmenting my sentences.  Changing my vocabulary.  Adding more humour.  Less description.  But in the end, I found that studying the craft (see 2), and being confident that I could write helped my voice the most.  And concision helps.  Be concise.  Concision shows confidence in your narrative.

4)  Follow your gut.  When you get critiques, weigh up what you receive.  Some will work for you, some won't.  Be true to your instincts, not your pride.  Pride is an ugly, devastating beast.  Your gut is that small, honest voice that you sometimes want to hide from.  Sometimes it even makes you want to cry or feel rubbish.  But still follow its advice.  Not your insecurities.  Or your ego.  Follow your instincts.  Work out the difference between the three.

5)  Querying is good.  Come on, don't throw rocks at me.  It is good.  You're out there.  You're connecting.  Every contact is a good contact (as long as you are polite and professional).  I've lost count of the many friendly and wonderful editors and agents I've met through online contact.  They might not be my agent or editor.  But who knows, one day they might be.

6)  Celebrate other writers' success.  I know, this one is tough.  No really, it is.  Sometimes I'm so jealous I could eat my arm off.  I think "why not me?"  "oh no, less editors/agents for me to pitch".  This is normal.  Don't beat yourself up about it.  But be happy and celebrate your fellow writer's success anyway.  You know someone has travelled the path you're on.  You know that there IS a chance for you to make it too.  Celebrate that possibility.

7)  Write in three acts.  Your synopsis too.  See the plot curve.  This will help give your story a backbone.  An editor taught me this.  It was wise advice.

8)  Avoid saggy middle syndrome in your book.  How?  Only write the parts you love.  Sounds silly, right?  I actually thought I had to write "all the bits in between" just to get to the bits of my story I loved.  Turns out, I didn't.  I just wrote the bits I got thrilled about.  And if I needed one of those in between scenes, I stopped, waited, thought about how I could add in something that fascinated me.  When a story fascinates you, then it's easy to write.

9)  Try.  Keep trying.  Try until you can't try anymore...then keep trying.  This advice is everywhere, and sure it's nothing new.  But you got to 2014.  Every day is fresh.  Anything can happen.  Truly.  Think of the day you first picked up that pen, or got your first partial or full request.  The first day you went on submission.  How is this day different?  Answer - it's not.  This day is the same.  It can offer you the same opportunity.  Don't let the past influence today.  The past is gone.  Anything can happen.  Believe that.

10)  Have fun.  Truly.  Have fun with what you write.  Enjoy, play, relish in the world that you have created.  And believe that you have been put on this earth to tell this tale.  Because certainly you have been.

And so here's to 2014!  May all your writing dreams come true!

What have you learned in the last year?


  1. Fantastic post and wise advise! Best wishes for a wonderful 2014, teeming of great writing moments and success!

  2. Lots of keepers in there. I'm especially fond of #8. Maybe because I'm in the swampy middle of my WIP ;-)

  3. All great advice. ^_^ One thing I've learned, and this goes with "follow your gut", is that there's no one way to do things, even just for yourself. If you always work one way but think you should work differently with your current project, then do so. Putting yourself in a box and saying you have to work a certain way can stifle your creativity just as much as anything anyone else can do.

  4. Rhiann - swampy middles. I am going to avoid them with my life this year!