Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Five Gifts to Aspiring Writers

by Marilyn Brant

Dear Aspiring Writer:

A recent conversation I had with a multi-published novelist friend made me think of you...and how difficult, stressful and frequently frustrating it is to break into this "challenging" (read: "OMG, it's so chaotic and insane...why do we DO this to ourselves?!") industry. How we need so much emotional bolstering and moral support (and, also, boxes of chocolate truffles and pitchers of margaritas...) from friends and family to see beyond the soul-crushing rejections or reviews, the steep learning curves, the unpredictable publishing changes and the banquet of fear/insecurity/self-doubt that this particular calling creates.

I know what you're dealing with out there. Really. I do.

My author friend and I were aspiring writers together a decade ago, and we still help each other remember that long, arduous climb toward getting any kind of professional feedback, agent interest, editor requests and -- eventually -- publishing contracts. And, yes, the industry has changed, and we all have digital opportunities that didn't exist just a few years ago, but that doesn't mean the roadblocks and the aggravations have all disappeared.

They haven't. Not even when you're published by a New York house. Or the winner of a big literary award. Or the #1 placeholder on some kind of coveted list.

But, while I could devote a lengthy, meandering post to how hard it is to get published and stay that way (or to self publish and gain discoverability), I will, instead, pull out my magical fairy wand -- just a little trinket I picked up over spring break -- and bestow upon you what I think are the FIVE GREATEST GIFTS a writer could ever have. None can be purchased, lost or stolen. And none require anyone else's consent to possess them.

So, Aspiring Writer, these are for you:

1. Persistence
Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. You can pout for a day or two (want some Belgian chocolate? a grande margarita?), but then you need to revise your manuscript if there's room for improvement -- and, let's face it, there usually is -- and submit the damn thing again. How many times? Well, IMO, until you get the answer you want to hear.

2. A Killer Work Ethic
Be responsible. Get done what you say you're going to do. Or, to quote the wisdom of one of my favorite fortune cookies: "Always over-deliver & under-promise. (Lucky Numbers: 28, 29, 16, 52, 38, 14)" It's stunning how often people don't follow through. Unless a family or health crisis prevents you -- because, on rare occasion, there ARE legitimate reasons for not finishing a project on time -- show how incredible you are by not being a slacker.

3. Creative Thinking
There will be moments when readers won't get your story's humor (trust me on this) or like your "unusual premise" or relate to your offbeat characters/plot/narrative style. Still, don't play it safe and write something that doesn't have a shread of risk in it. Use your imagination. You're special. It's true, you REALLY are. Show us your unique vision in some way.

4. Optimism
Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. (Do you hear an echo?) I'm not advocating rampant Pollyanna-ism. It's useful to see the world as realistically as you're able...BUT, there's no need to be the Loudest and Most Insistent Voice of Doom in the Tri-State either. You're allowed to grumble sometimes. (Though, if at all possible, try to avoid tactless ranting on social-media sites, okay?) But then, if there's any kind of a bright side or silver lining to be found, please try to find it. It'll most likely make you feel better, and it'll most certainly make other people more inclined to want to lend you a hand.

5. Curiosity
What do you care about? What are your passions? What makes life worth living, in your opinion? If you can't answer these questions, for heaven's sake, don't work on a manuscript right now. Go out into the world and experience some of life until you DO know. Ask yourself, "What if?" Ask other people, "Why?" and "How?" and "Then what happened?" When you're bursting with something you just have to try to express, THEN go home and write about those sensations, thoughts, emotions, situations and complications... Attempt to write what you care about so passionately that it inspires curiosity in others.

And above all, Aspiring Writer, hang in there. It's a long road, this journey of ours, but you can do it.

Here's wishing you the fulfillment of your every literary dream~
Marilyn

p.s. I don't think my list of gifts is an exhaustive one. What qualities would YOU give to other writers?

Marilyn Brant writes contemporary women's fiction and romantic comedy. Her latest novel, A Summer in Europe, was recently called "an armchair traveler's dream come true" and it'll be the B&N General Fiction Book Club's featured online read for May 2012. She's insanely passionate about both travel & chocolate, and she just returned from a family trip to London (after 16 years away!), which is where she picked up her magical fairy wand, along with a suitcase crammed full of Bournville Cadbury Bars. Those Brits, they have everything. :-)

47 comments:

  1. Great post! I bet that margarita comes in handy too!

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    1. Thanks so much, Kathy!! And, yeah...I'm fond of the strawberry variety ;).

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  2. Oh, Marilyn, what a perfect post! Yes to all of it. And, I'd add, a sense of humor. Because, sometimes, you just have to laugh.

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    1. Judy, you are SO right! If we couldn't laugh at the insanity of this industry, I'm pretty sure it'd make us even crazier... Definitely adding sense of humor to the list!

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  3. Marilyn, your post sounds eerily familiar--as if I've heard it all before--in your voice, no less. ;) As that dreaded aspiring writer, I can tell you this advice has been invaluable to me, especially over the past few months! Thanks for spreading your wisdom and putting it in printed form (my Laser Jet P2035n is whirling, even as I type). Oh, and next time you take a last-minute trip to London, pick up one of those magic wands for me. On second thought, just take me with you!!

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    1. Jill, my dear, the next time I take a last-minute trip to London, I want to bring along a couple of your published novels for those long flights and train rides. So, you need to keep writing, editing and submitting (and writing, editing and submitting) because I have no intention of being left without entertainment and being forced to watch those in-flight TV sitcoms ;). p.s. XOX

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  4. Fantastic advice - I couldn't agree more!

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  5. Love this post, Marilyn. I'd add these: attraction, belief, confidence. Our thoughts are so powerful and by stating what we want in life and working towards it with a belief it can happen and the confidence to go for it and stay in the game, we can make our writer dreams come true. xo

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    1. Malena, thank you -- I love your additions to the list! I've been trying to be more conscious about what I really want so I can visualize it better. Some days it all seems so clear, but on others...? :) I think you're right in that we do have more power to make our dreams a reality than we may realize.

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  6. Excellent post! I think your #1 gift, persistence, is right on the money. Keep working at it--that's the key. Also, the support of family and friends goes a long way in the encouragement department.

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    1. Thanks, Sara! Aren't genuinely supportive friends and family the best?! Having someone around who encourages and believes in us (even on days when we can't quite manage it ourselves) is an incredible gift.

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  7. I love this post, Marilyn! An aspiring writer needs all of these gifts!! Optimism is so, so important. Without belief in yourself, you just can't do what we do.

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    1. Brenda, thank you! I love what you've said about belief... I think writers are always walking that very thin line between having enough belief in ourselves to keep hanging on to our vision, but not so much that we're too stubborn and unable to see where we can improve. Only other writers understand how hard it is to between both of these places!

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  8. Is chocolate a quality? It helps persistence, I think. Your post should be mandatory aspiring-writer reading!

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    1. LOL, Christa!!
      We need to insist on chocolate being "a quality." Maybe phrased: A deep and lifelong appreciation for the powers chocolate inspires... Yeah, I'm adding it to the list ;).

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  9. Marilyn
    Nicely put. I'd add patience with a creative life. Being a dancer, writer, actor, singer, [insert creative endeavor here] doesn't have a clear, straightforward career path, like say an attorney (go to college, go to law school, take bar exam, pass bar exam, get job). A creative pursuit is a path with twists and turns and switchbacks and it is unfair to ourselves that we expect this journey to be a straight one to the destination of our choosing. *sigh* I know--everything about this career is challenging BUT the view is good and we get to talk to characters all day!
    xoMaggie

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    1. Oh, Maggie, this is very true. I don't think I've ever gotten over just how non-linear the creative journey is... I know that's part of what makes it so genuinely, heart-poundingly exciting (and I do love that :), but the twists and spirals and uncertainties create their share of fear, don't they?! That's certainly been the case for me.

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  10. Marilyn, what a great article. I'll give you a recommend from a reader/reviewer standpoint. Get the book out there, beg for early readers to get it and spread the word you never know who might be listening and don't over fret the bad reviews after all even we "experts" only give our personal viewpoint, but the more people who read it is the ultimate "better".
    And know this from someone who would NEVER and could never be an author, I respect you.
    Deb

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    1. Deb,
      Your comment reminded me of a quality I should have immediately included -- not just for aspiring writers, but for ALL writers -- gratitude. I didn't realize years ago how often I would find myself indebted to others for their kindness. Readers and reviewers like you are priceless... Thank you for your great advice and for the tremendous respect you have for authors. It is most certainly mutual!!
      xox

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  11. I have always said 'patience and persistence' so it sounds like I'm pretty close in line with your worthy gifts! (Though I do like how the margarita lines up with 'creative thinking'!) Great post!!

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    1. Pamela, you'll be pleased to know that the margarita placement was definitely intentional, LOL. Thanks so much. Can't wait to chat with you about everything in person at RT next week!!

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  12. Lovely, lovely post, Marilyn. I agree with every single one of your gifts to aspiring and current writers and authors, especially the persistence. If I've learned one HUGE thing, it's never give up. Period.
    Patti

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    1. Patti, I'm so glad you liked it! And what you wrote reminds me of that simple but powerful Winston Churchill quote: "Never, never, never quit." :)

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  13. Great post Marilyn. I certainly agree with adding a sense of humor--and friends to laugh with! Without buddies, this life would be a drag.

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    1. Thanks, Lucy!! And, yes, on both counts -- the humor AND the friends. We sure need them...

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  14. Thank you so much for posting this Marilyn. I needed some inspiration today. Being stuck in the aspiring author phase is often frustrating, but this helped me feel positive. I will not give up! :)

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    1. Good!! Don't give up...please. The world needs new voices and fresh perspectives. It needs yours. But I hear you on the frustrations -- it's not easy. Sigh. Happy to know the post helped a little and I'm very glad you're keeping at it!

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  15. Marilyn, as usual, you inspire and put a smile on my face! I would add the gift the Joy. Yes, writing is a struggle, but no matter where you are in your career, it should make you happy to write:) (at least, most days!)

    xoxo
    Maria

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    1. Oh, Maria, yes!! JOY... What a wonderful reminder, my friend. Thank you. Amidst all the industry nuttiness, it's all too easy to forget that, but you are right ;).

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  16. And not just for aspiring authors. We can all use and reuse these gifts

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    1. Absolutely, positively true, Shelley!! We can...and should...

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  17. Marilyn, this is so, so perfect! You hit every nail on the head so brilliantly. It's one of those pieces that should be printed out and kept near the computer. Good job, girlfriend!

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    1. Susan, thank you for saying that!! Looking forward to catching up with you via email soon, too... I saw the ultrasound pix of Emily on FB and squealed ;).

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  18. Marilyn, what a truly wonderful post. These are good lessons for anything we do in life. Along with humor and the other gifts mentioned in the comments, I think these are outstanding gifts which can be used on a daily basis. :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Sheila! I'm thrilled you liked the post, and I agree that others have added some great gifts to the list. I think we need them all to survive the ups and downs of this industry... Makes me glad they're free and available to every one of us!

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  19. Marilyn, the timing of this is great for me. This week I am sending a submission for my first novel ... I also received a rejection from a literary small press for a literary novella. I read it, felt bad for a minute and then went back to work :) I remember the story of a Brooklyn Congressman ran for office for 22 years and remained there for another 27 years. He told young hopeful "No one remembers how many times I lost and neither do I."

    Thanks for the gifts, they were appreciated :)

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    1. Florence, what a perfect story about the Congressman! It's true that no one remembers all the losses (or manuscript rejections) after a win... Fingers crossed for you on the novel submissions. Hope it leads to wonderful things!

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  20. Lovely post -- and I'll add what you seem to already have: good friends to see you through the rough patches.

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    1. Thank you :). I've been lucky to have some truly warm and supportive people in my life. We don't need to have MANY, just a few really genuine friends. But, you're right -- what a difference that makes!

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  21. So very apt, Marilyn. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

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  22. So very apt, Marilyn. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

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    1. Christy, thank you!! So glad you liked it and took the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it ;).

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