Saturday, November 6, 2010

If We Knew Then What We Know Now: Writing Advice to Our Younger Selves

I would tell myself that writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

Brenda Janowitz

I'd say, "It's going to get easier...and it will never get easier." ~ Lauren Baratz-Logsted

That it doesn't happen overnight, not for most of us. And that all the effort put into the many manuscripts that don't get published, learning voice and plotting and how to edit mercilessly, will pay off in the end. Oh, and that it's all worth it when you realize your dream and can honestly say, "I'm a novelist." So hang in there!

Susan McBride

Learn to be patient because EVERYTHING takes longer than you want it to--the writing, revising, submitting, publishing . . . I mean, after all these years I'm still waiting for Oprah to call!

Judy Larson

The bad times won't last forever. Unfortunately, the good times won't either, so when that advance finally comes, spend it wisely!

April Henry

I would trust myself more. When I first started writing, I second guessed myself so much that I set myself up for terrible stretches of writer's block. I've never been able to follow my beloved Anne Lamott's advice to write a "shitty first draft," to just get the words down on paper--typos, darlings, inconsistencies, gaping holes, the idea--even if it's written like crud. (I revise, rewrite, polish as I go.) If I could go back to my starting days, I'd change my process and let myself write that crappy first draft, just get it down, then go back and rework, revise, rewrite until I know it's as it should be. I think writing a "shitty first draft" takes trust in yourself as a writer. And that's the best thing you can have.

Melissa Senate

If I could go back, I would advise myself to spend more time discovering who I was as a writer. I was so busy trying to get my foot in the door, I think I queried too quickly sometimes. Knowing who you are and discovering your voice and what makes it unique, is what will separate you from the pack.

Maria Geraci

Keep writing! Don't say, oh, I'll work on that tomorrow because your momentum will be gone tomorrow. When you first start out, you need to write every day and stick to it, even if it's only for five minutes. Those five minutes will become ten, ten to thirty and so on.

Stephanie Julian

My advice would be 'Run, Forrest, run!'

Deborah LeBlanc

I would say, Don't rush the process. Learn all you can about craft, find a high-caliber writing group or writing workshop or writing program, and immerse yourself in it until you understand not only how to compose and assemble an effective story, but also where you want to go with your efforts. Learn all you can about the business, too--but be cautious, and be skeptical, because a lot of what you'll find on writing-related blogs and forums isn't accurate. Being well-informed and highly skilled takes time and patience and persistence, but in the end it will be a short cut to success.

Therese Fowler

Write what you love but always know, in the back of your mind, that it's a business.

Leslie Langtry

I know critique groups can be helpful and I'm not against them, but I would have sought a professional consultation on my writing with a published author earlier. My critique groups loved my writing, but I couldn't get any literary agent representation. There was a big disconnect. It wasn't until I began having my novels professionally critiqued that I started making progress toward my goal of publication.

Wendy Tokunuga

The straightest path to a successful commercial novel is a strong through-line. Keep the story focused!

Ellen Meister

Let go of the notion that success as a writer will equal happiness. Know that great days lie ahead of you: awards, emails from fans, days of writing that flow like a river. But they won't all be great days. No matter how hard you work, no matter how carefully you plan, life still has its downs. Don't despair though because life always has its ups too. Finally, know this: even in the "bad times" you won't want to be anything else but a writer.

Carleen Brice

I'd say that rejection can sometimes be the beginning of something new and wonderful for your career.

Melanie Benjamin

My advice is to believe in yourself from the minute you start to string sentences together into a book. But also I would tell myself to try very hard to not spend money in pursuing a writing career. It's really easy to do once you land a book deal and I think most of us learn the hard way that we could throw all the money in the world at a book and nothing will truly help to advance the cause until the house puts their muscle behind the book.

Jenny Gardiner

I would tell my young writer self, "There are no shortcuts." And I'd remind her that creating anything meaningful takes (at least for me...) time, thought and lots and lots of revision.

Marilyn Brant

I'd tell myself to start writing fiction sooner because it's such an incredibly rewarding (and frustrating, and joyful, and crazy-making) experience! Sometimes I wish I'd begun a novel ten years ago, but other times I realize my life experiences contribute to my writing.

Sarah Pekkanen

The publishing business remains tough even after you publish the first book. You must work as hard or harder on every book. Don't get discouraged. Writing is a process and with each story you tell you become a better writer.

Maggie Marr

I would plan every book instead of just plunging in wildly. I used to begin books with just a one-sentence pitch in mind. Now I know a great deal about my characters and plot before I write a single sentence.

Karin Gillespie

A consistent writing practice is way more important than an inspired writing practice if you want to make money at this.

Ernessa T. Carter

If you're a writer, what advice would you give to yourself as a beginning writer?


Ellen Meister’s OTHER LIFE is up for  pre-order

Here’s a summary of the very cool premise: THE OTHER LIFE is about a woman expecting her second child who knows that another life exists in which she never married her kind and stable husband, but stayed with her neurotic yet exciting ex-boyfriend. When a sonogram reveals a terrifying problem with the pregnancy, the grief lures her to cross over to the other life, where she discovers that her mother, who committed suicide several years ago, is very much alive.

And so begins a journey of crossing back and forth between her two lives--the one with a frightening pregnancy but a devoted husband and beloved son ... and the other, with a dynamic boyfriend and the mother whose death tore a hole in her heart.

Each life has so much to offer that she doesn't want to choose. But she must, as the portal is shrinking and about to close completely.

I DREAM OF GENIES by Judi Fennell, which is out in January got a starred Publishers Weekly review: “Cute as a pink Persian kitten, this scamper of a romance is populated by a whimsical cast of characters: Humphrey the baby dragon, Obo the talking cat, a villainous vizier, a cross-dressing High Master genie, the Egyptian goddess Bastet, and a hunky carpenter.”

Beth Hoffman made the New York Times list for the paperback release of SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT.

Ernessa T. Carter has a reading in Brooklyn Thurday Nov. 11. Click here for details.


  1. Such great advice, ladies:)

    Judi, congrats on the terrific PW review!

    Ellen, your book sounds fascinating. And the cover is awesome.

    Beth, Congratulations!!!!

  2. Another really illuminating (and very cool) group post. Thanks, Karin, for putting it together! And ditto Maria's praise for the Girlfriends with good news!

  3. Congratulations to Beth and Judi on their fabu accomplishments!

    As for Ellen, that *cover*! All I can say is: I want. I want!

  4. I loved reading all these! I'm going to bookmark it so I can come back and reread whenever I need the inspiration.

    Congrats to Judi Fennell on the starred review from PW! That's HUGE!! The book must be astounding.

    And Beth--the list! WOW!!!

    And thanks so much for posting the info on THE OTHER LIFE, Karin. :)

    Lauren ... long haul to get that cover, but I'm THRILLED with it. Glad you like it!

  5. I would have to agree with keep on writing and don't let fear stop you. I have stopped so many times in my life and wasted so much time!

  6. Proving once again, it takes a village to STAY a writer. Thanks for all the wonderful words of wisdom. Every one was true!

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