Things I wish I'd been told when I started

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Louise Curtis
Posts: 88
Joined: September 24th, 2010, 7:48 pm
Location: Canberra, Australia
Contact:

Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Louise Curtis » September 25th, 2010, 3:47 am

I'd love to know what you guys wish someone had told you when you were working on your first novel.

Here's mine:

1. Successful writers generally make around $10,000 a year (see #2).

2. Around 1 in 10,000 slushpile manuscripts get published (at a conference recently, I discovered that a large publisher hadn't accepted a single book in three years - and they get hundreds every week). Meeting someone at a conference and using their name/email changes the odds to about 1 in 200. (You still need to write a brilliant book - unless you're famous, of course.)

3. Publishers. . .
(a) are all friends with each other, so don't ever be rude to/about anyone.
(b) actually make a loss on 90% of the books they DO produce, so cut them some slack.
(c) usually take 3-6 months to reply to the opening chapters, and just as long again for the full book. The longest I've heard of is four years, and the longest I've experienced is 16 months (and counting).
(d) are quaintly optimistic about their response times (if they were realists, they'd quit and get a better job).
(e) will not work with someone who is too lazy to read their submission instructions.
(f) are nice - but they don't like being hassled.

4. If an agent or publisher charges you money, they're a scam.

5. Manuscript assessors are useful, especially when you're starting out, but their recommendations of your work are worth only slightly more than the fact that your mum thought it was super good.

6. For kids and young adults, your protagonist should be a couple of years older than your target audience, and your length needs to be right (check a publisher web site for length details BEFORE you write). Your characters won't get married or raise kids, because your readers won't be interested in that experience (not while they're still at the age they started reading your book, anyway).

7. It generally takes around 10,000 hours of focused practise to get good at writing. Most writers throw away several books before they get good enough to be published.

8. Reading books in your genre is essential. If you don't read, why do you think anyone will read you?

So, in conclusion, don't write unless you enjoy writing for its own sake. And keep your day job.

Even if I'd known all of that (and I knew some of it), I'd still be a writer.
Louise Curtis
Twitter Tales @Louise_Curtis_
Writing Tips, Steampunk, Baby Talk, and Daily Awesomeness http://twittertales.wordpress.com

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Margo » September 25th, 2010, 2:22 pm

Thanks for a very interesting post.

Two quick questions:

On #2, when you say the publisher hadn't accepted a ms for 3 years, do you mean from the slushpile or that they had overpurchased and hadn't even picked up an agented book in that amount of time? Could you share the name of the publisher? I have my suspicions of who that would be.

And on #7, could you share your source for this estimation? I don't doubt it at all, but I'm interested in reading up a little more on the topic.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Margo » September 25th, 2010, 2:49 pm

Oh, I forgot to share my own list.

1. Your personal estimation of your work is probably about one level (beginner, intermediate, advanced, professional, master) higher than the actual quality.

2. Get out there and meet people in the industry. Many of them will help you (which is related to #3...)

3. Take responsibility for learning and developing as much as you can. Don't expect friends in the industry to carry your butt if you haven't done your homework or put in the hours doing the writing. Save your industry contacts for when you really need help.

4. Drop the tempramental artist BS. It's going to get in the way of your growth as a writer, and your agent and editor will wish they hadn't invested all that time in you.

5. Learn your craft. If you can't see the point of the 'rules', you don't understand them well enough to break them.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Mira » September 25th, 2010, 5:15 pm

Cool lists - and a great topic.

Margo, I like your #1 - given that, I've decided I'm a writing GOD.

Lousie - your #5 made me smile.

My contribution:

a. Don't let anyone look at your first draft, no matter how tempted you are.

b. Surround yourself with people who support you and think you can WRITE. Protect yourself. Don't ask for any constructive feedback until you think the work is done. Once you think it's perfect and everything is in place, then you can let people give you constructive feedback. Before that, just ask people to tell you you're wonderful.

c. If you walk away from any feedback session doubting your abilities and vision, no matter how well intentioned the person is, do not ask them for feedback again. They are not on the right wavelength for you.

I probably have some more, but that's all for now.

User avatar
HillaryJ
Posts: 434
Joined: February 3rd, 2010, 7:22 pm
Location: Alaska
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by HillaryJ » September 25th, 2010, 7:14 pm

Oh, very good topic. Let's see.

1. Balance is key. You have to break the balance of your current life to create time to write, if you haven't been doing it all along. When you establish the new balance, do so intelligently. Relationships are important. Health is important.

2. Shiny new ideas are beautiful tyrants. You've been warned.

3. Persistence and humility are more important that brilliance. I'd rather be a beaten-down author who can take criticism and rejection and see my words in print than a brilliant writer who packs it in when "nobody gets it".

4. Always be polite. To people who work in the publishing industry. To other writers. To anyone you correspond with in a public medium. Actually, this is probably a good life lesson. And if someone aggravates you horribly, cut them off. Not worth it.
Blog http://www.hillaryjacques.blogspot.com
Twitter http://www.twitter.com/hillaryjacques
CARNIEPUNK - http://books.simonandschuster.com/Carni ... 1476714158
as Regan Summers - The Night Runner series from Carina Press

Louise Curtis
Posts: 88
Joined: September 24th, 2010, 7:48 pm
Location: Canberra, Australia
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Louise Curtis » September 25th, 2010, 7:43 pm

Margo wrote:
Two quick questions:

On #2, when you say the publisher hadn't accepted a ms for 3 years, do you mean from the slushpile or that they had overpurchased and hadn't even picked up an agented book in that amount of time? Could you share the name of the publisher? I have my suspicions of who that would be.

And on #7, could you share your source for this estimation? I don't doubt it at all, but I'm interested in reading up a little more on the topic.
I am loving the replies already, and I just startled the cats by laughing loudly.

I live in Australia. We have about five large publishers (depending on how you count them). Random has recently changed their slush system, after three years without a single acceptance. They are now terribly excited with their success, having accepted three manuscripts in two and a half years. I have heard much more optimistic estimates from other publishers, but they were estimates - whereas this particular Random House lady mentioned actual numbers.

Much of my info, including #7, comes from Ian Irvine's truth of publishing at http://www.ian-irvine.com/ It is a VERY interesting read.
Louise Curtis
Twitter Tales @Louise_Curtis_
Writing Tips, Steampunk, Baby Talk, and Daily Awesomeness http://twittertales.wordpress.com

Louise Curtis
Posts: 88
Joined: September 24th, 2010, 7:48 pm
Location: Canberra, Australia
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Louise Curtis » September 25th, 2010, 7:55 pm

PS Also on #7 - I've thrown away six of my own books (which makes me a slow learner), and wrote my first book twelve years ago (which was technically sold, but to a very small company - I am yet to be published "properly" outside of my short stories). Richard Harland (known mainly for his young adult steampunk novel "Worldshaker") took forty years (a lot of that was due to writers' block), and Rebecca Johnson (who writes picture books) took four years.

I do sometimes hear of someone who sold their first book, but usually that's because they wrote in someone else's series eg star trek, zac power. So in a way, that doesn't count (depends what you're aiming for).

I recently heard a statistic that 87% of Americans wanted to write a book some day, and just 50% had read a book in the last year.

Our problem is that writing is fun, so there are far more writers than readers. I generally advise writers to quit. (Better for them in the long term, and better for me too.) If that just makes them write more, then they're probably obnoxious enough to eventually get good.
Louise Curtis
Twitter Tales @Louise_Curtis_
Writing Tips, Steampunk, Baby Talk, and Daily Awesomeness http://twittertales.wordpress.com

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Margo » September 25th, 2010, 8:52 pm

Louise Curtis wrote:PS Also on #7 - I've thrown away six of my own books...
Right there with ya. I think I tossed (calculating...) five novels and three novellas, though two of those got me an agent and made it through several months of exclusive negotiation with one of the big houses here in the US before I gave up on them. Which is why the 10,000 hours idea caught my eye. I've also seen an estimation of 500,000 words, though I can't recall where.
Louise Curtis wrote:I recently heard a statistic that 87% of Americans wanted to write a book some day, and just 50% had read a book in the last year.
I read that article. It also pointed out that most will never try. Most who try will never finish a single novel. But it does make for a LOT of noise to cut through for those on the road for the long haul.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by polymath » September 25th, 2010, 9:53 pm

Australian publishing has been oriented on Western publishing for quite some time. Seventy percent of books sold in Australia are imported titles. The real shame comes when an Australian author is first published in the West, and then due to the title's popularity is imported back into its native country. British born Australian transplant, Nevil Shute's On the Beach, 1959, is a title that comes to mind. Most other English language nations import British and U.S. titles in similar numbers, Canadian too, though Canadian publishers also import a significant fraction of their titles. South Africa, for example. India has a significant English language readership. I'd say, though, India is a statistical outlier. The country's cultural identity drives a unique creative slant and voices comfortable to natives that don't translate as meaningfully to Western readerships. Native Indians just aren't oriented toward Western culture as the West isn't oriented to Indian culture.

I've never had any illusions about how competitive the writing life is. I learned that from my first rejection letter four decades ago. What I wish I'd been told back then is how to go about living the life and improving the writing. I wish someone had turned me on to poetics, of course, beginning with Aristotle's Poetics.

Movies, television, stage plays, fiction itself, public social media generally depicts writing as something you sit down and bang out in your spare time intuitively. Studying the writing lives of acclaimed authors, I now know that they struggled, oh how they struggled, privately, but what they did is study their predecessors and contemporaries' writing through deeply discerning processes.

That's the other thing I wish I'd been told when I started, study other writers, especially the masters and mistresses' masterpieces. Sure, I read, read widely, read broadly and deeply, but couldn't get a thumb under a corner to figure out what I should best be studying for emulation. Plot was something I'd heard was important. I could sense an arc of tension, emotional evocation, rapport inciting openings, rising tension middles, satisfying endings and payoffs, resonance with characters and their complications. What I couldn't figure out was how it was done, how I could replicate the methods I couldn't discriminate from the whole. I couldn't distinguish the trees from the forest.

Now I can vivisect anything and figure out all the W's, who, what, when, where, why, and how. Right down to word by word, sentence by sentence, examine method at every dramatic unit level. My poet's journey truly began with Aristotle's Poetics, after the dozenth close read. Poetics led to other texts. Hints at the edges of perception in those texts led to other insights not yet written about, but sitting there in all their potency waiting for someone to realize.

The main one, how antagonism contributes to narrative structure, aesthetics, and nuance. Narratives have a three-dimensional shape, a tetrahedron. Another, how the existential ideologies of predetermination and free will play out their meaning-of-life debate in narratives. Another, how proxy reality is what it's all about, but in being a proxy of reality captures a larger than life essence truer to life than life itself. Another, how preaching, visionariness, and mysticalism have weighted balances varying from writer to writer and narrative to narrative.

I wish someone had told me how serious it all is. Even when it's funny, even when it's sad, even when it's inspiring, even when it's depressing, it makes me angry how long I wasted living the life without knowing what I was doing.

Getting serious happened when I shut out all the naysayers and doomsayers and yes persons and moved to my Poet's Hermitage. It's been sixteen years now. Six of them stabbing in the dark. Then the ah-ha moment. Plot started opening up to me.

Ten thousand hours makes sense to me, after the fact. That's about equivalent to five years of full-time employment. I have to meet my needs of daily living, two thousand hours per annum income seeking, plus another thousand annual hours of personal maintenance, plus sleep time and recreation time, etc. Ten years is the average for most committed writers to breakout. A thousand hours a year seems like about what it takes. I live, breathe, eat, and sleep writing. I go to sleep worrrying a writing concept, a plot feature, a character trait, etc. I wake up from a dream with answers to interpret. When I work on other arts, I'm thinking writing. When I drive, when I watch TV, when I'm working on my bread and butter work, I'm thinking writing.

I write in wood too, tell stories analogy-wise anyway. It took me ten years after I truly committed to the art to get where I started winning awards for my woodworking, though woodworking too is one of my lifelong passions, I couldn't get my hands and mind around it until about ten years ago. Here's a recent completed artware done for a commission. Latheware, wooden segmented bowl, 201 individual pieces of wood. Three woods, purpleheart, a South American exotic, sapele, an African exotic, maple, a U.S. domestic. It will go to a national conference where it will be auctioned off for a scholarship fund. I happen to have been a beneficiary of the scholarship four years in a row, that helped pay for my college creative writing studies.

"Twelve Crosses III"
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved.
12CrossesIII.jpg (9.85 KiB) Viewed 2855 times
Last edited by polymath on September 25th, 2010, 11:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
Heather B
Posts: 234
Joined: May 23rd, 2010, 7:56 pm
Location: Newcastle - the Australian one.
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Heather B » September 25th, 2010, 10:06 pm

I've written two books, roughly two hundred thousand words and you're telling me I still have to write another three to even be in the game? Geesh, lucky I've already started my third then, hey?

Okay, so I think the single most important thing I've learnt is that the majority of authors/agents/publishers are really nice people. They want to help, so if you get the chance - ask as many questions as possible. Writing isn't just about writing; it's about gaining knowledge and actually applying it. If you think you know what you're doing when you first start, you're wrong.

But there's not a single soul (fantasy or otherwise) that will be able to convince you.
Journey to the Cuckoo's Nest

http://heathermbryant.blogspot.com.au/

User avatar
J. T. SHEA
Moderator
Posts: 492
Joined: May 20th, 2010, 1:55 pm
Location: IRELAND
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by J. T. SHEA » September 25th, 2010, 11:08 pm

Louise, you know what they say. There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics. Whoever puts too much faith in statistics learns the price of everything but the value of nothing. We do not live statistically. We live anecdotally. Our lives are stories.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Margo » September 25th, 2010, 11:33 pm

polymath wrote:I write in wood too...
Gorgeous, polymath. It's interesting to me how many writers have another art form they also study. I wanted to have talent for painting in oils. I'm okay with oil pastels, but my secondary talent turned out to be watercolors, which look nice but don't quite fit the moods I'd rather evoke.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by polymath » September 26th, 2010, 12:09 am

Margo wrote:
polymath wrote:I write in wood too...
Gorgeous, polymath. It's interesting to me how many writers have another art form they also study. I wanted to have talent for painting in oils. I'm okay with oil pastels, but my secondary talent turned out to be watercolors, which look nice but don't quite fit the moods I'd rather evoke.
Thanks, Margo.

I dabble in oils and pastels. My favorite is oil marbling, which I'm pretty good at but it doesn't pay what it costs. Watercolors I'm fair at, and gouache. I like strong contrasting colors, like wilderness beach scenes with purple waves of sea oats and seafoam green frothing surf and vanilla cream sand dunes and chiaroscuro cerulean, white, and gray skys. I also dabble in pottery, dig wild, feral clay out of the bank and tame it to my will. My kiln isn't large enough for the wares I want to make. The clay fires terra cotta at earthenware temperatures and brick red to buff mottling at stoneware temperatures.

Studying creative writing in college had advanced art coursework requirements. Drawing, design, and basic painting course prerequisites were required to get into the pottery classes. I started in pottery about the time I got my first rejection letter. Every one of my artistic passions started as hobbies. No one told me how much effort and dedication it would take to get past mediocre. I guess that's just something life has to teach.
Spread the love of written word.

Sommer Leigh
Moderator
Posts: 1624
Joined: April 2nd, 2010, 11:07 pm
Location: Omaha, NE
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 26th, 2010, 4:17 pm

Margo wrote:
polymath wrote:I write in wood too...
Gorgeous, polymath. It's interesting to me how many writers have another art form they also study. I wanted to have talent for painting in oils. I'm okay with oil pastels, but my secondary talent turned out to be watercolors, which look nice but don't quite fit the moods I'd rather evoke.
I work in papercraft, digital graphics, watercolor, and acrylics. It is interesting how many writers express themselves with more than just words.

Writing advice I wish I'd been told early on:

1. If you want to be a writer, you must write. I spent way too much time in my early 20s congratulating myself on being artistic and writerly but I didn't write anything! Well, except a bunch of 800 word articles for newspapers and magazines so I could get paid 10 measly dollars when I was a particularly poor, starving college student. It kills me how much time I wasted not writing.

2. Read outside your genre/audience. Chances are you probably know a ton about your area of interest, but other genres and audiences have stuff to teach too. Fiction, adult, YA, middle grade, children's, poetry, non-fiction, history, historical, horror, sci-fi, romance, pop-up books, comics, etc. Read everything and absorb the very best each of them has to offer.

3. Explore the world around you. Get out of the office and away from the laptop and take day trips to cities nearby, dig up tourist brochures for your city/state/area, take lots of pictures, a travel watercolor book and paints, a notebook, whatever. Talk to strangers. Take a class in origami, book binding, pottery, painting, metalwork, beginner construction, gardening, sign language, spanish. Take a weekend road trip in any direction where you have to drive away at least 4 hours. Stop at weird stores along the way. Check out famous locations, birth places of famous people, The Worlds Largest Ball of Yarn/Rubber bands/Butter/Cheese/Paperclips. Rediscover your town/city in a whole new way. Absorb everything.

4. DO NOT THINK ABOUT HOW MANY PEOPLE DO NOT GET PUBLISHED. Toss the statistics out the window, settle in with a nice latte, and write the book you want to read. Stop obsessing about your chances. For real. Before you need therapy. You'll never have to worry about becoming part those statistics if you haven't finished your book or submitted it to anyone.

5. Become active in the writing world, even if you're not published. Get involved in book events, volunteer with library groups, be a cheerleader on blogs/facebook/twitter for authors and books you love. Send nice notes to the authors you love letting them know you love them. Support authors when they come to town to do a signing. This isn't about pimping yourself out! It's about strengthening the community of readers and writers and supporting each other in a way we hope to one day be supported. Writing may be a solitary activity, but writing is just one thread of a bigger community. (I think Nathan's forums exemplifies this.)

6. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS BE NICE.
May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
Be nice, or I get out the Tesla cannon.

User avatar
Holly
Posts: 500
Joined: December 21st, 2009, 9:42 pm
Location: Gettysburg, PA
Contact:

Re: Things I wish I'd been told when I started

Post by Holly » September 26th, 2010, 4:57 pm

polymath wrote:
Margo wrote:
polymath wrote:I write in wood too...
Gorgeous, polymath. It's interesting to me how many writers have another art form they also study. I wanted to have talent for painting in oils. I'm okay with oil pastels, but my secondary talent turned out to be watercolors, which look nice but don't quite fit the moods I'd rather evoke.
Thanks, Margo.

I dabble in oils and pastels. My favorite is oil marbling, which I'm pretty good at but it doesn't pay what it costs. Watercolors I'm fair at, and gouache. I like strong contrasting colors, like wilderness beach scenes with purple waves of sea oats and seafoam green frothing surf and vanilla cream sand dunes and chiaroscuro cerulean, white, and gray skys. I also dabble in pottery, dig wild, feral clay out of the bank and tame it to my will. My kiln isn't large enough for the wares I want to make. The clay fires terra cotta at earthenware temperatures and brick red to buff mottling at stoneware temperatures.

Studying creative writing in college had advanced art coursework requirements. Drawing, design, and basic painting course prerequisites were required to get into the pottery classes. I started in pottery about the time I got my first rejection letter. Every one of my artistic passions started as hobbies. No one told me how much effort and dedication it would take to get past mediocre. I guess that's just something life has to teach.
Polymath, gorgeous descriptions. I can see and smell the beach and practically touch that pottery.

I paint in oil and watercolor, draw with ink and pastels, and wish I could learn to throw pottery on a wheel, but that novel keeps getting in the way.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest