The smartest writing advice I ever got was after the fact, after I had already sold and wished I'd heard the advice earlier! That sage advice? Don't keep working the same stories over and over! Move on and build a body of work so you have other stories to offer your editor when she asks.
The day I received my 2007 Golden Heart scores was rough. I already knew I hadn’t finaled, but I was sure my scores would reveal I’d missed the cutoff by a hundredth of a point. Or less. You know, there was probably some weird scoring aberration. Maybe they’d added wrong (hey, it happens) and I’d discover I was a finalist after all! Um, no. My scores were in the bottom half of my category. Not. Even. Close. I couldn’t believe I’d dedicated a year of my life to writing a subpar story! I’d spent all those hours at the computer, given up watching Survivor, for nothing? I curled into fetal position on the couch and clutched the envelope, thinking that maybe I should burn my scores (and the manuscript) so that my below averageness would not be preserved for all of posterity. My son (who was 11 at the time) walked into the family room, saw that dinner was no where close to being ready, and asked what was wrong. I told him his mother was a hack. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “It’s only your first story, Mom. You can’t expect it to be perfect. You’ll do better next time.” That’s the smartest writing advice I’ve ever received.
Back in 2008, florescent green newbie writer me ventured into the RWA® Literacy Autographing feeling like a puny little ant at a picnic for giants. During the life-changing fifteen minutes Deeanne Gist talked with me, she complimented me on my Golden Heart® finals. I told her I felt like a phony wearing my pins because my stories weren't all that good. Dee said when she received her first rejections, she didn't like them and took time out to study craft so she'd be ready the next time she queried. I took her advice to heart, spent a year learning to write a marketable story, and met with so much success when I sent my work out afterward that my head's still spinning.
The best advice I received was when I went to my first autographing. My mother had seen the announcement in the newspaper and knew I was writing a novel. I went and Vickie Lewis Thompson and Tate McKenna were signing. They advised me to join RWA. When I joined RWA, I learned so many industry tips, networked with other writers, found out about critique groups and basically ended up published because of that membership. Presently we have ACFW for the CBA market. My advice is to join one or both.
More than 15 years ago I went to a workshop by historical author Shelly Thacker and she said, "Emotion on every page." That term has ballooned into books, workshops, DVDs and entire seminars by writing coaches, screenwriters, authors, editors and agents. It all boils down to the simplicity of the same four words. Emotion on Every Page.
Get connected!! When I first started to write my book, I knew absolutely NO ONE in the writing industry … not authors, not bloggers, not writers on the path to publication. And definitely not any editors or agents. In fact, the most I knew about agents was what I learned from the movie Jerry McGuire—“Show me the money!” Money? Gosh, all I wanted was for someone to “show me the ropes. So I joined ACFW, FHL, RWA, critique groups and made writer friends. I went to conferences as much to meet people and network as to hone my craft or to pitch to an editor. We writers are an odd breed who need to interface with our own kind, so it’s critical to plug into writing blogs like The Seekers and interact with the family of writers you meet there by commenting on the blogs and connecting at conferences. These “connections” provide a solid base of emotional and professional support that can eventually “network” into “divine connections” that can change your life.
The smartest writing advice I ever got was to write as worship. Makes the rejections go down easier because at least I know God likes the story. LOL! Writing as worship is to me, in a sense, committing my work to God. His direction. His timing. His way. And because I'm writing as worship, I'm going to put my best effort forward and to aim for excellence with virtue. The greatest bit of craft-centered advice has probably been to write first and edit later and to separate my research from my writing because they use different parts of the brain making me less productive.
The smartest advice I ever got wasn't exactly advice, but when the email came asking if I would join a new group of writers, I hesitated. I was already a member of ACFW and RWA and a handful of chapter and local writers groups, and I had a writers that I communicated with on a personal level sporadically. What would I do with another group that just sat there and vegetated? After a couple of days, I decided to join this new group. I figured if the promised camaraderie never materialized, I could quietly fade into the background and then just ... unjoin. Six years later, I don't know what I would do without my Seeker Sisters. I don't have any sisters, and they are truly my sisters of the heart. Maybe not advice, but it's the best thing I ever did for my writing.
The best writing advice I ever received was: Polish your manuscript until you think it's perfect but remember it's not. If an editor acquires it, there will be changes during the editing process. Don't squawk, make the changes. The editor knows what they're doing.
~Rose Ross Zediker
The best writing advice I've ever been given is 'No conflict=no story.' The reader wants to worry about the characters. Will they reach their goals? Will they live happily ever after? Will they save the world? I wanted to coddle my characters, temper the wind to the shorn lamb. But this makes for a boring story. Throw everything you can think of in the way of conflict at your character. Figure out the worst thing that could happen to them, then make that thing happen. Write the story as if the Black Moment--the final great catastrophe--was the end of the book. THEN figure out how to get them out of the calamity.
Someone once told me to think of my manuscript as my product. Rejection means the product isn’t ready and needs more work. It does not mean that I can’t write. That “product” mindset puts the emphasis on the writing and not the writer. I’m not rejected, my product is. In that light, the rejection is less painful and leads to a second bit of advice: NEVER GIVE UP!
Years ago, I critiqued with bestselling author Connie Rinehold aka Eve Byron. She molded my writing from raw emotional drivel to something suitable for novel length fiction, LOL! Bless her heart! Anyway, amidst the slashes of red pencil across the pages, she pound into me, "make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em WAIT!!" In life, I bust at the seams when I have to keep a secret; in my stories, I have to discipline my characters to bite their tongues and keep the reader wondering will it work out or not?
The smartest writing advice I ever got wasn't exactly a one-time thing, but something repeated over and over by friends, family, colleagues, and--by impressions upon my spirit--even God: "Don't give up." I was so close to giving up many, many times over the 25 years of seriously pursuing my first book contract. The last time was only months before I got THE CALL from Barbara Scott at Abingdon Press. Two years later I had four books in print! Just think what I would have missed out on if I HAD given up!
My most beloved piece of writing advice came from my sixth grade teacher after giving us a writing assignment with a PRIZE..... And this prize was a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I totally wanted that statue. So I busily wrote a GREAT PAPER on the beatitudes, the meaning of less is more, the warmth that comes from embracing God's truth. A masterpiece, of course. And then the winner was announced and... you guessed it.... it wasn't me. I was stunned because I knew how good my paper was, but... (And here is the best advice ever given me besides the fact that kicking a car's tires tells you NOTHING about the car...). The teacher sought me out . She held my paper in her hand, and said, "This was the best written paper by far, Ruth, but you didn't follow the directions. As lovely as this was," she held the paper out to me, "You need to learn to listen well and follow directions." And while it's a lesson I haven't always obeyed, it's a lesson I've never forgotten.
~Ruth Logan Herne
Now tell us about the smartest writing advice you ever got.
Today I'm giving away a set of monogrammed note cards from one of my favorite Etsy crafters, The Paper Mason. Check it out here. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.