Friday, March 14, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Advice

We, at the Writers' Group, have been at this for some time, now. At meetings, we've shared a multitude of pages and discussed the business of writing over many cups of tea. We've attended conferences, we've all written novels (some of them under contract at publishing houses). Surely, we've learned a thing, or two? Today, each of us will share the one most important piece of advice we could have for someone who is starting out on their quest to write fiction. And for those friends of the blog already successful novelists, we wonder what your advice would be?

Lisa Marnell
My advice is not original; I've read this recommendation in books on the craft of writing.

It's this: Never, ever, talk about your work in progress with anyone but your writing confidantes, whoever they may be. You see, I believe that when you try to summarize your premise and plot, characters and conflict into two sentences shared at the sidelines of a soccer field, you squash the life out of your story. After all, the world of your novel-to-be is so much more. Furthermore, I am convinced that when you put it into words, some of the magic in your private fictional world escapes; the enchanted fairy forgets how to fly for an instant and the evil wizard is not as cutthroat as he had been in a writer's mind.

Amy MacKinnon

I agree with everything the others have said, so I'll share my super secret for success. I used it when I wanted to find the man of my dreams, have amazing children by a certain age, when I wanted to work on Capitol Hill, get that column in the Boston Globe, receive the call from a producer at NPR, and then catch the attention of both the agent and editor of my dreams: I visualized my success. I imagined every step, no detail was too small. It's like casting a spell, conjuring the four winds to spin your dreams into life. Imagine the possibilities.

Hannah Roveto
The usual words of advice are to read and write. I find that only the platform from which you need to take your first step. My advice? Do small things to take yourself seriously, so others will take you seriously as well. Create a space that looks and feels like an Official Work Space; even if it cannot be exclusively yours, claim it in chunks of time as yours alone, not to be disturbed. Set deadlines you will meet, if not with a writers group then by telling one honest and good friend you plan to write 20 pages by month's end. (Or whatever.) Then do it again, and again. Read about writing, and take classes from teachers others recommend. If this is going to be a real career, even if you can't quit your day job(s), treat it like a real career, with intent and action.

Lynne Griffin
The single most important advice I offer is to be positive. Focus on your strengths as a writer, as this will go a long way toward helping you recognize where your writing needs work. Stay optimistic that you too will get through the tough writing days; you will find an agent and get offered a contract for your novel. Be affirmative in your interactions with readers and writers and industry insiders; the world of publishing is a small one. Nice people finish first in my book. Express your feedback to members of your writers' group or about books you've read in ways that are constructive, encouraging and supportive. When you truly believe in yourself and your writing, you will treat yourself with respect. When you respect yourself--others will too.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful advice, all of it. Thanks.

Lisa Marnell said...

Thanks Usman,

My close friend just told me she decided to write a novel. I gave her some tips (unsolicited)...

"Try to set aside a certain time of day for writing."

"Save extra bits you cut in a file for extra passages. You may want them again, some day."

Then I had to stop - so hard. It's nice to know we're learning a thing or two about writing, though, isn't it?

Unknown said...

This is all great advice--thank you.

Anonymous said...

Yes great advice, thanks.

Lisa said...

Excellent advice! As always, I'm astonished and grateful for the generosity you four ladies show to the rest of us.

The power of visualization -- I believe this is real, but I also think it's a skill that really needs practice. It's much harder to do than it seems.

Larramie said...

Lisa, the power of visualization doesn't really require practice, rather it takes 100% belief!

Yes, Amy, even as a child I was using this technique that I just somehow knew. You, too?

Anonymous said...

Amazing advice. I agree with Hannah, that telling a friend is a good idea. To finish the second draft of my first novel, I sent three chapters a month to a friend who doesn't read much. At that point I just needed a safe person who wouldn't judge my writing or offer advice, and it kept me on task until the end. I didn't even think she would read it (maybe I hoped she wouldn't), but she did. Currently I'm working on a first draft of a novel, and have committed to a monthly word count that I send to myself. Though I usually meet it, I'm not sure the quality is as good as it was when I used a friend.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Grace, as one who gives it sowell, this is a high compliment.

Thanks for stopping by, Anon.

Lisa, Lisa, when you put your husband's birthday party on the calendar, you start making plans for it. You bake a cake, clean the house, buy some fine and a nice dress because you believe it will happen. There are guarantees it will, buy you expect it to and behave accordingly. It's the same thing.

Larramie, are you surprised?

Tara, I love hearing about other people's techniques for committing to the work. My advice, do whatever works best for you and your writing, there are no rules.


Shauna Roberts said...

Great advice from each and every one of you. Thanks for sharing your secrets.

Jo said...

I can't begin to say how encouraged I am after reading all of your marvelous insight! You've validated my own feelings as a writer, and renewed a sense of determination and passion which seemed to be lacking in me today.
I'll gladly direct others to your blog. Thank you so much for creating this safe haven!
- Jo

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Glad to hear the advice rung a bell with some, was useful for others. Lisa Marnell gets full credit for the prompt today; it was fun to answer, too!


Carleen Brice said...

Thank you for this! Looks like I've got some visualizing to do!

Anonymous said...

Great comments. I always like to think of writing as being the equivalent of trying to sort out everything by talking to a friend. Except that, when writing, it's like having a friend who always listens, nods her head understandingly, and is always very sympathetic.

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