No, I can’t really go back in time (if I could, you’d be reading this on a telegraph!). But if I could, there’s a few things I’d tell myself about writing, publication, and and the business of print.
Never underestimate the kindness and generosity of other writers. Most of the progress I’ve made this last year has been because of the friendships I’ve made with other SF/F writers. First it was through WordPress, then it was through Twitter. Not only have other writers helped me learn the ropes and what to expect, but they’ve been a constant source of inspiration and support during the writing, editing, and shopping process.
Never underestimate the selfishness and self-centeredness of other writers. While, thankfully, not as common as the nice folks, there are some astonishingly vain writers out there who are writing for one reason: themselves. They feed off of praise and adulation, and love to talk about themselves and their work but rarely help other people. Steer clear of these folks, no matter what honeyed promises they give you.
Listen to agents. It’s hard advice, at first. It will likely burst your happy little bubble, and will be difficult to hear. At first you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of queries each and every agent gets, then by the sheer fail of it all. But then you’ll realize how important it is that you listen to their advice because, unlike ten years ago, now with Twitter and Facebook and the blogsplosion, you have the opportunity to be in the know. The secrets are out, for the most part. But, conversely, you have no excuse for being ignorant! So in some ways, the competition is even more intense. Keep on your toes.
The Internet is not magic. Just because you blog, podcast, write, critique, and are involved in active Twitter chats doesn’t mean you’ll find success. It can help, of course, but it still takes persistence and work. There are no magic publication fairies that will scoop up your manuscript and whisk it off to Tor. That said, you have to act as your own emissary–so be on good behavior, and try not to be a dick.
Rejection isn’t personal. It’s biased, yes, but not personal. It’s also part of the game. Learning to wear rejection as a badge of honor is a good idea, but it’s no easy task. You can think you’re tough, but life is weird. Chances are you’ll get a major rejection on a day that was crap already, and no matter how much you try to say it doesn’t bother you, it will. It’s natural. It’s something you hoped for, and nothing sucks so much as the destruction of hope (even if it’s just temporary). However, you’re only allowed to let it bother you for a day, an hour, a small increment of time, and then move on. If you can’t move on, frankly, you’re just not cut out for this business.
Make your own victories. It’s not about what you’re writing compared to everyone else. It’s not even about your word count. It’s about telling your story and telling it right. It’s about finding your own voice. Make daily goals, and stick to them. As long as you keep championing on, the sting of rejection won’t be so harsh.
Never take your readers for granted. Their input is some of the most meaningful and helpful you’ll ever get. There is nothing so amazing as sharing something with a reader and having them enjoy it, having the story mean something to them, too. Listen to everything they say… their comments can be more insightful than the most seasoned critic.
Grow a pair. You’ll find, as you continue to write, and move beyond that first novel, that there are things you should have done, could have done, and were afraid to do. Be fearless. Go out on a limb. Be the voice you want to hear. Maybe you can’t slay dragons in real life, but you can do anything between the lines. Trust your imagination, listen to your characters, and be brave enough to heed what you hear.
Read, read, read. Never go a day without reading something. Read books that rock, books that suck. Read how-to books and mystery novels and gardening books. Read cooking books and encyclopedias. Learn from the craft, never stop the stream of information. It is what you love, and if you stray from that path, you’ll get lost. Trust me, I know.