The Middle Eight Manifesto or; Behold! The Secret to Writing!

Photo: Natania Barron, NC Botanical Gardens

Well, I’ve reached the middle eight. Almost. At least, I’m cruising just about to the 30K mark, a little more than a third of the way through Rock Revival. Musically speaking that might be where I put a bridge. Or a pre-chorus. Or something interesting. Certainly we’ve established the verse and chorus, and now we’re shaking things up.

And hoo-boy are we. It’s been so long since I’ve been this deep in a novel (I did the math; it’s been over two years, between day jobbery, health issues, and pregnancy…) that I’ve absolutely forgotten how characters can throw you for a loop. I had this planned, damnit. WTF?!

Maybe part of me really thought the magic was only apparent in speculative-flavored books, because this last scene (written about 12 hours ago, during the wee hours of the morning) really threw me a punch in the gut. You’d think a first-person narrative wouldn’t be so unpredictable, but you’d be wrong. Kate just took me down an alley I didn’t anticipate going down, and it’s horrible and wonderful and perfect for where the book is going.

So as far as fiction writing is going for me? Happy days are here again. Glad to report, this lady’s got her groove back. Quite literally. I even started putting those lyrics from yesterday to music! I’m basically squeezing every moment of time possible for myself between diaper changes, errands, cooking dinner, and loads and loads of laundry. Yes, that’s me. Covered in spit up and wearing pajamas for most of the day. Glamour!

Anyway, after talking a bit last night with Paul Jessup, a writer who’s been a friend since I started going on the Internet and referring to myself as an author, I decided I wanted to offer a few words of wisdom about becoming a successful writer.

So I wrote a little manifesto. I’m indebted to a few for this, because not all this is new (in particular Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife and Stephen King’s On Writing). These are just the things that I’ve learned that are helpful especially for newer writers.

1.) There is only one secret to writing. And that is writing the best book you can possibly write.

2.) Writing well for you is not the same as writing well for others. Learn to figure out what it is that you write, and why it’s important to write it. Know your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll never be perfect, but awareness is the key to growth.

3.) No how-to book can teach you how to write. The only way to write is to read. And then write. Then read more. And more. And write more. Ad nauseum. You have to be in love with words and stories and characters and process. You have to be prepared to be alone, to sit up late at night and stay in love.

4.) Don’t follow agents and publishers on Twitter/Facebook/whatever until you’re ready AND until your book is ready. In some cases, I’d say to steer clear in general unless you know them personally. While their insight is helpful, I’ve seen it be more of a hindrance than a help for most writers who are too tempted to submit (unprepared) manuscripts in the face of all that social media influence. Not to mention, it’s a distraction you don’t need when writing. (After spending the better part of the last two years unconnected to the writing Twitter feeds, I’ve got to say there’s a lot less noise in my head; I keep it limited to my friends now, and very few industry folk. You can’t let the floodgates in, you’ll drown.)

5.) If you think you’re book is ready, it’s probably not. Edit it again. Share it with more friends. Leave it in a desk for a year. Let it cure. Like good bacon.

6.) Don’t even think about writing a query if your book isn’t ready. (Also, don’t even think about pitching/pestering/following/paying attention to agents/authors/publishers, either.)

7.) Make friends who are writers. Make them diverse, across genres, backgrounds, experiences, genders. Learn from them. Be kind to them. They will lift you up, connect you, support you when you need them most. Those relationships will help build your (and their) career.

8.) Don’t measure your success by your friends’ successes. Your career isn’t theirs. Keep going. While you’re at it: Focus on your own goals, and makes sure they’re realistic.

9.) Throw out your definition of success and think of a better one. It’s never what you think it is.

10.) Grow a thick skin.

11.) Grow a thicker skin. Everyone gets bad reviews. People will inevitably, somewhere along the way, hate your book. They might even hate you. If you’re not ready to face that, you’ll crumble. You’re allowed a meltdown now and again (I can speak to experience on this one) but you need to learn to bounce back, and remember that you’re a writer and you are putting yourself and your work out there because it needs to be shared.

12.) Be kind. Many writers don’t have 10 & 11, and never do. Also many writers are not kind or nice in any way. And they might be successful. Still, don’t burn bridges with reviews/commentary/criticism unless you’re prepared.

13.) Go to conventions as an attendee, then as a guest. Repeat.

14.) Enthusiasm is required. However, understand that there is such a thing as too much PR/self-promotion/spam. People will stop listening if you flood the channels.

15.) There is no easy way out. There is only one secret to writing. And that is writing the best book you can possibly write. 

A few notes. Personally, I’ve struggled with 10 & 11. I’m really bad at getting back up on the horse following rejections. Even nicer ones. Part of my problem is that I’m a very non-competitive person, and it’s honestly easier to be inactive than to get rejections. Once this current book is at Draft Zero, I’m going to be evaluating the current trunk full of novels I’ve given up on.

And listen, social media is great. I’ve made some of the best connections through it. But it’s become a mire. Half the people who follow me are self-publishing zealots spamming their feeds with their books (on sale for .99!). I mean, props to them. They’re making this a business. But their approach is not my approach. Yes, miracles do happen. Unexpected books break free and find huge popularity. But popularity isn’t success. Not for me. My biggest moment of success? Getting an awesome Library Journal review for Pilgrim of the Sky. Quite literally, I’ve never felt so downright euphoric in my writing career, ever. I was sitting in the car at a supermarket in Boone, NC, about to leave cell service territory, when I got the email from Kate at Candlemark, and I had to read it over twenty times and I couldn’t stop giggling. That made all the work feel so worthwhile.

And sure, most agents and publishers are well meaning. I don’t know. I don’t know their motives personally. But a lot of them come across as if they’re on power trips or use social media as their personal griping boards. Sure, it’s nice to know what agents are looking for. But you shouldn’t write for them. They are not your audience. They’re the gatekeepers, in some instances (though less and less so as the face of publishing is changing so quickly). And just because you get an agent doesn’t mean you’re happier. Some of the saddest people I know are authors with representation who are still going nowhere.

The thing is, the industry can and will change at the drop of a hat. The only constant is you, the writer, the content creator. Which is why the secret/no-secret is in your hands.

So go write, already! The world’s waiting for your best.

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  • Dennis Hermanson

    Hey, great interview with Frank Statio on the State of Things today, Jan 8th 2013. Happy New Year Speculatively Speaking! I’m a new visitor due to your being on State, and enjoyed it very much. Your range of interests is very varied.
    Just wanted to mention, as I’m posting this here, that the sculpture you empathized with is by Tinka Jordy, http://tinkajordy.com/ and also she an owner with her hubby, Mark, of Eno Gallery in Hillsborough, NC. http://enogallery.org/

    Keep up the multi-tasking work and fun. Your interview was joyful in the best way.

    Dennis Hermanson
    Hillsborough, NC USA

  • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

    Thank you for listening! And thank you for the info. It’s a lovely sculpture. :)

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