Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How I Found the Write Path

This is my contribution to the “How I Found the Write Path” project. Details are HERE.



Dear Me (from 8 years ago),


I know you’re in the middle of writing your first manuscript. You’re going to belt it out in 6 weeks, look at it a few times, and declare it done. Then you’re going to query it.

DON’T.

You’re so naive. You have much to learn.

In fact, if I were you I’d quit NOW. Seriously. (And invest in Apple.)

If you ignore my advice, you’re going to set yourself up for 8+ years of self-doubt.

It’s like being a model—not that I’d know—your friends and family tell you how beautiful you are. When you go on casting calls others will tell you that your eyes are too small, your legs aren’t long enough, and you need to lose 10 lbs. After that, all you’ll see are flaws and all you’ll hear are the comments about what’s wrong with you.

If I can’t convince you to quit—because you already feel the pulse of the ideas flowing through your veins, digging into your marrow, crackling in your nerve fibers—I’ve compiled 8 pieces of advice:

1.     Don’t be hasty. The average writer takes 10 years to become published. (And even then, it’s not like you can quit your day job.)

2.     Don’t wait 5 years to take that grammar course.

3.     Read more books about the craft of writing from the start. (Read lots of fiction too—but I don’t have to tell you that.)

4.     Don’t wait for bouts of inspiration to write or you’ll experience devastating droughts.

5.     Find more critique partners early in your writing journey.

6.     Realize that following 1-5 here doesn’t guarantee you’ll be published faster.

7.     Rough drafts are just that. Most of writing is revising.

8.     When you hit year 7, you’re going to start having “almost made it" moments. Don’t despair.

As I write this, I must admit, I’ve been despairing. A LOT. I’ll read a fantastic novel and think, “I’ll never be able to write this well. I’m a hack.” It’s also hard to hear about the writers who have written for less time and nabbed agents and publishing contracts. Sure, there are writers who toiled for longer before they reached success, but how can I be tough on myself if I concentrate on them? And it’s not jealousy. I’m asking, “What’s wrong with me?”

Try not to compare yourself with other writers’ journeys or anyone’s “rules” for success. You don’t have to write every day (though aim for nearly every day). You don’t have to write a certain word count per day. You don’t have to plot. There are examples of great writers in either the plotting and panstering camp, and most writers are a combo. You’ll read blogs, attend conferences, and workshops where people tell you what you HAVE to do. Just like with critique groups, you’ll get lots of advice, but you have to follow your INSTINCT.

The writing community is amazing. Supportive. Selfless. So, give as much as you get. In fact, give more. Console setbacks. Check in. Lift up. Cheer on. Celebrate successes.

And be sure to reach out for support when you need it.

Much about writing is lonely and angst claws at our gut. Sometimes we resemble that piece of Voldemort’s fractured soul at Platform 9 ¾.

Nobody understands this like other writers.

You’re a bad writer right now. You have to be bad in the beginning in order to get better. A novel is woven with many-colored threads. To become a master weaver, it takes hours of practice and we can always improve.

If you keep at it, be prepared to meet people who say, “I’d like to be a writer, but I don’t have the time.” Writer friends will quit, no matter how much you try to encourage them. You will also contend with people who don’t understand why you’re still doing this writing thing when you no agent or publisher to show for it. And those rejections, even the kind ones, even those “almost” ones, will hurt. In those moments, you’ll need to dig deep to muster the courage to continue.

The thing is, we writers have stories to tell. And when we weave the many threads—we wonder how our brain could accomplish something that amazing. WE DID! We want out stories to touch others the way certain books have saved us. We want those readers to feel like we wrote the book just for them.

On this journey, hold every glimmer of progress to your breast.

We can’t give up.

Because just taking the journey is its own success.


Love,
Theresa

Theresa Milstein
MG and YA Author
"Theresa's Tales" http://theresamilsten.blogspot.com
Permission granted to use this post in the "How I Found the Write Path" e-book


Writers, any advice you'd like to add?  


90 comments:

  1. Invest in Apple - funny!
    You gave yourself some great tips.
    Now I need to write myself a letter that says I need to rewrite my letter, as mine isn't half this good...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alex, than you very much. I posted it early because I start a class on Monday. Figure having it out there would give me more time to comment on these posts next week!

      Delete
  2. Nice, Theresa. There's some very solid advice. I got all worried when I saw your letter and panicked and then looked at my calendar and realized I still have a couple days to get my letter up. Whew! I loved the part about going with you instinct. It really is all about that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Crystal. I posted early and I'm going to leave it up for awhile.

      Delete
    2. And you should. It's an epic letter.

      Delete
  3. We'll never be perfect. We can get better, but we'll never be perfect. No writer is, and we all have our own journeys. I wrote for close to 10 years... maybe longer, before I published anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. M Pax, you are right. And if the average is 10 years, it makes sense that it has to take longer for some. But who wants to know that starting out? We all think it won't be our path, right?

      Delete
  4. Haha! Loved your Apple poke. Great stuff.

    Dang, I heard so much familiar emotion in this piece. You've made me excited to write mine. The journey is different for all of us, yet many similarities along the way weave us together. I think that's why our writing community is so tight. I've never been a part of anything in my life as wholesome and genuine as our community.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SA, it really is an amazing community. I don't know how writers did this before social media connected us.

      Delete
  5. LOVE this. Excellent advice to you and the rest of us :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This echoes so many of my own sentiments. Although I have to say I miss those early naive days. Just thinking I could write a manuscript and get it published quickly...it was almost nice, in a way, to not know any better!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stephanie, it was nice to just write with abandon. If we knew then what we know now, we probably wouldn't have started!

      Delete
  7. My own self feels your writerly pain. I think I would want to know the ups and the downs. I see you left the joke in. But it's all good. I'm so down (and you know why) on all this these days, I haven't written to me yet. I'm AFRAID of what I would put. Maybe tomorrow I can muster enough courage to write it. It just seems to me that some folks SKYROCKET to the prize. I wonder why that is. I know a non-fiction writer PB writer who had an agent 4 months after she STARTED writing. That is SOOOO NOT fair.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Robyn, the Apple joke kept making me chuckle, so I had to leave it. I felt the same way as you--I was afraid to write this piece. But writing it wound up being cathartic. I wrote what I really felt and then convinced myself to keep at it in the process. Remember, if the average takes 10 years, some take 4 months and others take 20 years. (Please don't let it take 20 years.)

      Delete
  8. Your last line is a gem. The whole piece is wise and funny.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with all of this, because I lived it.

    I used to think I could slap something down on paper, with no one reading it closely at first, and an agent and editor would be knocking down my door. This was when I was 18.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Medeia, I wish I started when you did. I wanted until I was in my mid-30s to begin, so I feel all those wasted years when I didn't believe I could be a writer. You give me hope because you're doing so well!

      Delete
  10. All so true, Theresa! We didn't choose to do this because it was easy, right? Great advice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cleemckenzie, you're right. Nobody could think this is the easy choice. Even back in the beginning, I read the posts and articles that told me it wouldn't be easy.

      Delete
  11. If only we got those letters...
    Wonderful post, Theresa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lynda, if only we did get those letters. Thank you!

      Delete
  12. Thanks for the honesty and details of your journey Theresa. I think your message is comprehensive. I would just expand on your #1 about being hasty: don't be afraid to take a break and reflect. I think discouragement can pile up quickly if we do not realize the need for reflection--the time away will be restorative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Slamdunk, you're so right. We can't figure out how to make our manuscripts better unless we step back and get some fresh perspective.

      Delete
  13. Great post! That's impressive that you wrote that first manuscript in just a few weeks; it took me more than a year to write mine. I especially agree with that part about grammar; grammatical errors are very distracting, no matter how good the story is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Neurotic Workaholic, there's no rule about how fast or short to write a manuscript. I don't belt them out in 6 weeks now. My last 2 were fast then my previous ones, but they also had a low word count. I find that the process to rough draft and revise takes at least a year, no matter what.

      Delete
  14. Hi Theresa ... it's the same for everyone - so good for you for not giving up and walking away as I'm sure many unsatisfied writers do. Having courage in your convictions to persevere is the way to go ... you'll get there and be smiling at the beginning of publication ... cheers and have a happy journey ever onwards and upwards ..Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hilary, I'm doing the onwards--let's hope you're right about the upwards. Cheers to you!

      Delete
  15. *applause* What a great post, Theresa! I love it--so much wisdom there. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Really helpful, Theresa. May there be many more of its ilk. I will get mine up soon, but still wondering if it'd help anyone...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Denise, I've often found your posts helpful.

      Delete
  17. Such a great post, Theresa. It's always encouraging to hear from someone who completely gets what you're going through. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ruth, it's nice to know we're not alone on this haphazard and often rocky writing journey.

      Delete
  18. Love this post. "Just taking the journey is its own success" - exactly! Great advice for all writers!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Yes, it takes lots of patience and confidence and persistence. Good luck on your journey!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Inspirational letter, Theresa, and you're right. It is all about the journey. I started out confident I could write NON-fiction. But there is a huge difference between communicating information (non-fiction) and story-telling (fiction). Even now, a day rarely goes by when insecurity doesn't rear its soul-sucking head.

    VR Barkowski

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. VR, insecurity can be a "soul-sucking" head. If I could really write a letter to myself, I'd send it to teen me and apply to creative writing programs. Would've saved me some of that giant learning curve.

      Delete
  21. I'm glad I stopped querying too quickly in 2001. Neither of those books were ready for publication yet, and needed more work to be polished to perfection. I ultimately decided to go indie, but at least I was in much better shape when I was querying again from 2011 onwards.

    There was a time I really believed I'd be published by the time I was fifteen, and that I'd be rich and famous. My dream is still to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but being remembered as a writer for all time would be the next-best thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carrie-Anne, at this point, I'm just trying to nab an agent. Good luck with your dreams!

      Delete
  22. Loved this, especially your last line. It's so true. And all your advice is right on.

    ReplyDelete
  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Oh how I wish I'd invested in Apple... sigh.

    I love this, except I'm going to add one thing: don't you dare quit. I'm glad you can't convince yourself to stop!! No matter how scary and hard and disappointing and frustrating and discouraging all of this is (and it IS all of those things), keep writing. Keep trying. Not because success will come (although it will!) but because you love it.

    Good luck, Theresa. Don't give up!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liz, I'll be honest, I felt pretty sour when I started writing the post, and then I kind of spurred myself on to continue. Every several months, I'm ready to quit... but then I don't. Thanks for the encouragement!

      Delete
  25. Oh! You captured that "I am writer! Hear me...squeak miserably..." feeling so well! You gave me a visual I will have forevermore. Yes, we sometimes "resemble that piece of Voldemort’s fractured soul at Platform 9 ¾." Perfect. Unpleasant, but perfect.

    Great advice here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sarah. What's uglier than Voldemort's fractured soul, right?

      Delete
  26. Agree about the journey. Just sticking with it is an accomplishment.

    What's wrong with you?
    Often times, nothing. The traditional pub. system is all but broken.

    Best of luck. I enjoyed reading your entry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melissa, when we see others give up, it makes us realize how strong we can be. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  27. Wonderful blog post, Theresa! Everything you say is so true. Many times I feel like I'm wasting my precious time writing when I should be enjoying my five children. But then I look back and find the paltry few stories and essays that have been published and I begin to dream again. Never lose sight of the dream. As Melissa says above, "sticking with [writing] is an accomplishment" in itself. Thanks again for the wonderful letter to your budding writer self. ~Victoria Marie Lees

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Victoria, success can look a lot like failure in the beginning. Didn't David Sedaris say this? When I feel like I'm taking time away from other things, after I try to make some balance, I also remind myself that my needs are important too. Our kids are proud of us.

      Delete
  28. Yeah, I should've gone with the Apple stock option as well! Otherwise, plan, plan, plan your post release marketing ideas, blitz, etc and then add one day for every two you think you might need. Everything feels like it "should be there yesterday" but if it's good (you'll know) the readers will still be there waiting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dean, to think how much leisure time I'd have to write if I'd invested in Apple.... Thanks for the advice!

      Delete
  29. SO many good points there, and I especially like the last line, that definition of success is something I'll keep close to my heart!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Theresa, I'm so glad I had the opportunity to actually meet you last year in MA. Your skill, wit, and courage as a writer are all traits I admire. Great piece.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Victoria, that's so sweet! I was such a pleasant surprise meeting you last year! You were so lovely. Thanks to you, I've improved my vocabulary. :)

    ReplyDelete
  32. what really got me nodding was the part you said that most of the writing is revising. agh! true!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tammy, it's so hard to recognize those mistakes in the beginning, so we don't know what it takes to revise.

      Delete
  33. Most of writing is revising. Yep! Also, I ask myself "what's wrong with me?" so many times, but you can't. You must push through and move forward. Thanks so much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christine, I really enjoyed your post with your emphasis on strength.

      Delete
  34. I don't have much to add to this! You really summed it up. Writing as its own reward - what a beautiful sentiment.

    ReplyDelete
  35. This is great advice. I wish I could run after my younger self and tell her to not send those first queries too.
    Elizabeth Hein - Scribbling in the Storage Room

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabeth, I guess for most of us it's part of the experience. And for one person I know, she got her agent ASAP. I try not to be envious....

      Delete
  36. Oh, I've definitely had those days that I look like Voldemort on that platform . . .but this reference made me snicker. Thank you. :) And yes, trust your instincts, and yes, hold onto every bit of progress - wonderful, real advice. Thank you for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tyrean, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you!

      Delete
  37. Ha! Wonderful entry. I find the touch of self-deprecation quite entertaining, though I'm sure (based on your voice) you've got this writing thing better in hand than some of us. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Loni, that's nice of you to say. Now let's hope some agent feels the same way. ;)

      Delete
  38. Love this letter. Your enthusiasm and kindness shine through.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I like the way you think, Theresa! Looks like we both had investment suggestions for our past selves. LOL

    Thank you for participating! :D

    ReplyDelete
  40. Thanks, Carrie! It was a great idea and a lot of fun.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Excellent advice! I have two responses when I read- either I'll think I'm a hack, like yourself or I'll think this blows, why not me? It's so frustrating (all the annoyance being directed at Self, you know the one...middle name Loathing, last name Pity?)

    My son gave me the best pick me up. I was feeling the whole, I have been doing this for years and I'm not where I want to be and he reminded me, real writers write. There is no eye on the pay check, no obsession with numbers- Poe died poor, Charles Dickens was a news paper writer, Emily Dickens was rejected once and hid the rest of her work in a closet. Not saying I want to be a poor, unappreciated recluse, but when you love writing and it fills a need in your soul, that should be the brass ring and we should quit feeling like we have to have certain credits to be legitimate.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Nice to meet you!

    ReplyDelete
  42. Elizabeth, yes, it's a double-edged sword to know some of the greats didn't achieve greatness in their time. I'm hoping to get a chance to have readers and interactions with my readers now, even if I don't make much. All we can do is keep trying, right?

    ReplyDelete
  43. Invest in apple! That's tremendous advice. I love this letter to a former you. Now if only science could deliver it. Wouldn't that make life interesting?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael, your post about Apple put the idea in my head. Yes, I need science to deliver this letter to me. Then I can retire from work and concentrate on writing and writing-related activities. (I'll pass the letter on to you too.)

      Delete
  44. Outstanding post, my friend! It is such a struggle to keep going, but you have so much talent and I have been reading your work for a long time. I think the first piece I read was about a strange fog taking over walmart....You've come a LONG way Baby!

    I am so blessed to have you as a critique partner and friend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks so much Sharon. I feel the same way about you. That's why I keep giving you a hard time when you don't make room for your writing.

      As for the fog story, that's the weirdest one I've written to date and it would be the hardest to sell, I think. But it was the first story I ever wrote that got requests.

      Delete
  45. That's an awesome letter, Theresa! Of course, the bit that hits home for me is the not-comparing-yourself-to-others bit. There always seem to be other writers landing agents and deals and readers and accolades, but hey - everyone's on their own path!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deniz, I think we all wrestle with not comparing ourselves to other writers. Yes, we're all on our own path (I must keep repeating this to myself).

      Delete
  46. This is such a wonderful letter, and one that I wish my former self from six years ago had an opportunity to read! But the thing is that learning the hard way makes the reward even sweeter. And I just know you'll get there. <3

    ReplyDelete
  47. Julie, true, there is something to be said about learning the hard way. I heard some of the advice (like not querying too early) back then, but I just didn't get it! Let's both get to that agent/editor stage.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Huh, thanks for the encouraging advice? LOL 10 years to be published, that sounds painful. I have learned that the only way to keep on writing (which I love no matter what) is to stop thinking about the potential (and elusive) prize that could come. I might never become famous or wealthy out of it, but I enjoy doing it, that's what matters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HappinessSavouredHot, well, I did warn the new-writer me to flee before embarking on this difficult path. Like you, I do love writing. If I only concentrated on that elusive prize, I would've given up. Luckily, I know others who have found some publishing success years after they began. There's still hope.

      Delete