From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:
Here’s more about the mistakes I made so you don’t have to. If I had worked harder on these things instead of doggedly piling up wordcount without having a clue what I was doing, I’d have saved myself a lot of time and heartbreak on my road to publication.
1) Come Out of the Writing Closet
It seems half the people I meet are “working on a book.” A lot of them have been working on that same book for years — even decades.
But they never show it to anybody.
Many of them also never read writing guides or blogs or magazine articles that might improve their writing skills. This is especially true of memoir and other nonfiction writers. They don’t think they need to know about writing craft if they’re writing nonfiction.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Nonfiction needs to be even more carefully structured than fiction — especially memoir. A simple chronology almost never makes for compelling reading. (For more on writing memoir, see my post on How to Write a Publishable Memoir.)
Then there are the writers who pile up files of half-finished stories and essays for years and never polish them or send them to potential publishers.
And I remember a writer who proudly told a Facebook group that he’d paid a vanity press to publish his book. But he’d never shown his writing to anybody. He wanted to know where he could find beta readers before he sent in his manuscript. Ack! (And of course, a vanity press is almost never a great way to publish a debut novel.)
I know why they do it. I was a “closeted writer” in my early writing years.
If you don’t show your work to anybody, and don’t compare it to anything in the marketplace, you can hang onto the fantasy that you’re a fabulous self-taught genius who has so much talent you don’t need to take a class or learn anything about writing craft.
Hey, you went to college. You’ve always got your nose in a book. Of course you know how to write.
Um, maybe not. You may love to drive, but that doesn’t mean you can build a car.
If you hope to publish someday, spending years in a writer-closet will not work in your favor. You’re setting yourself up for nasty disappointment and/or some serious scamming.
2) Develop Rhino Hide
One of the most important reasons to get out of that writer closet is to build up the soul-callouses a writer needs to succeed in this business.
I recommend that beginning writers join a critique group. A writing group can be a great way to learn the ropes without taking a bunch of expensive writing courses, and networking with other writers can help in your career. Often groups can improve your writing. Sometimes they can’t.
But a very big benefit is that they’ll help you toughen up and learn to process criticism.
Hey, if you’re scared the people in that critique group might be hard on you? Wait until you read your reviews. Yes. You’ll get bad reviews. All writers do. It’s the dues you pay for membership in the published writers club.
I know it’s all painful and crushing to your creative soul, but we have to learn to take this stuff with grace. Unfortunately, rhino hide is part of the job description. Ruth Harris wrote a great piece on growing that rhino skin.
3) Read Bestsellers, Especially in Your Genre
It’s amazing how many people who want to be writers do not read. Try to talk to them about books that have sold in the past 5 years and they go blank, or get huffy and say, “I only read the classics.” (Which they probably haven’t opened since college.) I hear so many new writers say they don’t read bestsellers because “they’re all crap.”
Which is usually followed by statements like:
“I’ve read Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Faulkner…and every word Vonnegut ever wrote. You seriously expect me to learn from reading books by some Kardashian’s ghostwriter?”
The problem with that argument is that you can’t enter the marketplace if you don’t know what buyers are looking for. As brilliant as the novels of Virginia Woolf are, they’re not bestsellers right now. And even if you are the reincarnation of William Faulkner, you’re probably not going to attract a lot of 21st century readers writing lush, Southern Gothic prose. You need to learn how to write for the people buying books right now.
No, you don’t have to read celebrity tell-alls. But you need to read voraciously in your chosen genre. And yes, literary fiction is a genre.
I once read a great piece of advice from an agent who said you should read the debut novels of top-selling authors in your genre. Don’t only read the stuff superstars are putting out now they’re famous. See what popular writers first created that allowed them to break into the business. Studying those will help you break in, too.
And beginning writers of nonfiction, I’m talking to you, too.
Many beginning writers don’t even Google their subject to find out how many similar books are out there.
Even though nobody in your immediate circle may know what it’s like to be married to a narcissist or care for a parent with dementia doesn’t mean the books aren’t there. (Amazon lists over fifty pages of books on narcissism and at least that many on Alzheimer’s disease.)
I’m not saying you shouldn’t write on these subjects — they are popular and most people need more education about them — but if you intend to publish, you need to know what’s available so you can approach your subject in a fresh way.
Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris