I began writing, in earnest, twelve years ago. So I’m not a baby, but not necessarily a veteran in this crazy business. I’ve been fortunate and have had four books published, worked with some extraordinary editors, have a super star agent (Stephen Barbara from Foundry Literary + Media), and am working on my fifth novel. Over the years, I’ve had amazing highs and some pretty sucky lows, but I’m still hanging on, still learning, and hope I’ll be here for a long time to come.
I’ve been invited to join this wonderful group of 2013ers, even though I won’t have a new novel out this year. (I told you I’m lucky!). Anyway, since I have no character to work with, I’ve got to work with me. I think there are some rules to live by as a writer so you don’t go crazy. It’s a crazy-making business and easy to get down. There’s a thousand reasons anybody can find to not keep at it, not keep writing, make a mini-Burning Man to honor the piles and piles of rejection letters then become a brain surgeon (Brain surgery, at times, seems so much more straight forward than character and story arcs. Except for the having to cut open someone’s head, the blood … ewww).
Anyway, I digress.
Back to resolutions . The ones I told you to run away from. Well, it IS January. So as not to feel like we’ve failed before we’ve begun, let’s call them rules, guidelines, tips … semantics. We’re writers. Semantics matter, I know.
So here are my writer’s resolutions.
As a writer who wants to keep sane, I resolve to …
- Write what I love.
- Never write to the market. Even though my books don’t have hot love scenes, paranormals, dysfunctional future worlds with archery experts or anything that is really HOT right now, I won’t write to the market. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t.
- So … I will write what I love.
- Care about the difference between lay and lie and make sure I apply said difference to my writing.
- Never compare my successes (or challenges) as a writer to others. There will always be others who are more successful, and others who are less successful. There’s room for everyone. Even me.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen to critiques (from good critique partners). Listen to speakers at conferences. Listen to TED lectures. Listen to conversations in cafes, Taco Bell, in lines at the airport and supermarket. There are writers’ jewels everywhere.
- Allow myself to write badly. Write horrible first drafts. Then revise.
- Be a writer’s writer. Buy my writer buddies’ books, request them at my libraries and bookstores. Pass out bookmarks and postcards. Re-tweet writers’ reviews and contest information. Do random acts of publicity, including friends’ books and other favorites. Word of mouth is POWERFUL. I will do all I can to make sure the world hears about the wonderful things the people I know are writing.
- Never turn down a writing assignment. We’re not all James Patterson with a writing empire. We are minions. I will write. Write about dog food and trailer jacks. Write. Write. Write.
- Remember that “publishing” isn’t the “end of the road.” There’s NO end … which is pretty great. Writers that I know write because they love words and have stories in them. It doesn’t end with a signed contract. There’s a silent drive in a writer’s world that makes this happen. Publishing is FAR from the end of the road.
- Read, read, read, read, read. Never stop reading. Read best sellers, award winners, my librarian’s favorites … everything I can. I won’t only read in my genre. (I kind of recommend NOT reading in your genre when you write. It’s so easy to absorb another’s writing style. So I almost strictly read non-fiction when I’m mid-project.)
- Be proud of my novels whether they’re best sellers or considered “mid-list” novels. There’s SO nothing wrong with being a mid-list writer. Dude, I’m writing. I get to WRITE! I mean, how cool is that? So, get over the ego and keep plugging away.
- Remember I’m not the John Green or Maureen Johnson of social media. They’re virtual gurus and can sell out Carnegie Hall. I will do what I can, what I’m comfortable with. I won’t get bogged down on a thousand sites. I’ll do one or two and do them well. Same goes for blogging.
- Take bad reviews with grace. Hell, at least they took the time to write a review!
- It’s a SMALL TEENSY WEENSY TINY BUSINESS. So, go back to number five. Keep things quiet, under my hat. I won’t talk bad about editors or agents or other writers. Aside from being unprofessional, it’s ungracious, catty and juvenile. I definitely love having heated debates about books. But I will always keep it professional.
- I will be GRATEFUL for Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray and those other books I might have wanted to growl at. Because of these mega-hits, editors can pick up projects they love, projects they just believe need to be published, be on the shelves. So I tip my hat to the big names and thank them. Because of them, I get to write the books I love (books that don’t sell millions).
- Keep learning and keep perspective when I get eight page singled spaced editorial letters. I will always remember that there’s this amazing person wanting to make my book the best it can be.
- Make sure my copy editors know I LOVE them. They make me not look like a total moron because they catch canon ball and change it to cannonball. J
- Make every book my best. No. I’m not saying I can pull off As I Lay Dying or A Hundred Years of Solitude. I mean … hello. But I CAN write like ME and write my best book every time. Every word, every page. It’s a royal pain in the ass and takes commitment and guts because it means cutting lots of “love passages” that add nothing to the plot. It means working my tail off. But that’s why I’m here, right?
- Remember WHY I do this. I have a story to tell. Many stories. That’s what it boils down to. And I have to remember to have the courage to tell the story MY way. That’s the beauty of this business. Yarns and tales, magical worlds and ghetto streets – those pages can be filled with the world I create.
Happy New Year!!
Heidi Ayarbe is the author of contemporary YA novels Freeze Frame, Compromised, Compulsion and Wanted. She is now working on her fifth novel for Philomel.