If you could write a confidential letter to your younger writer-self, helping ease the way forward or providing some important insights, what would you say? PK Hrezo and Carrie Butler have come up with a great idea: have authors write letters like these, create a How I Found the Write Path blogfest, and also an ebook anthology to help aspiring writers. Awesome, eh? Here’s my letter to my nineteen-year-old self:
Dear scared younger author self,
I know you’re eager to write but terrified of spending so much time alone in a room creating stories. You think it might even drive you over the edge. I know
|Me at 19|
you feel you have much to offer but are shaky because you have no road map to go by, and no mentors yet. You’re brimming with stories, yet unsure of whether to keep doing your drawing and painting, which you were always praised for, or try this writing thing, which no one expected at all.
Let me be your mentor, after the fact. Others will talk with expertise about their amazing business plans, their early credentials. What I can do is clue you in on two extremely helpful things I learned: to trust in my gut instinct and to build community. People aren’t meant to do it alone. Not even writers. Yes, we sit alone in our writing studios and tap out our tales. True, unless you write for TV you don’t write by committee.
Find and build community. There are a myriad of helpful communities to tap into. First of all, I have my writer’s group, a trusted group of fellow authors who workshop each other’s manuscripts. This group provides a sense of joy, camaraderie, confidence and direction—and savvy revise notes! I also belong to a writer’s space. There, I hear others tapping away on their keyboards, which spurs me on. I can take breaks from work and chat in the café area. Participation in member readings is another perk of being in this community.
Then, there’s my team of publishers. I’m a hybrid author. This means big and small publishers have published me, and I’ve indie published. The traditional team consists of an editor, publicist, and agent. The indie team is not that different, except that I get to hire the experts I want—to custom create my team. So, find your perfect publishing community and don’t settle for less.
Then, there’s the book blogging community. You need these good folks to review your books, and to spread word. Giving back is essential. I frequently promote authors on my blog. I’ve even partnered with like-minded authors in a group blog. We cross-promote and discuss issues, successes and trade questions. Alone, but never really alone after all!
So, decide what you need in community. Then find and build it, and make sure to give back to it. Take your time to find the right ones. This brings me to the second important lesson I’ve learned.
Follow your gut instincts! I was too shaky when I started, to live by this adage. I put certain writers, editors and agents on pedestals. I had people I barely even knew, much less trusted, reading and critiquing my manuscripts. I did too many changes, according to this or that random comment, without asking myself what I thought. What I truly felt deep down. Ultimately, a writer must listen to his or her gut. Without this prescient instinct as a rudder you can easily drift off your path.
Case in point: the first time I followed my gut on a serious professional level was when a big publishing firm (Random House) offered me a chance to revise one of my early novels on spec. I was still months away from graduating an MFA creative writing program, thus I was hugely flattered and excited by the possibility of being offered a contract. At a meeting with the senior editor and VIP of the company, no less, they ran down items they wanted me to do in a revision. But then they started to disagree with each other, and even to argue over how I should end my novel! (Refugees)
|My studio table with my Chinese
good luck dragon, my grandma’s
glass shoe, a glass cardinal
and a vintage beer stein
(Baubles help me think!)
Needless to say, I was frozen in fear, and barely managed to scratch out notes. I shook their hands, and ran out. Not only did I disagree with one of them, I vehemently disagreed with both of them on how to end my novel. I consternated, and meditated on it for days. And then, something clicked inside. I knew I had to go with my gut instinct, and keep the ending I wanted, while making other tweaks that I did agree with. I sent the manuscript back, literally quaking.
When I got a call two weeks later that they were offering me a contract, I felt deeply relieved . . . and vindicated! That was the beginning of always making sure I followed my gut.
So, good luck, be brave and celebrate being alone in your studio. Your characters will keep you company, plus all of the wonderful people in your writing community and mentors that you’ll find on your way. You have your sixth sense to guide you.
Here’s the link to read other writers’ posts. But before you hop away, how would you answer this?
What one piece of advice would you have loved to give your younger writer self?