Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What I've Learned About Writing

The more you write, the better you get.

There you have it. Everything I know boiled down to eight simple words. Deep thoughts, right? You probably already knew that.

But knowing it, and truly knowing it, are sometimes two very different things.

I didn't find an agent with the first book I queried. It won awards, it got requests, it had some close calls. I put blood, sweat and tears into that story. It was the absolute best that I could do.

At the time.

While I queried it, I started working on another story, the one that did land me with the incredibly wonderful Michelle Humphrey. And even though I found the first draft of that story quite brilliant, critique partners and beta readers were wise enough to point out what needed work. Sometimes quite bluntly :-) It took editing, rewriting, more editing, and another big rewrite until it got to the place where it was good enough to catch my agent's attention.

Last month when I went back to read that first book, the one I queried for a year to no avail, I discovered something amazing: I'm a better writer now than I was two years ago. Much better. I am SO glad that story never got published. It wasn't ready. And neither was I.

Of course, I didn't know it at the time. I probably would have been pissed off if someone suggested it at the time. It was the best I could do then. But by keeping at it, my best keeps getting better.

So my advice to every aspiring writer out there? Keep pouring your heart onto the page. Keep listening to people who are willing to give you feedback on your writing, even if you don't agree with it at the time. Because even the worst critique usually has at least a kernel of truth in it. Don't get discouraged. Everyone has suffered rejection and lived through it. Everyone has had to rewrite a story they thought they were done with.

The most important thing you can do is to keep at it. Keep writing. You can only get better.

25 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

Truer words were never spoken. I just took a look at my first book and, oh yeah, it's a good thing I didn't land an agent with that one. The plot held together but the writing is soooo bad. I plan on going back into it and revising the snot out of it.

Just keep writing, just keep writing. It eventually gets better.

Laura Pauling said...

I love looking back at earlier stuff that i thought was ready and am so thankful it wasn't a debut flop! And writing, writing and more writing is the only way to apply all the stuff we know. :)

KarenG said...

Musicians and athletes practice endlessly. What makes writers think a first attempt is ready for publication? Which is one of the biggest problems I see with the current self-publishing trend.

Kristine said...

It's such a simple concept, but sometimes you have to be in a certain place in your career to really embrace it. Funny how the more progress you make, the more humble you get about your progress. :)

Tiana Smith said...

Great advice, and it's so true. We never really know when our work is ready I guess, which is why agents are so great :) But even though I sometimes get discouraged, I'll just keep plugging along, hoping that I get better with each new thing that I write.

Carolyn V said...

This IS great advice! And so true. I think my writing has gotten so much better over time. Now I just have to keep on going!

Rebecca said...

You're so right. Looking back at my first novel, I remember how drastically improved my second draft was compared to the first. And now if I go back and read it, I'm sure I will see how much better it could be. It's a comforting thought, I think, to know how we improve when we keep at it.

Becky Levine said...

This is one of the biggest things that keeps me going--that I do get better and I can see the improvement! Hours count. :)

MG Higgins said...

So true. I remember a particularly gruesome critique I received from an editor. I was heartbroken and figured she just didn't understand my unique talent. Hah!! Now I realize that everything she said was true, and she was actually stating it as kindly as she could. Practice, practice, practice.

Kristan said...

You can't hear it, but I'm doing a slow clap for this post. Right on and so true!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Yes! These are the two things that have kept me writing over the years: My writing can only get better if I keep at it, and I have something unique to say.

Kelly H-Y said...

Such true words ... great thoughts/advice, Sherrie!

Tere Kirkland said...

I definitely see this every time I go back to something old and try to make it better. I find too many little things that need to be changed, that it would be easier to start from scratch! And, more importantly, it would probably be written better.

Great post, Sherrie!

Faith E. Hough said...

I don't know how I'd survive without my great critique partners! It's amazing how another perspective is just what is needed to strengthen our own analytical skills.
Thanks for sharing this very inspiring post!

Austin James said...

Great Advice! You'll never know if you can do something unless you try... and if you want to be great at something, then you got to practice ;)

Krispy said...

This is so true. It's the same reason why you should put a story away for a while before you come back for another round of edits. The time apart and the hindsight make for better writing.

Bish Denham said...

You are so right! Even though I've been writing a loooooong time I have learned so much in the past year or two I am amazed.

Anita said...

This is so true, Sherrie...Thank God!!! I'm glad that I'm improving and I love watching my blog friends get better, too!

Kim Kasch said...

Great advice. I was a horrible runner a year ago but I just finished a 15k - without walking. I wasn't very fast but I ran the entire way. I'm hoping to be faster in next year's run. Kinda like being a better writer.

Mom always said, Practice makes perfect. I'll go with Practice makes better ;)

Indigo said...

I'm revising my third book now. I wanted to wait to query - until this one. There is a world of difference from the first to the third. I can see it clear as day. Even now going back over revisions, instincts kick in and I'm able to see where I can tighten even more.

If I would have any advise - write a couple books. Let your muse explore the boundaries of possibilities, and when all is said and done, trust your gut.

I'm hoping this knowledge works for me as I begin querying over the summer. If not, I'll keep writing till I get it right. (Hugs)Indigo

Andrea Mack said...

Great post! As much as I grumble about the slowness of the whole process of writing/revising/writing some more, I know my writing is definitely improving!

Corey Schwartz said...

Great post. The kind ALL aspiring writers need to read!

Anonymous said...

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Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Perfectly awesome advice! It's darn hard work to learn and improve, and there's really no short cut.

Dawn Simon said...

So true! What an inspiring post. :)

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