Musings on an Anniversary

StirringUptheViscount_w9340_750This weekend marks a year since my first book was published. I actually almost missed it–I was sitting in a hockey rink (as usual) watching the kid practice, when I got that Facebook “you’ve got memories” reminder, and there it was. A year ago, I was giddy with excitement, celebrating with many friends, drinking champagne, basking in my accomplishment. This year I’m in my pajamas at 6:30 am, drinking tea, hoping the menfolk will sleep in long enough for me to get some work done on the third book without interruption.

So I thought that I’d throw out some of the lessons I’ve learned after a year in my tiny corner of the crazy publishing world.

  1. People are always impressed when you tell them you’ve written a book. It IS an impressive accomplishment to write a book, let alone publish one, whether you are traditionally, independently, or self-published. It’s okay to be proud of yourself.
  2. On the other hand, it’s not okay to rest on your laurels (unless of course you only intended to ever publish just one book). Just because you’ve been successful once doesn’t mean you’ll stay successful. Authors get dropped by publishers or agents, even in the middle of a series. This realization was a bit of a shocker for naive little me, although it shouldn’t have been. I suppose we as writers tend to believe that once we find that agent, that publisher, who loves us, they will always love us, no matter what we do. Nope. Keep learning, keep writing, pay attention to the market for which you write, and above all…
  3. Be nice. Don’t write a snarling one star review of someone else’s book. Don’t take someone down to build yourself up. Don’t be an arrogant shit to other writers, readers, or your editor. Most of the writers I know are the loveliest, kindest, funniest, wackiest, most generous people you’ll ever meet. But there are always a few out there who are not. Don’t be one.
  4. You’ll never be Nora Roberts, or Stephen King, or JK Rowling. Deal with it. Find your own success and your own happiness, and don’t try to be like anyone else.
  5. Not everyone will like what you write, including the people who know and love you. Some of them will be very excited to read your book, but then they will never say anything to you because they hated it and they are–see number 3–too nice to tell you so. That’s okay. But if you are a friend of a writer and you did like their book, please tell them, or write a nice review on Amazon or Goodreads, or both. Writers need to hear praise. It’s kind of pathetic, actually, but it’s true.
  6. There’s always more to learn. There’s a tendency to think that once you’ve published a book, you know everything you need to know as a writer. You don’t. Not even close.
  7. Hang out with writers. They are the only people who will truly understand your writer side. This is not to say you should only hang out with writers–goodness, no. But if you have an opportunity to go to a writers conference, or join a writers group, or just have coffee with a writer friend, you should take it.
  8. Write with writers. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor. But I have discovered lately that writing in the same room with other writers (even if it’s a virtual room) is a wonderful spur to productivity.
  9. Keep reading. My biggest mistake in the past year was to stop reading so much. I have always been a voracious reader, and have always considering reading to be my escape from the harsh realities of life. My happy place. But when I started writing, I thought that I shouldn’t read so much, and I certainly shouldn’t read many historicals. I found it distracting, I was afraid I’d inadvertently stick someone else’s words in my own work. Huge mistake. HUGE. Not reading stifled me in ways I didn’t realize until I started reading again. Don’t be afraid to read the kinds of books you write, and plenty of others besides.
  10. Keep writing. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about getting stuck in the middle of a book, consumed by doubt, yadda yadda. I don’t call this writer’s block, because I no longer think a writer ever gets blocked. There are always words to be written, and if a writer sits her ass down in the chair, she will write them. They might not be the words she wants to be writing, but those will come eventually. Just keep writing.

 

Grumpish about Grammar

This post is very late. I was in a super bad mood last Sunday and couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write, and I was too busy reading contest entries anyway.

Back in the spring I volunteered to serve as a first round judge in several contests. I actually love judging contests, but when I volunteered I stupidly failed to realize that all of the entries were due back in the same week. Nevertheless, I was happy to do it–it is great fun to read the entries and to help a writer (often a brand-new writer) learn a bit more about craft, and I never fail to learn something myself. Sometimes the entries are absolutely wonderful and truly a joy to read. Other times, not so much. This year, I had far more not-so-much entries than wonderful ones. Most of the entries I read had a great plot–original, interesting, and fun. Unfortunately, many of them were also riddled with errors in grammar and punctuation. Some had clearly not even been proofread, and were full of typographical errors and spelling mistakes.

As a result of this experience, I have spent the last few days wondering why writers would enter a contest without dealing with at least some of these problems. It is important to realize that a contest is, in some ways, a trial query. Most contests have agents and/or editors serving as final round judges. If you final, you get your work in front of one of them. If she likes it, she may request a partial manuscript, or even a full. And sometimes–as I can gratefully attest–an editor buys your book or an agent agrees to represent you. Why, then, would you not make your manuscript the very best it can be before submitting it? Especially because contests cost money?

Now, I will admit that the first time I entered a contest I had no idea what I was doing, and it is certainly possible that some of the writers I judged were in a similar place in their writing careers. My entry had many, many craft errors, but it had been carefully proofread. I learned a lot from the judges in that contest, and in my critiques of the entries I reviewed in the last couple of weeks, I tried to do the same for those writers.

My point here is two-fold: First, if you are an author, especially a published author, consider donating your time and expertise to juIMG_3137dge a contest. You will make a huge difference in a writer’s life, and you will learn something too.

Second, if you are a writer wishing to enter a contest, polish that manuscript! Proofread it–do not rely on spell check alone. Check your grammar. If you need to brush up on grammar rules, do so. Pick up a copy of Strunk and White. Go online–there are a lot of sites which offer help on grammar issues. For example, I like the Grammar Girl for short and sweet tips. There’s Grammarly, which scans your text for grammar and punctuation. (I’ve never used it, but it gets good reviews.) From the Write Angle has blog posts about grammar, craft, querying, and a bunch of other good stuff. Or just Google “grammar” and see what you get. Once you have these basics down, it’s much easier to focus on the craft–all those things that make you a better writer.

I’ve decided to stop whining and do something to help (hopefully). Once a month, starting next week, I’ll do a post on issues I’ve spotted in manuscripts, or things I’ve been curious about. If any of you have a grammar or craft question you’d like me to discuss, or if you’re interested in doing a guest post about your grammar pet peeve, or if you are better than I am at coming up with catchy names for my grammar posts (because honestly, who isn’t better at that than I am?), leave a comment here or drop me a line at marinmcginnis@yahoo.com.

 

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