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.


Inspiration, Italian Style

So I spent the last two weeks in Italy. It was one of those trip-of-a-lifetime sorts of vacations, where we packed in just about every major tourist site, and quite a few minor ones. My husband is a classicist, so there was a heavy emphasis on Roman ruins–Colosseum, Forum, Villa Adriana, Pompeii, Herculaneum, etc.–but we also spent some time in Venice and Florence.

I visited Italy once before, in college. I had an unpleasant experience there and so cut my trip short. Perhaps as a result, I have never had any particular interest in Italy, other than the food, anyway. In getting ready for this trip, though, an idea for a story stuck itself into my head, and so while I was there I spent a lot of time taking crazy pictures that might at some point be inspiring,

Mt. Vesuvius

or useful,

Scale model of ancient Rome

or just amusing.

I have no idea what this is, but there were about a dozen of them in a row, holding up display cases at the Naples Museum.

I have written about inspiration before–for some reason I find the topic endlessly fascinating. I think the interesting thing about this trip, is that I didn’t find it particularly inspiring, although I expected to. Instead my sojourn in Italy was more about taking it all in–soaking up atmosphere, smelling the particular odors of each place we visited (for as Eleanor Lavish said, every city does indeed have its own smell), tasting the food, feeling the unrelenting heat of the Italian sun, and washing off the dust of ruins built nearly 2,000 years before.  I spent more time than I ever have looking at things through a writer’s eyes.

Perhaps that is a kind of inspiration too.

Note to self. . .

. . . do not introduce a new blog and then vanish for three months.

Have you ever had one of those periods in your life when it was all you could do to keep yourself employed and you and your family fed, clothed, and sheltered? And anything else–house cleaning, regular showering, writing–was simply more than you were capable of doing? That was me the last three months. As is usual for me (and for many women, I imagine) I let my obligations to everyone else so consume my energies that there was nothing left for me. 

Perhaps it was the season, because with the blooming of flowers and the warming temperatures I am feeling energized. This week I resumed editing my WIP–the one I finished last November and haven’t touched since March–and started outlining the next one. I am heading off to my very first writers’ conference this weekend, and I am stoked: Twenty-four hours with other writers, soaking up inspiration and information, and undoubtedly a cocktail or two. I’m not ready to pitch yet, mostly because the very notion scares the crap out of me, but I will watch and learn as others put themselves out there.  Then I will return home, ready to finish this book, start querying, and write a blog post more than once per quarter. 

May the changing seasons energize you too.


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