Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lessons Learned Over Time

I was just standing outside smoking and thinking about some of the lessons I've learned since I started writing seriously three years ago. (And yes, it's been three years almost to the day since I typed the first lines of 'Spectacle'.) So, I thought I'd share these lessons in hopes some aspiring author will learn from these mistakes. (Or to use a cliche, "You don't have to reinvent the wheel.")

  1. A query letter is NOT a standard business letter. No matter how many times you've been told writing is a business (and even though it is a business), these query letter thingies are a completely different animal. Read lots and lots and lots of query letter suggestions, research who is giving the advice, and K.I.S.S. (or keep it simple, stupid).
  2. Just because a rejection letter says something like "I think your project is interesting" isn't cause for getting your hopes up. It means NO.
  3. Just because a rejection letter says something like "I'm going to be very busy until after the end of the year and I'm sure you'll have an agent by then" and you get it in March, it doesn't mean re-query them after the first of the next year. It means NO.
  4. Just because you get rejection letters--dozens of them--it doesn't mean you suck as a person, or even that you suck as a writer. (It might mean your writing needs work, but 'sucking' doesn't really come into it.)
  5. The average person in your life has no idea what writing is, what it takes, or how the business works. So don't take it personally when your non-writing friends wonder why you're writing a second book (or a third, or a fourth) when you haven't sold the first yet.
  6. Having the support of your loved ones is crucial, because without it, your already bruised ego will have nowhere to turn when the rejections are pouring in and you feel like you suck.
  7. Chocolate helps. Alcohol doesn't. (Or any other kind of mind/mood altering substance.) It only gets in the way of putting your best work on paper. (And before anyone thinks I'm some kind of teetotaler... I'm not. I just think alcohol is for enjoying, not for blanking out/improving your personality/boistering your courage, etc. And I don't think drugs are ever appropriate. So there. =op)
  8. Even your family may not understand that when the keyboard's a clickin' it means 'leave me alone' - at least until the clicking stops, and maybe not even then.
  9. Even though you sweated blood into your work, and it's your baby as much as if you had spent 23 hours in labor, not everyone is going to love it.
  10. And if you find yourself writing utter crap, take a friggin' break. Even if it takes months, take a break. Sooner or later, the flow will come back to you. Take break, because if you slog it out, you'll keep writing crap and you'll only make yourself feel worse about it until you want to crawl under a rock and never write again. Take a breather, take a walk, take a class in basketweaving... Whatever will take your mind off the crappy writing until you can sit down and write well again. It's okay. Really. The pages will still be on your hard drive when you're ready.
  11. Oh, and speaking of harddrives... Since mine did a total crash in September, this is especially important. Back EVERYTHING up. I didn't lose my writing work, but I did lose all my submission data, so if I didn't keep a hard copy of my rejection letters, and e-mails, they're toast. Subsequently, I'm not really sure about who exactly rejected 'Spectacle'.

Hope this helps. If you have anything to add, feel free to leave it in the comment chain.

Good luck and keep on writing.


Nathan Bransford said...

I'm an agent with Curtis Brown, and I think this is good advice, especially the part about researching how to write a query letter and keeping it as simple as possible.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Thank you for stopping by, Nathan. It's nice to hear directly from an agent that the things I've learned really are pertinent to someone besides myself.


spyscribbler said...

I knew there was a reason I ate that quarter pound of chocolate yesterday! (I only wish I were kidding!)

Btw, I love Asimov's quote at the top of your blog!