It’s back-to-school time, so I offer, for those who may be thinking about a career as a writer, a reprint of a blog I wrote last year for Writer’s Digest—part of a series called “Seven Things I’ve Learned So Far.”
Rejection is required.
I used to see rejection slips as the bane of my existence. Every rejection felt like a backwards step in my writing career. But every writer has been rejected at one time or another—usually before ever being accepted. Once I began to look at each rejection as a necessary step on the road to acceptance and publication, rejection slips stopped being bad news and started being good news. Every rejection brings you a little closer to your goal.
Writing is Collaborative.
I worked for twelve years as a playwright at a school, cranking out two plays a year and working closely with a director, actors, and technical staff to turn scripts into performances. It’s easy to see how playwriting is collaborative. But even writing a novel is a group effort. Without the sage advice of my agent, his assistant, my editor, her assistant, and many others, The Bookman’s Tale would not be enjoying the success it is. It almost seems unfair that I should get most of the credit. Once I released the idea that everything I wrote was mine and needed to be protected from them and saw writing for the collaboration it is, editing and revising became much easier.
Some people know more than I do.
I loved the first cover design for The Bookman’s Tale. Or at least I thought I did. Not until my agent expressed his displeasure with the design did I wonder if maybe I wasn’t right. In the end, after much consultation between agent, author, and editor, we ended up with a design that much better represents the book. It’s just one example of my learning to step back and accept that—especially when it comes to marketing, design, and lots of other factors involved in the creation of a book—my opinion is valued, but I need to listen to the professionals.
Good writing comes from a place of passion.
“Why did I enjoy so much more success with The Bookman’s Tale than with my previous fiction efforts?” I asked myself. I think the answer is related to, but a little less obvious than, the old adage “write what you know.” For me that was part of it, but what really made the difference was writing from places of my own passions. For me those passions are rare books, English literature, and the English countryside, and those passions infuse my novel. If you are passionate about your subject, you readers will be too.
Not all reviews are made for reading.
When reviews of The Bookman’s Tale started getting posted online, I was already hard at work on my next novel and when you’re in the middle of a first draft it’s no time to start having doubts rattling around your psyche. It’s important to know how your work is received by professional reviewers, but when it comes to sites like Goodreads and Amazon, read a few four and five star reviews and then let it go.
Revision is where the action is.
Writing a first draft is an exciting act of creation, but books are made in the revision process. I did several revisions of The Bookman’s Tale as I started to see more and more clearly what the book was about. Then I did a major revision for my agent and another major edit for my editor. We cut forty pages from the final draft and at one point I had every scene in the novel on slips of paper laid out on a table and was carefully rearranging them to make everything work together in the best possible way. Revision was everything from ruthless cutting to creating new scenes to mathematical puzzle solving and it’s the process that took a manuscript and made it into a book.
There is no perfect reader.
When I first started writing my novel, I thought there was an “ideal” reader out there. But the fact is, every reader is different and everyone reacts to my book in a different way. People who love (or don’t love) my book do so for reasons as individual as themselves. Some people love it for reasons that never occurred to me. The reactions of readers have made me stop worrying about pleasing my ideal reader. Instead, I can write and, when things go well, be pleasantly surprised at the things readers find in my fiction that I didn’t see there myself.