I love blogging, I really do. But as I recently told my Facebook friends, sometimes I get blogger’s block. In response, Facebook friend Caitlin Muir suggested a great topic: “Write about advice you wish someone would have given you.”
So, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and I’ll offer up five examples of what I wish I knew during the early years of my writing career.
1. We’ll start with college. Though this won’t apply to most of you who are in your post-college years, still it’s worth noting. I majored in English and minored in journalism. The English major was almost by default. The truth was, I didn’t have specific plans for a career, although, of course, I hoped to incorporate writing into whatever I eventually did for a living. The advice I wish I had been given is: Major in journalism. Since that’s not an option for most of you, can I suggest instead that you find some good books on the art of journalism and study them. Incorporate good journalistic techniques into your writing. Those techniques include: tight writing, word choice, asking probing questions, and writing for the market you intend to reach. This advice applies to both fiction and non-fiction writers.
2. The second bit of advice will be useful to most aspiring writers. Be patient. I know very few writers who were successful during the first year or two. I recently asked one new writer if she would keep on writing if she knew it would be five years before she was published. Would you keep writing?
3. Twenty years ago I wrote two novels. I remember when I finished the first one, I made a mental note: I did it! I wrote a novel. I must never allow myself to think I can’t do this. If I did it once, I can do it again! I must keep writing!
Well, I did keep writing, but I didn’t attempt a third novel. Oh, I did a couple of proposals with sample chapters, but when they were rejected, I returned to non-fiction. I certainly don’t regret the non-fiction I’ve written, but I do regret dropping the ball with my fiction writing. The advice I wish I’d had? Don’t let up on fiction writing. Keep at it. (Let me hasten to add that on my list of 50+ projects I’d like to write, there are still several novels. I haven’t totally abandoned fiction, I’ve just put it on the back burner…and I wish I hadn’t).
4. The fourth piece of advice has to do with the spiritual life of the writer. The advice would be: trust more, pray more, and listen more carefully to what God is saying. If God is in our writing, He will prosper what He puts on our heart, not necessarily our own ideas of what we should write.
5. The final piece of advice is perhaps the most painful for me personally. I learned the hard way. In both fiction and non-fiction pay attention to voice. Several years ago I wrote a devotional based on the messages a popular singer had given during his concerts. When I was finished, his widow told me I had captured his voice perfectly. And I had. I was able to instinctively pick up the rhythms of the man’s voice. But then fast forward to about three years ago when I had a chance to help a famous actress write her autobiography. After several in-depth interviews and much research, I wrote my sample chapters. But somehow in all my enthusiasm for the project, I forget to pay attention to the voice of the author—in this case, the actress whose first person story I was telling. The book went unpublished. It was my biggest failure as a writer. (But also my greatest adventure…so far!).
How does that apply to you? Just this: no matter whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, your work-in-progress should have a voice. A distinct and true voice. Voiceless writing puts the reader to sleep. Some of the book proposals I review (and reject) are tedious because there’s no voice for any of the characters (fiction) nor for the narrator (non-fiction). They read like term papers.
So there you have the top five pieces of advice I wish someone had given me early on. How about you? What do you wish someone had told you as you began your writing career?