I was driving to my day job a few days ago and tried to remember, “how far back did I join RWA?”
My aging, mental historian wrinkled up her forehead like it might force things into better focus and scratched her head. “I thiiiink it was March.”
“Yeah, but March of what year?” I asked.
She flayed me with an irritated expression that said she hadn’t had as much coffee as I had. “I dunno. This one. I think.”
Wow! Only eight months?
I almost wrecked. Downtown Tulsa is nowhere near as crazy as the infamous streets of New York or LA, but even here it’s a bad idea to slam on the brakes and jerk your steering wheel during rush hour.
It feels like years since I started pursuing publication, a process I lovingly refer to as swinging from the Monkey Bars. (Don’t ask me where it came from, I’m just weird that way.) It doesn’t feel like years because of drudgery or disappointment—though I’ve had my share of wine and chocolate—but because of the learning I’ve crammed into every minute. The writers I’ve met through RWA, my local group, and in FF&P have deluged me with a wealth of knowledge and advice…and it’s been euphoric.
Still, if I had it to do over again, there are a few things I’d share with fellow newbies…and to old-timers as bits of nostalgia.
1) Find a pack. You will always need them. Trust me. When something works right and you need to sing about it, they’ll listen. When your spouse looks at you like you’ve grown three new heads, they’ll remind you, “that’s normal.” When you get another rejection letter, they’ll pat you on the back and bring you Haagen-Dazs. A few of mine will sit at the bar with me at happy hour and observe/appreciate/ogle the male clientele in the spirit of research…but that’s a different blog.
2) Nothing beats a good critique group. What do I mean by good? For me it means working with people who:
- Get my genre. Critiquing with writers who have a hard time envisioning folks flying through the sky will probably end up a downer for you.
- Write what I enjoy. Critiquing is a two-way street. If you can’t appreciate what they write, you probably won’t value their critiques…and giving them a helpful critique will be rough.
- Don’t just blow smoke up my bo-hiney. No matter how good we are, we can always be better. Your critique partner(s) are the equivalent of people who won’t let you walk out of the restroom with your dress wedged in the waist of your panties.
3) Write. Since I don’t have a deadline (yet), it doesn’t matter what it is, so long as I do it. We have to practice for those deadlines….
4) Sit with any new information for a while. This is more about savoring what we’re taught. Think of it as letting a sip of wine rest on your tongue before you gulp it down. If we discard a suggestion we’re given too quickly, we might end up throwing away a gem. If we take advice as gospel and rearrange our whole manuscript, our unique voice may be eradicated. Our lessons need time to breath and grow so they become our own.
There is one more, but it deserves its own paragraph, not just a bullet point. Those of you who’ve been around awhile have heard it countless times.
Don’t give up.
Keep your fingers wrapped around the monkey bar no matter how bad they ache. Watch for those emails zinging through the loop that tout, “I did it!” and know it can happen to you. Pause a moment after closing a book by your favorite author to re-read one of your own chapters. Slide your fingers against the cool page, close your eyes…and believe.