Advice For Authors Just Starting Out

Hi again, everyone. 🙂 Instead of some of my work on this post, I’d like to share some of my experiences.

I have now been involved in writing and publishing over a decade. I’ve seen and done a lot, and made a TON of mistakes that I’d like to address here so that some of you who haven’t done much yet might learn from me.

First and foremost, I have to insist that whoever you are submitting to-an agent, a publisher, an editor, etc-that you read EVERY SINGLE THING they include in their preferences and submission guidelines. Read interviews they’ve done, check out the other books and authors they represent and don’t hesitate to look up something you don’t know. A good example: if you don’t know what a cover page is, look it up online or ask advice from someone you think might know. If they aren’t absolutely certain, ask someone else. I desperately wish I had a copy of the first ever cover letter I sent (and I’ll address making copies of everything at a later point) so I could show you have laughably ridiculous it was! I was fifteen and not only was the company not going to accept my query because of my age, I bet that cover page got passed around and chortled at over and over again-if it wasn’t trashed immediately like the abomination it was. I put pictures on it and wrote it in blue. BLUE! The font was something ridiculous and I didn’t even include all the information the company had requested. I insist: read guidelines again and again and again. Print them out and check off every piece of information whomever you’re submitting to want that you’ve included in your query.

Now back to that previous point about keeping a copy of everything for yourself. I had a full novel finished when I was twelve. It was my crowning achievement at the time and (though I’m sure none of you younger authors will remember the glory of these…) it was saved on four different floppy disks. Yes, floppy disks. And yes, only one copy…of my entire first novel. You know how this ends: somehow, the disks got wiped. I was lucky enough to have a tech friend who could recover parts of it for me, but it was like the parts I lost were what made the novel great. Now, I have every single piece of work saved on four different flash drives and two computers. I save every query I submit and print off paper copies for myself to store in my filing cabinet for the really important stuff. Multiple copies will ensure that the novel or poem or screenplay you worked so hard to complete doesn’t disappear into the bleak oblivion of every author’s nightmare.

Writing is a chore, a job, an obsession and chances are likely you won’t get paid to do it for a long time unless you’re incredibly lucky, determined, good or the perfect combination of all three. You need to make time to do what you love, because you’re only going to improve with practice. If you want to be able to get a novel out there, you have to write it first. Make it a priority in every day to do something that benefits your craft. Even if it’s thinking about your storyline and working out a conflict in your head while you’re exercising, DO SOMETHING for your writing. I promise, not only will it make you feel more confident about the amount of time and effort you put into your craft, your work will benefit from the constant attention. When it becomes a necessary part of your day, you’re going to have an easier time making it shine and making yourself better.

Have fun with your writing. Seriously, have fun. You know how when you’re young and writing is an escape from school, your parents, the annoyance of the teenage years? Keep that feeling. When you think of your writing as a reward, you end up with the best thing in the world: working without it feeling like work. You’re just doing what you love and you want to know a secret there? That makes the writing shine more brightly, too. When you turn it into deadlines and strict outlines and let go of the fun and escapism, you lose the best thing about working as an author.

While on that topic, um, actually do set deadlines and do outlines. I preached for years that I was a ‘free writer.’ I just did what came and didn’t bother with a story outline or a ‘three chapters per week minimum’ goal or anything else. I was very unstructured and it damaged my output. Originally, it was fine to work without an outline because when I was younger, I only had four novels I was working on. Now, I have over thirty projects. It took me a long time to realize it, but I finally came to the conclusion that structure will not make your writing less free and creative. It will simply make you more productive. You don’t have to stick to the structure of an outline faithfully. That’s for school projects and college papers. With a book, let it be structured AND organic. Give it a stable base, and then let it build as it desires. Organization and creativity are not mutually exclusive. Your desk and thoughts don’t need to be a mess in order for the projects you want to nurture to bloom the way you desire.

Finally, I want to illustrate one point that I don’t think many people really think about or mention. Simply, you’re going to annoy people. Some of those around you, even family, don’t want to listen to your ideas or the new character you came up with or that awesome dream that will make a fantastic movie. Find one or two people who will never turn you down and make sure you go to them first. Chances are, these people will be authors, as well. I have three, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have them. I know my family loves and supports me, but I literally have something I want to talk about concerning my stories at least once per day. And that’s a low estimate. Don’t stop talking about your stuff because people get annoyed by it-and don’t lie, you know exactly who is annoyed and the glazed look they get when they just don’t care anymore. Just find those people who will never turn down a new plot twist, choosing between names for your characters or the new plot you came up with in your sleep. Besides structure, doing things for your writing every day and doing research (which I will have a whole other blog about) these people will be your most important way to cultivate your craft and turn you into a great author instead of a good writer.

Drop me a line to let me know if you find any of this advice useful! Also, I’m open to questions about the publishing process, writing or whatever else you want to talk about. Please contact me at ashleihawley@yahoo.com with questions or anything else you want to say. Thanks for reading!

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