Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

12 Things I've Learned About Writing

March 20, 2007
Here are a few things, probably not all, that I've learned about writing and the writing life. Subject to change, of course.

1. Productivity is important. That means having schedules, goals, and working regularly.

2. Agents are important. They get you better contracts. They say things to editors you wouldn't dream of. They are your advocate. They get your manuscript to places you wouldn't be able to go to on your own. They support you psychologically and tell you honestly (we hope) about what they think of your work.

3. Optimism is important. I'm probably not an optimist and I've had my battles with depression, but neither am I a pessimist. But in writing, optimism is important. You have to have hope that things will work out for the best. Sometimes another word for that is "faith."

4. Writers are pretty cool. Neurotic and weird, but pretty cool. I've hung out with several at cons and in general, this is a cool group of people.

5. Spending large amounts of time in the company of imaginary people, who, as a matter of fact, you have created, is not really normal. It's fun, but it's kind of weird.

6. The more you value your work, the more others will, too. It's good to be realistic about what you can charge, but be aware that somewhere out there is somebody who places a very high value on their writing and gets paid accordingly. You should too.

7. It's a business. Writing novels is a business. Writing for a living, no matter how you do it, is a business. That means acting business-like, keeping records, proportioning time and/or money to things like office expenses and marketing and promotion.

8. Creativity is important, but a lot of people are creative. Harnessing and controlling your creativity, channeling it and putting it to work for you is what separates the pros from the amateurs and the wannabes from the published.

9. Yes, your writing is a product. You can be an artist in your office/studio/den, but the very second you send a query or manuscript to an agent/editor/publisher, you have turned business person and you are dealing with a product. Behave accordingly.

10. Success breeds success. It's rare to come out of the gate a winner. You have to prove yourself. For most of us, it's one thing at a time, we build careers on a foundation of lower paying jobs, well-received but moderate sales, short stories, book reviews, whatever. It's incremental, but it builds on itself.

11. Persistence is more important than talent. Talent is a very cheap commodity and there is a ton of product out there for editors/agents/publishers and readers to choose from. It takes persistence to get your product, whatever it is, to the right person at the right time. There are very few--if any--overnight successes.

12. You have to take risks. Perhaps we're back to "faith" and a leap of faith. That doesn't necessarily mean quitting your job and betting it all on the success of your unpublished novel manuscript. That's madness. But you may need to spend money or time that you'd rather not in order to built up a clientele, you may have to write things that don't necessarily make your spirit soar in order to pay your bills, you may have to take a risk writing something new than what you have been, you may have to do things like book signings or public speaking or travel that you don't really want to do to make it all come together. The risk might be psychological, but there's probably some risk involved.

Mark Terry


Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Good stuff, Mark. I think another one is: Don't get offended at criticism. Take it and run with it, fix what needs fixing and move forward.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

You're right that there are lots of talented people around. I haven't got a long way, but there's no doubt I have accomplished far more than many many people with way more talent. It's fine to agonize over one's message, and themes and symbolism, but those are less important than deadlines.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, an excellent one. When I took creative writing my sophomore year in high school, Mr. Hardy (at Davison Sr. High School, for anyone who's wondering), said the one thing he wanted us to get out of the class was that our work wasn't written in stone. Learn to take criticism and rewrite. It was a valuable lesson.

From a day-to-day writing for a living pov, deadlines are, to be blunt, god. I'm certain that a lot of editors like working with me simply because I never miss my deadlines. As an editor myself, the missed deadline is the work killer, because production schedules are NOT flexible.

10:53 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Writers are the most awesome people on earth, I believe. :-) That I get to hang out with writers for the rest of my life is definitely the coolest thing about this gig. I did have one experience with some backstabbing politicking, but it caused her more problems and grief than it did me, so that's fine.

Number one is so true. Being prolific last fall quadrupled my reader email, and my tiny bit of royalties. Is this only a romance trend, or is it all over?

4:36 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I've had a few negative experiences with other writers, but overall, it's been positive.

6:33 PM  
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