Asking about “the best piece of writing advice I ever received” is a little like asking me to choose between coffee, steaks, and cupcakes. I’ve learned so much, from so many sources and on so many topics that it’s difficult to choose one at the cost of the others.
So, at the risk of rewriting the question, I’ll give you “the best piece of writing advice I ever received at a writers’ conference.”
I attended the Maui Writers Conference in 2004 as an aspiring author hoping to find my path to publication. I heard many fabulous speakers, including authors, editors, and agents, but one speech stands out from the crowd. Literary agent Kimberly Cameron addressed the conference to announce the winners of the writing contest. During her speech, she said something I’ve carried with me ever since:
“Writing for publication is a game of last man standing, and only you decide when you sit down.”
The message, for me and for every other aspirant in the room, was very clear: if you want this, and you’re willing to do the work, you can reach publication. You are the one who decides when it’s time to quit.
I believed her, and more than believed – I relied on those words as the years passed by, as I struggled to improve my craft, as I queried … and as those queries were rejected.
Through it all, I never forgot – I chose this road. I chose to continue. I wouldn’t quit until I stood in a bookstore and saw my work on the shelf.
Last man standing. I wouldn’t quit.
I’ve mentioned before that it took nine years, five manuscripts …. 500,000 words … to reach that goal. But I did it. I got there.
And so can you.
Remember Kimberly Cameron’s words – they’re no less true today than they were back then:
Writing is a game of last man standing, and only you decide when you sit down.
If you’re writing in the darkness, and struggling to find a light to lead you out – look inside yourself instead.
Last man standing. You can make it.
The dream that fires your words can be enough to see you through.