I have no one to blame but myself for this topic, since I’m the Deb in charge of topic coordination. It sounded like a great idea, and one that our writer-readers would appreciate, especially as the New Year approaches and we turn our thoughts to goals and hopes for the next four seasons.
I found myself a bit flummoxed, though, as to what advice to impart. To be in the role of advice-giver implies some wisdom, and I don’t feel wise, least of all about publishing, which is why I have an agent.
Disclaimers aside, I’ll give you the best tips I can think of, the first being to treat your writing as a job before it ever is one. I don’t mean that you must devote eight hours a day, because few people can do that. Even successful writers with a few books under their belts still have other jobs, and/or small creatures reliant upon them for food and nurturing.
By acting professional about your writing, I mean you should be your own Big Mean Boss. I cracked up my husband once by saying, “I work for myself, but that doesn’t mean my boss isn’t a bitch.” Set a goal for yourself that seems reasonable – say, writing five hundred words, editing one page, or drafting your query letter – and hold yourself to it. It’s harder than it sounds, though. Nothing immediately bad happens if you don’t follow through. No one writes up a report to go in your personnel file. You don’t get passed over for a raise. Your co-workers don’t gossip about your laziness in the break room.
No one knows but you, and you have to care enough about the work — about your career — to make yourself do it, even when you don’t feel like it, and when the reward is distant and uncertain. You can’t call in “bored” to work, much as we would like to. Don’t call in “bored” to your writing, either. That’s a fast way to lose momentum, because if a few boring days collect in a row, soon the rest of your life gathers steam and before you know it, a month has gone by and you don’t remember your protagonist’s first name.
Speaking of gossipy co-workers, one way you can ratchet up the accountability if you find it impossible to be your own Big Mean Boss is to gather a tribe of like-minded souls to kick your virtual butt if you’re playing on Facebook instead of working on your week’s goal. (A pox upon you, Wordscraper!)
One last thing. Don’t be afraid to move on from a project that’s not working, or a project that turned out achingly beautiful but is not selling. You are not being disloyal to your characters, nor being a quitter. On the contrary, there’s only so much that can be done for a manuscript that’s not finding a home for whatever reason. When you put it in the drawer (or trunk, choose your metaphor) you’re just giving it a well-deserved rest. Maybe you’ll come back to it later and determine how to make it truly sing. Maybe the market will shift, or your career will put you in a better position to sell that work later on. Perhaps you’ll cannibalize the project for use in later, better works to be written when you’re more experienced.
My first serious novel attempt went through several painful revisions before I sadly put it aside, eventually to be hacked into bits, stitched back up, and turned into the short story “Connection Lost,” published in the summer 2007 issue of the Cimarron Review. Three unpublished manuscripts later, I produced Real Life & Liars.
Unpublished writing never dies. Those words just bide their time, waiting until we call on them again.
Mystery writer Edna Buchanan once signed off a fax to me (long story) like so: Write on. I did. And I hope you do, too.
p.s. Don’t forget about our contest! Win a “Damned Scribbling Woman” (or “Scribbling Woman” or “Equal Opportunity Reader”) t-shirt! How well do you know the Debs?