Veteran Advice from 5 Writers Who’ve Been There

On this Veteran’s Day, let us say thank you to all the service men and women who have served our country and continue to do so. Their families, too—your sacrifices humble us.

In honor of the holiday, let’s learn a few things from veterans who’ve gone ahead of us in publishing. Sure, that’s not quite as heroic, but we appreciate veteran authors, too.

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 9.00.28 PM I asked five published writer friends to teach me—and you—their best lessons for new writers.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of The Other Woman and The Wrong Girl
The only thing that matters is writing the best book you possibly can. Every time you choose to do something else, or put your focus somewhere else, you are deciding your book is not the most important thing. Is that how you really feel? It’s not always fun and it’s certainly not always easy—but it is always possible to try to be the best you can be. Quality is in your control. Passion is in your control. Commitment is in your control. And sitting down at your desk and working is in your control. Write the very best book you can.

Christopher Coake, author of We’re In Trouble and You Came Back
Learn how to hear the word “No.” And I don’t mean this in a toughen-up-and-learn-to-ignore-the-haters kind of way. (The use of the word “haters” is a tactic of the egomaniacal and insecure.) I mean writers need to HEAR it. They need to accept that it hurts, and why. They need to learn to be hurt constructively (without turning bitter and twisted). Writers have to be tough, they have to persevere, it’s true, but “No” is often a message they NEED to hear. So when a writer you admire is speaking at a conference and says, “I had to learn to accept rejection,” she’s not saying, “I kept producing the same stuff, convinced of my genius, until at last an editor recognized how I was a precious unique snowflake and gave me all the money.” Instead, you have to hear what she really means: “For a long time, my work deserved to be rejected, and when I was rejected, I went back to the work and tried to see both the good and the bad, so that I could remove the bad as best I could.” In this manner, publication is earned.

Clare O’Donohue, author of Life After Parole and The Double Wedding Ring
Writing a book is a marathon—and so is building a writing career. People who expect to write a book in a month, or hit the bestseller list on the first try, will likely burn out, disappointed by what they didn’t accomplish, instead of proud of what they did get done. Keep the goals manageable and keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Scott Blackwood, author of We Agreed to Meet Just Here and See How Small (2014)
I guess the biggest surprise I had was how collaborative a book ultimately is, or can be, despite our idea of the writer working away in isolation. That there are other people who care a great deal about your book and their time and ideas need to be honored, even if some of the ideas seem initially off or wrongheaded. There are ways of collaborating that can even build a better book because, well, we don’t have all the answers or think for all the potential readers. The things you think are most essential to your book? Make a passionate case for them, stick by your guns. But find a way in for others as much as possible.

Matthew Clemens, author with Max Allan Collins of What Doesn’t Kill Her
Keep writing. Getting a book published doesn’t mean you’re done, it means you’re starting. And it never gets easier.

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

10 thoughts on “Veteran Advice from 5 Writers Who’ve Been There

  1. Matthew’s comment that it never gets easier is, oddly, comforting for me. It makes me realize that the struggle and doubt I wrestle with every day are–at least in our author world–normal.

  2. Great idea for a series, debs! I think I’ll print it out and post Hank’s on my computer. So easy, really, this wisdom. Yet so many snags in its execution—I need to be reminded of its simplicity.

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