Wow — it occurred to me as I sat down to write this that it’s my last “real” post for The Debutante Ball. Next week, I’ll be introducing my successor, the great Denny Bryce, and then I’ll be back writing regularly at my own website. I’ve missed documenting the sillier aspects of my life there, but at the same time, I’m happy to have a weekly repository of thoughts, stories, and ideas from this remarkable debut year. What a gift! Thank you to the previous classes of Debs for paving the way, and thank you to all of the readers who’ve stuck with us in the weirdest year ever.
To close, I’ll offer my best five pieces of advice for writers. It seems presumptuous on the one hand, but on the other hand, I have learned a lot along the way. And this is my last freaking post!! I linked to a few other entries I’ve written on these topics if you want to read more.
1. If you want to write a book, just start.
You don’t need an MFA or any sort of special endorsement or permission. You don’t even need a fully-formed idea. You just need ten or fifteen minutes most days and an expansive sense of adventure. Liz Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC helped me gather the gumption to begin.
2. Don’t show your work to everyone, but do show it to a few.
Find a small and trusted group of critique partners. For me, these are people who are gentle, yet honest, and above all, positive and encouraging. I’ve picked up my early readers in a number of places. They’ve come from classes I’ve taken and Facebook groups I’ve joined, and in a few cases, they’re long-time friends or members of my family. People outside of your small circle will ask to read your book in progress, especially if it goes under contract. Decide in advance whose feedback is going to carry weight with you, otherwise it can be overwhelming and counterproductive. And, and ill-timed critique (too negative in a drafting phase), can really kill your forward motion.
3. Be a relentless literary cheerleader.
Publishing is an industry based on relationships. If you love a book, shout about it. Tag the author in your tweet or Instagram post. Five-star it on Goodreads. If you don’t love a book, keep it to yourself, or tell a friend in person. Don’t write a negative review online. You never know when your path might cross with an editor, an agent, a blogger, a bookseller, a podcaster, or a writer who knows someone who knows someone.
4. Never, ever, ever read your reviews or engage with negative reviewers.
My work won’t appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. Reviews are for readers; they’re not for me, and they don’t move me forward.
5. Eyes on your own paper.
Someone will always get a bigger deal, a fancier tour, make more best-of lists, or otherwise achieve more acclaim. Going down the comparison rabbit hole only decreases my happiness. Remember when I said you can only control two things? It’s true: write and be nice. That’s it.
And that’s it! Farewell from me! Of course, you can find me on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, and via my newsletter. I send book recommendations and news (including about ARE WE THERE YET?, my sophomore effort out 3/16/21) every so often. And, I’m so grateful to you for reading my posts here.
One Reply to “Farewell (and some unsolicited parting advice) from Kathleen”
Great advice, Kathleen! You certainly live by your own values: you are a talented writer and even nicer person. Congrats on wrapping up your deb year. Can’t wait to read your next book.
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