C.J. Redwine is back in class today for her regular post. This month though, she has an announcement, so let’s get right to C.J.
Take it away, C.J.
Today is my last day as a monthly columnist on Romance University. My publishing deadlines are growing, and because I follow my own advice (see #4), I’ve made the difficult decision to step back from RU. Since this will be my last regular column, I thought I’d leave my readers with a few pithy pieces of advice. Now, I realize that writing advice breeds like rabbits across the internet. One blog tells you THIS is the absolute only way to write, while another tells you THAT is the key to success.
I’m not going to toss my hat into the deep end of that advice pool.
Instead, I’m going to tell you a few things that have nothing to do with technique and everything to do with keeping your creative self whole in a business that sometimes feels designed to rip you apart.
- Be okay with your process: Guess what? The writer who tells you the easiest way to write a book is to spend five weeks outlining the story down to every last detail? She’s right. For her. The writer who tells you to spill your guts across the page and forget about editing until the draft is finished is also right. For him. But what about for you? That’s not a question anyone else can answer. Part of the writer’s journey is to assimilate different pieces of advice, study the experience of others further along the path, and experiment. But a bigger part is learning how to toss out everything that doesn’t work for you, even when it seems like most of the publishing world is gathered under the banner of “This is how you should do it.” Here’s the truth: whatever gets you from “Once upon a time” to “the end” with a product you can then revise into something you’re happy with is perfectly fine. If that means you outline and plot and outline some more, then do it. If that means you spend six weeks without writing a word while the story slowly unfolds inside your head, do it. If you’re a patchwork quilt of plotting and pantsing and listening to Call Me Maybe while you eat a tub of Rocky Road, do it. Be okay with your process. The longer you fight it, the less productive you are. You write like no one else in the world writes. Isn’t that awesome? Embrace it and dive in.
- Don’t seek outside affirmation: Ouch, right? What are we writing for unless it’s to give our stories to others? Let me explain what I mean. Having a small trusted group of critique partners, or your editor, give you affirmation and feedback can be invaluable. But posting chapters all over the internet and feeding off the comments left below that post will get you nowhere fast. Yes, it’s lovely when someone adores your work. But it’s awful when someone hates it. And no matter how many people tell you to “grow a thick skin,” you can’t. Because it’s your work. Your heart poured out on a page. And it only gets worse. Agents will pass. Possibly in droves. Editors will too. And once you get past that gate, readers will consume your story and spit out reviews. Some of them will hail you as the second coming of Nora Roberts. Some will wonder why you bother getting up in the morning. If your sense of self, if the sum total of your worth as a writer, lives and dies by the affirmation (or lack thereof) of others, you will soon understand why being in publishing can be synonymous with five martini breakfasts. Don’t read reviews. Don’t hyper analyze rejections. Don’t internalize everything you hear, because in a business that is entirely subjective by nature, you’re bound to end up with a skewed vision of yourself. Write the best story you can. Revise it. Revise it again. Send it out into the world. And then sit down and write the next story, and make it even better than the one before.
- Doubt is not your enemy: A little doubt can do wonders for your writing. The trick is to use it to push yourself to try things you aren’t sure you’re capable of doing. Use it to force yourself to dig in for yet another rewrite before you rush to query. Use it to study those books whose writing simultaneously makes you want to stand up and cheer and curl up in the fetal position because there’s no way you’re ever going to write something that amazing. If you let doubt paralyze you, if you sink into a morass of self-pity, you’ll stagnate like a pond covered in algae while those who know how to use their doubt as motivation sweep past you on their way to being published. Along with knowing doubt isn’t your enemy is knowing not to listen to everything you hear. Be wary of the extremes. The “you’ll never make it” or “this __insert topic/plotline/genre__will never sell ” are only true if you quit. I can’t promise you a short journey between the first word you write and the day you see your book on the shelf, but I can promise that if you listen to those who say “never,” you’ll prove them right. Likewise, the “you’re the next big thing” or “this book is going to be HUGE” aren’t necessarily accurate prophecies and embracing them can paralyze you or tempt you to believe the hype and rest on your laurels rather than push yourself to do better. Shut out the voices, hone doubt into a tool you can use, and push yourself to be better on every single project.
- Say “no” more than you say “yes”: Before you’re published, there are a lot of fabulous opportunities to network with other writers, build your online presence, join critique groups and writing chapters, and basically immerse yourself in the fascinating culture of publishing. After you’re published, those same opportunities exist but new ones arise as well—signings, events, fan mail, others asking for advice or free books or chunks of time. None of these are bad things in and of themselves, but you add them all together and not only is it hard to find time to write, your creative self is going to be shriveled up into nothing. Protect your writing. That comes first. Say no to reading another writer’s manuscript if you can’t fit it in. Stay off Twitter and Facebook for days at a time. Don’t answer every single email the day it comes in. Write first. Do everything else with what’s leftover.
- Know who you are: This is maybe the trickiest piece of advice because it can take years of experimenting to get there, but it’s crucial that you know who you are as a writer. Know your voice. Know your passion. Know the height and breadth and depth of your unique brand of creativity. Don’t look away from the scary places your brain wants to take you. Don’t scramble back from the precipice and hide behind the safety rope of what’s selling on the shelves right now. Don’t let someone else tell you this is the only way to write or that is the only thing that’s selling. If the current trend doesn’t come naturally to you as a writer, you’d be miserable writing it anyway. Others may not see your vision. They may not understand why you do what you do. They don’t have to. Unchain your creativity, feed it some Red Bull, and then hang on for the ride. And don’t ever let anyone cut you down to the size that fits them best. Your creativity is yours alone. Pushing your limits might mean your journey toward seeing your book on the shelf takes longer (It did for me.), but what you’ll set free inside of yourself is worth it.
It’s been my pleasure to be a regular columnist here at Romance University for the past two-and-a-half years. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the writers who visit here, and I’ll be back to guest post occasionally. Until then, I wish you the very best of luck on your journey, and I look forward to one day holding your book in my hands.
Readers, let’s give C.J. a monster cyber hug as she leaves us. Her time with us has flown by, but we’ve learned a lot, haven’t we? So, for one final time, what questions do you have for C.J.?
C.J., thank you, thank you, thank you for all the time and wisdom you’ve shared with us. You’ve been here almost from the beginning and we’re so appreciative that you took the leap with us. It’s been a wonderful ride!
Stop by on Wednesday when the RU faculty has a special announcement. You won’t want to miss this one as it involves a big–and I mean a BIG–list of giveaways!
Bio: C.J. Redwine is an author of young adult novels and an experienced teacher. After teaching high school for several years, she turned her love of using innovative teaching strategies to the publishing field and began creating materials designed to equip writers with the skills necessary to succeed. Her book QUERY: How to get started, get noticed, and get signed is available now for Kindle and Nook. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, four kids, two cats, and one long-suffering dog. To learn more about C.J., visit her website: http://cjredwine.blogspot.com.
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