Now that’s saying something, as my and every other writing blog on the planet is chock full of tips and information and tutorials and, well, everything concerning being an author and publishing in general. So how can anyone say there’s one most important piece of writing advice?
You know, I’ve been in publishing’s trenches now for 30- plus years. I’ve been a book editor for nearly that long as well. I’ve seen writers come and go—many of whom had enormous talent. Many of whom stuck it out and learned the craft and got better and better and oh-so close to publishing—only to quit and end the bloodshed.
Because you know what? There’s a lot of bloodshed in this endeavor. I would imagine that’s the case with any creative undertaking, where critics outnumber creators by oh, about a thousand to one. Or probably much more than that.
But at every single turn, a writer gets hammered.
Early on, by friends and relatives (although I’m not a proponent of letting them read your work until it’s published!). Then by a writer’s group, if you’re in one that reads and critiques. Then by agents (although these days, the form rejection stands in for what used to be some pretty bloody criticism). Once you’re agented, by acquisitions editors at publishing houses. Once you’re published, by reviewers and random readers on the virtual street.
And the list goes on. Somebody out there is always ready to jump in and slaughter your work. Even if you’re a famous author.
During all of that time, learning the craft itself can just humble you to your knees. There’s a ton to learn, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. From tightening to characterization to plotting and pacing to organization and flow, to literary devices and writing beautiful prose, to overall substance and finishing with a satisfying read.
Eeek. That list seems to grow longer every day.
So what is this most important piece of writing advice?
About, well, all things writing and publishing.
But what I strive to teach my authors most of all:
You have to believe in what you’re doing.
Now, let’s back up here just a hair. This isn’t about believing in yourself. I know—that’s all the rage and has been in our culture for a while: Think you can write a book? Anyone can! Believe in yourself and write it! Everyone gets a participation trophy!
Well, you can, but it’s going to be pretty much crap—until you dig in and learn your craft, and all of those anyone-can-do-it proponents forget to tell you that part. Because, of course, now millions of people self-publish every year, and the books are, well . . .
But here, I’m talking not about those folks, but about you.
You, who are serious about this, or you wouldn’t even be reading this blog. You’re invested in your work enough to keep trying to better it, to keep trying to learn more skills and see your writing go to the next level, and the next, with no end in sight as to how good you can become at your craft.
How do I know that? Because my authors send me better manuscripts every single time they do so.
They’re invested in their craft.
Because, again, they believe in what they’re doing. They believe in their books.
And funny thing, one of the biggest pitfalls writers face doesn’t bite them in the butt when they believe in their work, rather than in the crazy notion that anyone can do this.
They don’t come in thinking their manuscripts are perfect. That this brilliance just must be published, with no editing at all. That they’re the next Hemingway.
Rather, they know they still have much to learn (even if working on that third or fourth manuscript).
True professionals know the name of this game is to keep learning, keep writing, keep getting better with each book.
And they do that by not taking themselves seriously (because if you do, all the bludgeoning criticism will cause you to jump from the bridge). But rather, by taking their work as seriously as living and breathing.
It’s a subtle distinction. But just as learning to show rather than tell will revolutionize your career, taking your writing seriously and not yourself will make all the difference in the end. Because it’ll keep you in the game.
As a book editor, it pains me when people stop writing. I truly don’t want to see you quit. I understand when folks do. Truly, I understand. But by following this one piece of writing advice, you can weather the roiling storms that will inevitably come your way.
And in the end, you will succeed.