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Growing as a Writer: Five Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Sooner

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - learning to be a writer is a lifelong process. It’s not a process that ever really ends, I don’t think. You just something you steadily learn more and more about the longer you live and the longer you write. That being said, I’m definitely way more grounded in my knowledge of both the craft and the industry now than I was when I first tried my hand at this whole “writing a novel” thing, so I’m going to share with you five of the things I wish I had known from the get-go.


BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF:

Okay, so this one is interesting because I’m not sure I would really have done anything differently if I’d had more knowledge in the beginning, but maybe I could have changed my mindset. Basically, it takes time to figure out what novel-writing process works for you. The first projects I wrote were like, half-pantsed. Now that I know I’m an INSANE plotter, I laugh because I should have known that was never gonna work for me. But at the time, I needed to fail at pantsing a bit to realize it wasn’t the method for me. So, basically, if you feel like your projects suck and your methods aren’t working for you… that’s fine, don’t freak out. Do some research, see what methods other people are using, and see what sticks for you.

FIND YOUR COMMUNITY:

WHOOF I think I’ve said something along the lines of this one about fifty times by now in various posts on this blog. But it’s not my fault that it’s TRUE! I spent so long trying to go it alone in my writing journey. Not really on purpose, just because I am an introvert by nature, and I felt like I was too much of a newbie to fit in. Plus, it can be hard to join writers groups and in-person critique groups when you’re working full-time and you live far away from every group you find. Not impossible, but if you’re already an introvert that hates seeing people? I mean, it’s a good excuse to just not do it. I’m still not a part of any in-person communities, for the record. I found my community online. And I would seriously be lost without them. Do what works for you, of course, but I’d advise against going alone. It’s a long journey, you’re gonna want some pals for the road.

MAKE TIME TO READ:

This is a lesson I actually learned like maybe a year into the process, so I’ve been on the right track here for a while, but it still bears repeating. Again, working full-time at a job that frequently requires more than a straight 40, while also maintaining a home and a marriage and caring for pets - and some of y’all have kiddos too, WHEW. It can feel like you barely have time to squeeze in your writing, let alone making time to read as well! But it’s so important. I have a little more time while working from home (cutting out two hours of commuting each day), but when I was going into the office, audiobooks were my savior here. Listen while you’re commuting or in the shower or running on the treadmill or whatever. Do what you gotta do. But don’t skip reading if you’re trying to be a writer.

STUDY, STUDY, STUDY:

Early in my writing process, I thought I had this shit handled. I didn’t want to research how to write a book because like, okay, I’ve READ books. I know how to write one. Hilarious, past MJ. You didn’t know shit. Not that there’s only one right way to write a book - there are a thousand. But I didn’t know what any of those ways were. My writing went from a hopeless dream to an actual career goal the day I started researching different plotting and character development methods, and going to classes and reading books on craft and stuff. It’s like any other career - you don’t necessarily need a degree, but you need at least a little training.

DON’T SWEAT ABOUT YOUR PLATFORM:

Early in the process, I was STRESSED about the fact that I only had a few hundred Twitter followers. I had read all these things about how publishers only picked up books from authors with platforms and blah blah blah. Okay, a platform isn’t going to hurt you (unless you use your platform to be a shithead, of course), but it’s not necessary. I had about 400 followers I think when I signed my agent, and was still under 1000 when I got my book deal. My current attitude toward social media marketing is… I’m just going to do whatever I enjoy on there and hope it helps a little, but honestly, there are countless articles that show that nothing I do personally is going to move the needle all that much. (Except maybe TikTok). Long story short, when it comes to social media and author-as-brand and all of that, do what you can, but don’t get too freaked out if you don’t have much “clout,” as the young’uns say.


And there we have it! Some of the things about trying to make it as a writer that I wish I’d known earlier in the process. What lessons have you learned that you wish you could teach your past selves?

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