Friday, January 6, 2012

Resolutions for Writers

I must apologize for being absent for so long. December was spent in heavy last-minute revision of Windrider, which was due to the publisher on the 31st. I am happy to announce I made my deadline and the book will be out this spring sometime. Whew!

In a way, all that jamming is what led to this particular post. Yes, it's New Year's, and I wish a very happy and prosperous 2012 to everyone. And, it being a new year, it is, of course, time to make resolutions. I prefer to make a few rules to live by as a writer rather than post goals for any particular year, so here they are, good forever:
  1. Write. You want to be a writer, so, duh, write. Every. Single. Day. Develop the discipline to put words on paper even when you don't feel like it, have a jillion other things to do, and people whining at you to come away and do something else. You are entitled to be you and indulge yourself for 5 minutes a day. If you want to be a writer, I guess you know how you should use those 5 minutes. Lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to. Take five!
  2. Finish. You cannot submit an unfinished piece. You can propose anything you want, but you still have to actually write the thing if you expect to sell it. Stop with the hound dog pursuit of every interesting scent and focus on the thing you started first. If it is hopeless, abandon it only after a careful, reasoned look at it that determines a) it is unmarketable, b) doesn't express things you want to say anymore or c) requires so much rework that it would suck the life out of your writing year and still be nowhere when you're done. Perseverance pays. Write your ideas down in a notebook and keep at your project, even if you have to break it up occasionally with dips into other, shorter projects to keep your brain fresh.
  3. Be professional. This should be a no-brainer, but guess what? It doesn't seem to be. Meet your deadlines. Quit fighting over every comma. Understand that a rejection doesn't mean the work is stupid, you're stupid, or the editor is stupid. It means the piece didn't meet his/her slant, was too similar to something else he just bought, caught him on a bad day, wasn't quite polished enough, or any of a thousand other reasons. That editor doesn't know you, has no reason to personally inflict hate and doom on your day, and will only remember you for one of two reasons. The first is that you sent her an irresistibly fantastic story she had to buy right now! The other is that you acted like a total two-year-old by snarking back when your story was rejected. Grow up, suck it up, say thank you for the response and move on.
  4. Send stuff out. Well, yeah, but as the queen of Stuff It In the Drawer, I can speak to this one personally. I have over 120 short stories in the drawer, nearly all of which need work. Some are unsaleable because they're simply not that good. Others would have a chance if I could excavate more time from my day to get to them. Remember #2 above? Yeah, I have contracts to fulfill. But all of us, me included, need to make time to market the stuff. Clean it up. Research the markets. Find it a home. Send it out. Repeat as required when it comes back until it sells.
  5. Market. Yes, Virginia, the era when publishing houses actually promoted your work is pretty much over. The do-it-yourself era of book promotion is here to stay. Don't be as dumb as I was and wait until you have a product in hand to start your marketing. You don't need to have a book in hand to join forums, get involved in workshops, and start contributing to online discussions within your genre. If you write fantasy and SF, find those forums and dig in. That's where the fans are, that's where you need to start letting people get to know you, and that's where you need to start establishing yourself as someone interesting, with something worthwhile to say. Then when you announce you have a new book out, your new friends might just buy it. And you might meet other authors whose work you want to read. At any rate, you'll have made new friends, educated yourself on what's hot in the market and (more importantly) interesting to the fan base, and gotten yourself out of the basement and helped a few people learn your name. Those people have friends. Their friends have friends. Say something useful about the market, the genre, or other things they want to hear and they might repeat it. Then a lot more people know your name. See how this works?
  6. Read. Yeah, read. This is the oldest piece of writing advice there is, and it is still gold. How can you tell if your wonderful idea has been done a thousand times before if you don't read within your genre? How do you know what the current trends are and what the markets are buying if you're not paying attention? How can you grow as a writer if all you ever do is read the same 5 favorite books over and over and never expose yourself to new authors?
  7. MAKE THE TIME. This is the answer to 1-6 above. Turn off the TV and turn on the laptop. By all means, relax with friends, have a life, get out of the house and discover what there is to write about. But quit justifying to yourself why you're not writing and just do it.
  8. Be yourself. Quit trying to imitate writers you admire. You're not them. They're not you. You haven't lived their lives and they haven't lived yours, so why are you selling yourself short by not informing your work with your own experiences? Stop trying to please everyone else, whether it is with the proper political slant, the cool, "edgy" writing style, the slouching, seen-it-all, jaded characters, or the boy wizard. Write what moves you to write. Be the break-out trendsetter, not the guy trying to cash in on the latest sure thing. You might get published faster following the market, but no one is going to remember your name. And if, when it's done, nobody wants it, don't beat yourself up for having written it. Maybe it was part of the million words you have to write to learn the craft. Maybe it was ahead of its time. Maybe it is just one of those things that speaks to your heart and needed to be said in your own inimitable way. You said it. And you're a writer.

That pretty much covers Sue's Rules for writing. They look pretty much like every other writer's rules, but they work for me. Maybe they'll work for you.

Happy New Year!

If, in the course of your reading this year, you want something a bit different, try Firedancer, my first novel, about fire that thinks and the people who must fight it.


Laina said...

Perfectly said!! May I repost this on my blog at I think my readers would love it!

Todd Thorne said...

I'll toss in mine...

Remember all those occasions when you were looking for writing help and got it? Remember what a difference it made for you? You're not alone. The world needs more empowered, enlighted and excited writers and you can help contribute to that end. Do so. Often.

Ann Wilkes said...

Great post, Sue. I agree with Todd. I just did that this week. It feels good.

Clare L Deming said...

Very helpful and concise advice, Sue! Thank you for a kick in the pants.

Now off to pull out the laptop...

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

Absolutely, Laina. pass it on. Todd, thanks for the addition. You're right. I'm glad to have helped to found the Other Worlds Writers Workshop in 1998 ( and it's still going strong. I've gotten such great help from fellow writers over the years. Paying it forward is the least I can do.

Diane Stephenson said...

Great advice, Sue. I can relate to having so many unfinished pieces stashed away. I have been working on a couple but I'm not putting enough time on them. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.