A hundred years ago, a writer just had to write a good story. There was no hype, best seller list, no five star ratings, no book tours, no second guessing by agents or publishers, no white-knuckled, migraine-inducing, inflated expectations of the “next offering.” There was just the book and the populace either loved it or hated it.
Yes, the PEOPLE had the say of whether a writer was worth reading. And that is STILL the way it is. It’s the people who devour books, join book clubs, share their favorites with friends, chat about books on the Internet and love discovering new talent who will make or break a writer. That is why I never forget how lucky I am to have such passionate readers who write me great, enthusiastic emails and tell me how much the Jane Perry books have meant to them.
Over the years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about writing. Maybe they’ll help writers out there who are beating their heads against the wall right now.
Valuable Lesson #1: Never think your book is “perfect.” The more time you have to reflect on it, the more chance you’ll have to improve the character development and tighten the story. I’ve learned that, if possible, you should finish your book and then set it aside for several months before re-reading it as if you were a casual observer to see where changes can be made.
Valuable Lesson #2: Always have passion for your story but approach it with a critical eye. You could easily be attached to a scene for personal reasons but those reasons may not propel your story forward. You often need to be brutal when it comes to trimming the fat from your book. If a scene still feels long after the 15th read, keep cutting. If a character is not integral to the story, CUT THEM OUT.
Valuable Lesson #3: The three “D’s” are inevitable: Depression, discouragement and delays are all part of the writing game. Accept it from the get-go or don’t become a writer. It’s okay to get depressed, scream into the night sky and bang your proverbial head against the wall. I did all of these and more. Frankly, after 18 rejections for PROTECTOR, it gets damn hard to take it with a cheerful, positive, Pollyanna smile. You have the right to be despondent and drown your sorrows in a glass of wine or pint of ice cream or both. But you also have an obligation to get over it, toss aside the tear-stained tissue and keep plugging away if you expect to make it in the business.
Valuable Lesson #4: Always be open to new ideas in regard to your book and new approaches to strengthen your story. I added a brand new character, Tony Mooney, into PROTECTOR on the third draft. Now, adding a new character on the third draft is not typical but after a lot of careful thought, Tony became a solid chord to establish the paranormal element. It was exactly the strengthening point that Protector needed.
Valuable Lesson #5: Readers are looking for an escape. When it comes right down to it, we writers are not curing cancer, brokering peace in the Middle East or splitting the atom. We’re just storytellers. A lot of the publishing merchants and agents have forgotten about that. Too many of them are looking for the next “big” book. The only problem is, they’re so into discovering the next big book, they overlook the “good reads”—the read that those airline travelers are searching for or the guy on the train or the woman on the beach who just want to kick back and read for enjoyment. The story that takes a person away from their troubles for a few hours at a time. Readers want to be entertained. If a story happens to be profound, all the better. If it happens to make a reader explore ideas they never thought of before, great. But in the end, people just want to kick back, read a book and then pass it onto a friend or leave it in the seat pocket of the airplane. Which brings me to:
Valuable Lesson #6: Stay true to yourself and your vision even when the Ivory-towered power brokers tell you that you’re not good enough. Hey, it’s YOUR vision and YOUR creative outlay of energy. In the end, YOU have to believe in yourself and your project more than anyone else.
Valuable Lesson #7: You only have one chance to experience the publication of your first novel and the memory will forever be etched in my mind. However, the journey is often more important than the journey’s end. It’s important to keep your eyes forward on the prize but it’s equally vital to turn around every now and again and remember the path you’re traveling. If you’re going to be a writer, there’ll be plenty of potholes and detours and a few dead end roads. But as you migrate up and down that often-rocky road, you’ll eventually discover that to capture the golden egg, you’re going to have to carve your own trail. It’s in the carving of that trail that you’ll learn what you’re made of and whether you truly believe in yourself.
The road hasn’t ended for me. It’s just gotten a bit steeper. But the view from the road has certainly improved.
Laurel Dewey is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of her books, including national bestseller Protector. We are introducing her to you in a more personal way. Laurel will participate in a Twitter chat (@thestoryplant) on Tuesday, May 28 at 4:00pm MST (5:00pm EST/3:00pm Central/2:00pm PST). You can learn about our Author of the Month program here.