Friday, November 24, 2017

The best advice?


Recently a lady posted me asking "what is the most important advice you can give to someone who is beginning to write a novel and why?"

The question threw me because I could think of so many things I wanted to tell her. I received the best overarching advice many years ago, at the start of my career, from a man who became a major power in the publishing business: "Write what you really want to write. There is so little money in the business it's stupid to do it for any other reason."

Rick Blechta recently wrote about a thriller that won a major literary prize of $100,000. Believe me, that doesn't happen very often.

People who write romances, mysteries, Christian literature, suspense, science fiction, young adult, etc. like writing what they write. If you look down on a genre as a lesser endeavor but think you can make a few quick bucks by writing something easy before you write the great literary novel, think again. An editor will spot you a mile away.

Even the great novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald failed as a screen writer. He had this to say: "I just couldn’t make the grade as a hack,” Fitzgerald quipped after one of his studio contracts was terminated. “That, like everything else, requires a certain practiced excellence.”

So don't waste your time stalking genres which you hold in contempt.

After that, my best advice is to write your novel from beginning to end without showing it to anyone. Then go back and write it again and rework all the things you know are wrong. I don't understand how or why we automatically know what is wrong with a book—but you'll know.

Do the work. Do the work. Do the work.

Then show it to anyone and everyone and listen to what they have to say. You'll be surprised at the variety of reactions and the desire to tinker. If you know a friend, or a writing group, or a teacher is right, change the book. Never when you simply think they might be right because they are really smart. It's when you know they are right.

Here's another problem for a beginning writer to work through. You will receive wildly varying advice from authors. That will prepare you for the agonizing responses on rejection slips from a number of extremely smart well-paid editors. Some will love your characters, but hate the book. Another will love the book--but honestly, the characters!

No one can help you with that. Learning to sift through good and bad advice, and bewilderingly contradictory rejections is the first of many hard shells you will acquire on the path to become a writer.

4 comments:

Irene Bennett Brown said...

If you gave the person the advice you posted here, Charlotte, she was beyond lucky. So much truth in what you've written.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Irene--In addition to all this I don't think newbies understand how resilient one has to be. You have to be up to hard knocks and disappointments.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Oh yes, I agree, a thick skin and perseverance are a must. Good advice!

Mario Acevedo said...

Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers. Loved that line you mentioned where he said that he failed as a hack, then again failed to appreciate the necessary excellence. Great post. Thanks.