Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Novice & Seasoned Writer, Who Do You Listen To?

There are numerous sites, blogs, forums, Yahoo Questions and Yahoo Groups that offer an unlimited amount of information for beginning writers. A lot of the information is good solid advice, but you have to know one key element before you can understand how to sift through it and find the hidden treasures of truth.

I admit that when I first started out I devoured each and every single word that was said by anyone that wanted to share their nuggets of truth. I followed their lead, wrote at the hour that they wrote, bought the notebooks that they bought and thought that would take me to the realm of Best Selling Authordom.

For the first year I believed I needed to listen to every single word every writer passed on. I treated their words like a golden truth worthy of the 'Writer's Bible' so to speak. And thinking on it now, is there such a book? I am in no way saying all the advice was wrong but I never stopped to ask myself five simple words that form one of the most powerful questions known to anyone looking to learn. 


But let me back up a minute and tell a small tale of how much listening to the wrong advice hurt me in my journey towards building my writing career. Let me give you the back story so you know why I am passing on this message to all who are aimlessly wondering around trying to figure out what to do next.

A little over two years ago I finally took the plunge of wanting to be the next New York Times Best Selling Author. Yes, you can laugh because I do. I laugh at my naivety of it all. I thought as soon as my pen hit the paper or my fingers to the keyboard it was all downhill from there. I loved reading so therefore writing a book like Nora Roberts or Christina Dodd would be a cinch. Swiftly following my little epiphany I proceeded to share with my husband what I wanted to do and that I would have my first book ready to release within the next five months. Mind you, previous to this moment I had never written a single word.

Are you still laughing? Yeah, so am I.

I must add that I do not think it impossible for me to reach my goal of being a NYT Bestselling Author, as can you if that is what YOUR dreams and goals are.

Now back to my wild claim.

Of course, I proclaimed this news to be true for me because I had just finished reading some writing advice by an unnamed writer just setting out in her own writing career. She was advising ALL writers to do as she did and within the first five months I too would have a manuscript in front of a top NY editor from a top NY publishing house, just like her. Do you see the hidden message in this paragraph?...just like her.

I, being the novice I was thought, well, she is a public figure now that she has submitted , I must listen to her. Hmmm....jeeze what I would give to turn back the clock a couple of years and give myself a swift kick to knock some sense into my own head. Yes, it is true hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20. That little cliché should be part of our constitution.

Those five months passed and I spent each and every day of those months feeling like a failure. I questioned myself day in and day out because I was unable to follow this writer's footsteps. I wrote, plotted, and wrote some more, then spent weeks plotting even more. I just couldn't get the story just right. It had to be perfect... just like hers. I mean, how else could she be in front of a NY publisher, right? Perfection is the only way. And before you ask, no, it never occurred to me that I had to actually write like there was no tomorrow in order to hone my craft.

Each day my family would ask how the writing was coming along and I would either put on my brave face and answer with a shining smile that everything was moving along smoothly or if it was a really bad day, I would not answer at all claiming I needed to get back to my writing cave to rework a plot point. 

So I pose the question once again, who do you listen to?

After realizing I would never be able to accomplish what this unnamed author advised, I sought out further knowledge to help me figure out why I couldn't write a full length novel from scratch like everyone else. Do you see the pattern and therefore the problem here? I bought writing programs and craft books. I devoured writing articles and spent all my time each day pouring over numerous habits of other authors and THEIR writing abilities. I, again, fell victim to my own naivety trying to mimic every writer I came in contact with. I never once stopped to ask....WHO DO YOU LISTEN TO.

I'm not trying to yell that at you, or say that all writing advice given out on the internet is useless, no! There are many multi-published authors out there honestly trying to help those seeking a more seasoned author’s advice. While I am not among those ranks yet, I am trying to help that dim light at the end of the tunnel become a little brighter for you to see the way to meeting your goals from my hard learned lesson.

So, who do you listen to? Have you asked yourself that question yet? I sure hope so.

Who do you listen to? Not the author that just got their unsolicited full manuscript sent off in the mail, claiming it took them all of five months to write and that it needed no editing AND that they are positive as soon as it lands on the NY editor’s desk of the high ranking publishing house it was sent to that it is as good as sold. NO! Again, naivety can be crippling.

I know I am stepping on some toes here, however, I find this worth saying because I almost lost my dream because I didn't ask myself WHO DO YOU LISTEN TO. The same fate can be avoided for you if you stop and ask yourself this same question.

You obviously don't listen to the writer that has no publishing experience when it comes time for submitting and working with agents and publishing houses. Nor the novice writer that fills a blog full of how to do what THEY are doing. Why can’t you listen to these writers? Let me ask you this, what if it were me passing on all that misinformation of writing advice I devoured during my first five months. I now see I knew nothing of the craft so how could I give advice or teach? You can't teach what you don't know! You just can't. If you want to be a great chef you must learn from a great chef. There are lots of beginners that try to pass on all that they absorb but without mastering the skills first. In the end they could be passing on what they learned from the same articles and mumbo-jumbo you already read and got nothing from. Or worse, like me, horridly derailed from. 

I listened to all the wrong people. I listened to all the writers that were just getting started or wanted to boast about getting their manuscript in front of a NY editor when in truth only managed to get it placed in the slush pile because they had no idea what they were doing. They had no understanding of the writing or submitting process and because of this passed on wrong information. They also didn’t realize that everything they said some novice –huhumm, yours truly—would come along and think their words weighed in as pure gold. Boy was I blind!

And yes, about a year after devoting my first five months of my new career to following the wrong unnamed author and her writing advice, I discovered that she had lied about everything. However, by that time I had dropped listening to everyone and their advice. I had taken a 180 degree turn and that was not good either. I stopped listening and in doing so I stopped listening to the people I should have been listening to – the right people.

Why had I stopped listening? Because I thought I was not good enough. I could not keep up with all the writers I had friended on Facebook and Twitter or their writing progress even though I cheered for them wholeheartedly. I had listened to the wrong people. I had learned the wrong way to build my writing career from day one. I didn't know who to listen to. And worse yet, I didn't know what I needed to do from there. I could not write.

Then by shear chance I stumbled upon a link while shopping for books that lead me to a free online seminar for writers. This certain someone, more like a huge group of ‘someones’, took my hand without even knowing and guided me back to the starting line. They helped me realize me dream still thrived within me when I had lost hope.

They picked me up and dusted me off, giving me the hope and faith in myself that I needed in order to get my dream back where it belonged. In looking back that first year I was comparable to a falling star set to destroy everything in my path; set to collide and die on impact. But in the eleventh hour I found someone I should listen to.

So, who do you listen to?

Are you still with me? Do you see the message I am passing on to anyone that believes they should stop and ask themselves where they might be going wrong? This applies to not only the novices trying to get their feet stable beneath them, but also to the authors that have already accomplished that much sought after claim of being a NY Times Bestselling Author. Because even when we have reached goals that we have strived for, we must continue to keep our teach-ability index open. Everyone needs guidance at one time or another. Everyone needs that mentor willing to share their knowledge. However, beware of who you listen to. A mentor by definition is someone that is considered a master of that trade.

So who do you listen to? In the end I listen to those who have accomplished that which I want to accomplish for myself. They have what I want. They have accomplished the same goals I have set for myself. So if I want to be a great author I must listen to great authors and keep my teach-ability index open to learning more. In doing so, I will reach my goals and fulfill MY dreams.

A year has passed and while I am not published yet, I am on a steady course towards reaching my goals. I am already living my dream as a writer. After I re-adjusted who I should listen to, the progress I have made is astonishing. I have completed one manuscript and have already plotted and started writing my first series. 

For me, this question was the turning point in my career. By no means am I saying you should not listen to advice found throughout the internet, I, in fact still gather nuggets here and there, but with one difference. I now know who to listen to.

Remember this, while we must depend on ourselves in this choice career, we must also look to others for help; we must know who to listen to for that guidance. 

I leave you with this, if you are having difficulty with making progress or with reaching your goals ask yourself this question, who are you listening to? Then ask yourself, who SHOULD you listen to?

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Talina.

    Dan Kennedy (a world renown marketing and business consultant) once said: Never take financial advice from someone who's poorer than you.

    I think the same advice applies to writing. That is, you should only accept advice from those who have done or are successfully doing what you want to do. For me, for example, that means I hang on just about every word Holly Lisle says about her writing process, because she writes the stories I want to emulate. Never heard of Holly Lisle? Doesn't matter to me, because I adore her work. (She has about 3 dozen published titles, has just gone indie, and is now working on a long-awaited sequel.)

    For other writers, it's not so much about the quality of their fiction as it is about the money and fame: they want to be the next Nora Roberts or Stephanie Meyer. Whichever category you fall into, you should seek to emulate those writers you respect and admire, who have done what you want to do.



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