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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Things I've learned from Brimstone Soup

For my first few years trying to start up a writing career, I would go to every class, SCBWI meeting, conference, book signing, and talk to as many famous writer friends as possible to unearth the Secret of Writing.

And there were lots of them. From Janet Lee Carey, I learned about surviving the writing life. From Bonny Becker, I learned about novel structure. From Kirby Larson, the "five sentences a day" method. From Justina Chen Headley and Libba Bray, I learned about writing from the heart. (There are so many more mentors, I could spend a day writing about them!)

There is no one secret to writing a novel, I discovered. But I did learn quite a few things along the way.

1. There really is no substitute for Bum in Chair. Writers write, they say. Not necessarily every day - some people are Mozarts (fits and starts) and some people are Beethovens (structured and consistent). It took me a little time to find what worked for me. It helped that after my daughter was born, I suddenly had a lot less time on my hands to write.

2. The second draft (and the third, and the fourth) was a lot less painful than the first. I spent a lot of time beating myself up over my first draft, giving myself the "You are the worst writer in the universe" speech - a huge waste of time. It was already difficult enough!

3. It's a really good idea to have someone of the opposite sex (or at least very different from you) read your book. At the writer's retreat I just attended, Bruce Coville talked about plot vs. character and male/female storytelling energy - think Steven Segal versus Emma - and how the best books come in at the middle. My wonderful spouse read through my whole manuscript, helping me to "take out the boring stuff." Thanks, honey! My story is much tighter thanks to you.

4. Endings are a thousand times harder than beginnings. Everyone focuses on beginnings, because that's what's going to hook the editor (well, hopefully). But nobody really talks about how to wrap it all up. In the end, that's what's going to hook readers and make them remember you. I worked hard to make my ending satisfying, and I hope it worked!

5. "That" and "just" are the literary equivalent of "ummm." I cut out 300 instance of the word "that" alone! Eeek!

There are so many more things, but I will leave you with the one that resonates with me the most: we must open doors for other writers. Three years ago, at the SCWBI summer conference, Justina Chen Headley opened a door and gave me permission to walk through when she asked if I'd thought of writing about Ezri. Many others have opened doors for me along the way, and someday I hope to do the same.


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