So, as of next February, I will have been published for nearly ten years—yes, the first five years were self pubbed, but still. That might suggest a certain amount of wisdom that a veteran warhorse such as myself might have to impart to the younger set, but I was still a little surprised when Clare London asked me for an article. For one thing, uhm, Clare London, but for another? I mean, I don't usually think of myself as a font of sage advice. But then why not? I’ve been to writer’s conferences, I’ve dealt with publishing from every aspect I guess. Why can’t I give advice?
So…advice. What are some things I’ve learned recently that I wish I had known when I started... (Imagine, if you can, dissolve effect here as I enter the mental wayback machine.)
Advice bit #1—Tags. Seriously, if you’re doing any sort of blog entry or website entry or anything in which the accrued weight of your work is going to someday out-heft your short-term memory for exactly where you put that article on archetypes or non-fiction that you wrote in a fit of caffeine inspired brilliance, a tag would really help.
Advice bit #2—Editing. Should you be in a position to have an editor, you may not always opt to follow his or her advice. But having put out six books of my own without an editor, I would like to say that, even if I don’t actually always follow my editor’s advice, I am damned glad to get it.
Advice bit #3—Pedicures. Seriously, get one before every convention or conference, because if you are wearing your flip flops and adorable pajamas downstairs to get that necessary chocolate right before the damned hotel store closes, and you run into someone you really want to impress, the toenails might just make up for the fact that your hair looks like the place where rats go to die and you smeared mascara all over your face as you either wept laughing or cried in gulping sobs to release the pressure of being on 24/7. (Hence, the need for chocolate.)
Advice bit #4—Anti-douche-perant. Use it. If you are dealing with people online, in person, or telepathically, being mean to people will get you nowhere. We are all in the same business, we are all doing the same job, and even if someone steps on the verbal equivalent of your hangnail, they too may have just had a horrible day and you may have gotten on their last nerve first. Don’t alienate a potential contact—or even worse, a potential friend--in a fit of irritation. We are all high strung. We are all sensitive. We need to be also kind or we will be mean, grumpy, and unread.
Advice bit #5—Childcare. No, seriously—if you have children and you wish to be a writer, you need to take childcare into consideration. Do not assume that you can write with them at home. Do not assume that they will respect the fact that you were up until 2:30 a.m. to write. Do not assume you can carry on a conversation with a colleague when you’re trying to make three kinds of dinner for three different kids. However you fit writing into your schedule, it needs to be scheduled, and your kids need to be taken care of. This includes when you get back from a con after gazunga hours of driving and some writing at night to take care of the tension and you are tripping balls tired. The short people still need to come first. Writing is a wonderful, creative, amazing thing, but if you wish to be successful at it in any way, it needs to be treated as a job, and all of the things that come with a job—childcare, a schedule, a way to eat and maintain your health—all of these things need to be in place.
Advice bit #6—Equipment. Invest in a good computer and a decent phone. I once orchestrated a business trip from my phone as my husband was taking me down to San Francisco where he was going to run a half-marathon. When he realized what I had done, he bought me a better phone.
Advice bit #7—social media. Use it as you can, but see number four: don’t forget your anti-douche-perant.
Advice bit #8—drink water, exercise, eat vegetables, and go to the bathroom regularly. No. I’m not kidding. I’ve got the most heinous ADHD and when finishing long books, I have literally made myself sick—constipation, upset stomach, urinary tract infections, pinkeye from sitting under a dusty vent, a cold from writing in the kitchen by a draft, edema from sitting in one place too long—I’ve done this to myself and worse. Take care of yourself. Especially if you have an evil day job that you are also working. Writing may feed the soul, but do the things you need to do to take care of your body.
Advice bit #9—read. Outside your genre, inside your genre, before bed, on the potty, on the plane, when waiting for the kids to get out of dance lessons, after sex, and before if you’ve got a line on some good porn. You learn craft by reading. Read things that you love, and even if you write m/m romance and are reading satire or WWII history, it will find a way to make your writing richer. You probably started out writing because you couldn’t find the story you wanted and decided to make your own. That doesn’t mean that other stories you want aren’t out there. Read.
And finally, advice bit #10--write. Seriously—everything I’ve set down here is great advice, but it doesn’t do a thing for you if you’re spending your time on social media, scheduling conventions and pedicures. Start out by writing. Get someone to pay attention to it. Thank people profusely for the feedback. Write some more. Submit all you want, get an agent or a publisher if you can, but write, consistently and joyfully, and improve your craft as constantly as possible. Write non-fiction, write fantasy fiction, write fan fiction. Write whatever moves your heart, write it to the best of your ability, and respect criticism but do not let it stop you. Even if, in the end, all you have is a full computer and your family’s respect (see #5) you will have done what many despair of ever doing: You will have told stories, in part or in whole, and you will have done it for no other reason than you have had a story to tell. Whether anyone reads it or not, that makes you a writer in the purest of ways.