Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Writer on Writing

OK folks, it's time to tackle the writing advice. We all get asked this one plenty, don't we?

What is the best piece of advice you ever received about writing and/or the publishing business itself? And how did you put it to use?

I’d have to say that the best advice I ever got—from the beautiful and brilliant Tasha Alexander—was: “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Sure, there was a hell of a lot more to it than that, and I'm not sure it qualifies as writing and/or publishing advice, but I'm still gonna go with it.

I met Tasha when she lived here in Tennessee, just before her first book was released. It’s getting to be a few years ago now. She was a soon-to-be-published author and I was a wannabe, who always thought that authors were such special beings that I couldn’t possibly hope to compete.

And then I met Tasha, and believe me, she’s plenty special. Beautiful, talented, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. But she was also amazingly normal, and—I discovered—quite a lot like me. And that’s when she told me that if she could do it—become a published author—I could do it, too.

In between her own promotions, and her writing, and her family, and everything else that was going on in her life, she found the time to tell me about her life as a new author, and to listen to my plot ideas, and read my writing, and critique my query letter, and sit down with me and make lists of agents who might be interested in what I’d written. Which is why A Cutthroat Business is her book, entirely. In the acknowledgements for that book, the first I wrote, I thank four people: my agent, my publisher, my family, and Tasha. If she hadn’t told me I could do it, and hadn’t taken me under her wing, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Wherever that is.

In other advice, though, there are the oldies and goodies, all of which have served me well and that I spout in turn:

AIC = Ass In Chair.

Write every day.

If you can’t write every day, it’s OK. Don’t freak out, just do what you can.

It’s all right to write a crappy first draft. You can’t fix it if it isn’t there.

Finish something.

Yeah, some of them are mutually contradictory, but the thing is, they all work. The advice that I give out the most, though—and I have no idea whether anyone ever said it to me or if it’s just something I’ve figured out on my own through the years—is along the lines of, “Learn as much as you can about the publishing industry, because if you don’t know what you’re getting into, you won’t recognize what’s biting you in the butt.”

I’ll give you a little anecdote to illustrate my point. Eight or nine years ago, I thought I might want to write romance novels. Someone had told me that it was ‘easy’ to break into romance and that ‘anyone’ could do it, and so I figured I’d give it a try. How hard could it be, right?

(And for the record, no, it isn’t ‘easy’ to break into romance. It isn’t ‘easy’ to break into any part of publishing. For 'anyone.')

Anyway, I wrote a synopsis for a book I thought I might want to write, and I sent it off to an editor at Harlequin. (Not the book, note: just the synopsis.) A couple of weeks later, I got a rejection letter in the mail. It was a two page personalized rejection letter, detailing everything that was wrong with my outline and making suggestions for how I could improve it.

Of course, now I know that this is code for ‘fix this and send it back to me.’

Then, all I knew was that I’d been rejected. So I put the letter in a drawer and never looked at the synopsis again. I obviously never wrote the book. If I’d known then what I know now, I might have fixed what was wrong with the story, and gotten published a long time ago. It just goes to show that the more you know, the better off you are.

I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about the scariest and funniest things that have happened to me as a realtor, a renovator, and an author. (Damn you, Kelli. You had to ask, didn't you?)

Till then!


Meredith Cole said...

Great advice, Bente. I'm so glad Tasha was there to encourage you when you needed it. Despite the fact that writing is a solitary profession, I think we all have at least one angel on our shoulder who helped us become published authors. I know I have several, including the diplomatic and encouraging members of my critique group.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Great post, Bente/Jennie!

I think one of the best things about being a writer is other writers. I have met so many wonderful and supportive writers and I always try hard myself to take the time to be as generous to others as they were to me.

And thank Tasha for us, for launching you!

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks, Meredith! I never was part of a critique group, and now I don't have time, but I definitely love and appreciate all the writing friends I can bug with my problems and ask questions of. Tasha was just the first of many, bless her!

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks, Becky! Absolutely, writers are some of the nicest people around. And I agree, it's absolutely imperative to pay it forward!

Graham Brown said...

Great post Jennie - how often do we go AIC and get nothing done for an hour and then in twenty minutes of inspiration ( that by law can only come after an hour of sitting there) do you get the break through you need.

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks, Graham. Yeah, the AIC thing can be tricky. You sit there for hours getting nothing, and feel horrible, but you know you're supposed to keep your A in the C, and you can't give yourself permission to move... It's wonderful when it flows though, isn't it?

Graham Brown said...

When it comes to you out of the ether and your not even trying - that's the best.

Jennie Bentley said...

Amen, brother!

Kelli Stanley said...

Bente, darling, since I've been lucky enough to read both your wonderful series, I know you've got a LOT of stories in you!! ;)

And it's fabulous to see a photo of lovely Tasha on the blog!!! There is not a kinder, more generous or more talented person in publishing world!! :)

Plus--we all owe her big time for mentoring YOU, sweetie!!!