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If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?


If there’s one thing we can learn from history, it’s that everyone makes mistakes. These can be divided into two types. The first affects a lot of people, like when King Priam of Troy said, “Ooh look, those nice Greeks left us a present. Open the gates and bring it inside” or when Napoleon decided it was a good idea to invade Russia. Thankfully, for most of us, our mistakes fall into the second category, the kind that only hurts the person who makes it – like the lactose intolerant astronaut who has a double cheeseburger and milkshake just before a six-hour spacewalk.


Looking back to when I first started writing, I’d say my biggest mistake by far (and believe there were a lot of dumb things to choose from) was writing a novel without ever having written a short story (unless you count school, which I left at age sixteen, almost thirty years earlier), and without bothering to find out how it should be done. 


Back then, I’d never heard of ‘First drafts’, ‘POV’ or even ‘Show don’t tell’. I honestly thought all I needed to do after typing 'THE END' was run Spell-check and send it off to some lucky agent. To make matters worse, I didn’t even research how to write a query letter.


Boy was I in for a rude awakening


The one good thing that came from it was the realization that I didn’t know what I was doing, and if I ever wanted to be successful, I’d better wise up fast. I wasted hundreds, maybe thousands of hours, all because I didn’t have the sense to understand that good writing comes from constant practice and a willingness to learn. 


If I could turn back the clock, I don't think I'd stop myself from writing a novel, but I would definitely give myself a kick up the bum, along with instructions to learn about the craft by finding a couple of good writing groups, joining some online communities like the ones hear on Live Journal and studying books like Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass.


How about you?


If you could start your writing career again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

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( 58 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 11th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)
I would have kept writing from that time in high school that I finished the first draft of my first novel. I'd have been quite a bit more polished and had more works out if only I had continued straight through.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
Wow! I'm impressed that you wrote a novel in high school. Did you ever do anything with it later?
Nov. 11th, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
I'm still working on racking up experiences to regret later (but I had better get a move on as I'm not getting any younger--in fact, you and I are age mates, sounds like).

That post on rejection letters was a hoot ^_^
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks. If only it hadn't actually happened :(

RE: '...I'm still working on racking up experiences to regret later ...' That would make an excellent T-shirt slogan :)
(no subject) - asakiyume - Nov. 11th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 11th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 01:19 pm (UTC)
I would have started earlier. I have so many story idea's rolling round in my head, and half of them could have been written fifteen years ago. Not polish perfect, but at least the damn things wouldn't be in my head all the time.

Nov. 11th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
I guess, but I think ideas get better over time. It's like they ferment on our heads :)
Nov. 11th, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)
I'm probably still making the mistakes that I'll want to do over later.

But maybe: Not take two years off after that first aborted attempt at a novel. If I'd known then that I needed to write some truly awful drafts before I learned enough to write better ones, I might've saved myself some time.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
That must have been hard to get the momentum going again after a two year break. What got you back into writing?
(no subject) - dendrophilous - Nov. 12th, 2009 02:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
Ha! I wasn't sure how to answer your post, and then I read my horoscope - There are many roads you can access that will ultimately lead to your desired destination. No use finding feelings of regret if certain things didn’t work out quite the way you wanted them to. It doesn’t mean if you had chosen another path or made different choices that you would be any better off. Whatever the lessons are here and now would have also been there and then. The most productive place to be is to focus on where you are headed, with a keen awareness of where you have been so you don’t make the same mistake twice.

I think I'll stick with that as my answer. ;)
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
That's a good horoscope :)

To be honest, if a future me had come back to warn me that I was making a big mistake, I probably wouldn't have listened :(
Nov. 11th, 2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
I think I lucked out altogether because after I wrote my very first chapter I "knew" I had the greatest novel of all time. So I joined a writing group online and posted it so they could praise me. :-)

I think I don't have to tell you what happened. They were good writers and I had huge hopes so I scurried off to Amazon and spent my family's Christmas money on some "how to" books.

My husband patted me on the back then worked a lot of overtime to put the money back into the account. lol

I haven't stopped learning since then. If I ever do stop learning then I guess everyone will be coming to my funeral. ;-)
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
'...If I ever do stop learning then I guess everyone will be coming to my funeral...'

Lol, I just thought of a great epitaph. "I are still learning" ;)
(no subject) - meredith_wood - Nov. 11th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
Well, I was lucky in the way my early writing was received, so I wouldn't radically change anything. I have improved my knowledge of the more exotic punctuation uses, but that's about it.

What I would change, though is to start reading the classics at a much younger age. I still have many that I haven't gotten to.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
I've always been a little uneasy about the classics. I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions, but I suspect there's an 'Emperor's new clothes' element to some of them. then again, my old gran alweays said I was a Philistine ;)
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Nov. 11th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't waste all that time and effort writing non-realistic stuff with the BBC in mind. Yes, I learned a lot. Principally that the BBC weren't interested in fantasy.

This was before Dr Who was rescued.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
I think there's more of a market for fantasy now, what with the gazillion cable channels vying for people's attention. What sort of fantasy did/do you write?
(no subject) - martyn44 - Nov. 11th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 11th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
I don't think I would change anything about the start of my writing. In notepads, by longhand, I penned an incredibly long book that contained every writing sin known to the industry and I think I made up some of my own along the way. Of course, I thought it was to die for and typed it all out on an old typewriter. That drove the kids mad, because they couldn't play with the thing as the keys were all blank.

I duly sent this monstrocity to one of the major publishing houses that does not accept unsolicited submissions, (I had done no reasearch). They were kind enough to return the mess to me with a nice note saying this was not for them. Considering I had only included a s.a.s.e, this was pretty darn decent of them.

By the time it came back, we had acquired a pc, an old compac, but there was the web and I found the newly opened OWW. This is where I learned how to write and I most certainly did not put through the monstrous mess. That one is safely confined under my bed in the company of dust bunnies, where it will stay until the end of time, unseen by anyone.

Everyone is said to have a first book that is no good. Well that was mine. I had gotten it out of my system and gotten over myself by the time I joined OWW. I was a newbie and I was prepared to learn. I have made some life friends as a result of that decision and this is something I will always treasure.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
The one good thing about our mistakes is that they make good stories for when we're successful :)

I think the friends we make along the way, are just one of many priceless hidden benefits we get from trying to improve by reaching out to other writers, whether online or in a group.

Thanks for sharing :)
Nov. 11th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
I'd have spent more time understanding the market and how much time is needed reading and researching magazines and finding the right niche, and I'd have sent out more stories than one per year. I'd also (would it have been possible?) have dedicated more time to my writing despite working and raising kids (okay, maybe not that one; I wouldn't sacrifice my kids' upbringing for my writing).

Those and what you said--practice, practice, practice is definitely necessary and allowing myself time to learn.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
It must be really annoying for slush readers at (say) a science/fiction only market to keep getting fantasy, ,murder/mysteries and historical romantce stuff. From what I've heard, it happens all too often.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to make it without practising? :)
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC)
I wish I had your friends. Mine don't write but they still say my stuffs awful :(

The thing about editors, particularly those at the bigger publishing houses, is that quite a lot of them only accept submissions through an agent. Personally, I like the idea of finding a good agent, since he/she would have a far better idea of who to send it to and what constitutes a good offer (not to mention a good contract), but we're all different :)
Nov. 11th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't have taken such long breaks between projects. But then again, my writing has improved dramatically since I was twenty, and I think those gaps contributed to it.

You just don't know a thing when you're twenty. Twelve years later, and I'm just figuring it all out;)

Nov. 11th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
That's a fair point. We're different people, even after just a couple of years.

Thanks for sharing :)
Nov. 11th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
If it were me, that's simple. I'd have stayed the hell away from science fiction. That's 13 years of inanity that I'll never get back.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
Ah, but think of all those people you'd never have got to add to your 'When I rule the world, these are the first ones to go' list ;)
(no subject) - txtriffidranch - Nov. 11th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 11th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
Not waste as much postage as I did on some magazines.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
Hehehe :) Do you still subscribe to any?
Nov. 11th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
Started workshopping and submitting twenty years before I actually did.

So many wasted years.
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)
Would you have had the burn to do it back then, do you think? I was in my early forties when I started writing, and though it would have been good from a career point of view to have started earlier, I was busy enjoying other things.
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( 58 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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