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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 05:09 pm (UTC)
I'd like to say that I wish I would have realized that my first book sucked and needed more work, instead of thinking it was awesome and sending it off to a major NYC publisher. LOL. However... I don't know if there's any way to gain that kind of knowledge in advance. I mean, somebody who already knows, can *tell* you not to submit before you've developed your writing craft to a certain point. But, do you understand what they're saying to you? I didn't. It was all part of the learning process. At the time, I honestly believed that crappy book was my best work. The thing is, at the time, it *was* the best work I'd achieved so far. It was just that I hadn't been writing for very long.
Nov. 11th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
That's a great point. Sometimes, I guess 'The hard way' is the only way to learn.

Thanks for sharing, and great icon by the way :)
(no subject) - mongrelheart - Nov. 11th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 11th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mongrelheart - Nov. 11th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC)
I can honestly say I wouldn't change anything. Every mistake I made led to a lesson learned. I learn best by doing. Showing me something in a book, telling me of someone else's experiences don't cut it. I need to do it, see my own mistake, and fix it so that next time, I don't make it again.

I am the queen of trial and error (not to mention Empress of the northern hemisphere.)
Nov. 11th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
Experience is a great teacher, I just wish I could learn from other people's experience more often :(

As for the Queen and Empress thing, doesn't that cause you problems? I mean, what do you do when state banquets fall on the same evening? ;)
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Nov. 11th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 11th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
That's an easy one. I would have:

1) found a critique group as soon as I finished the first novel. I didn't know such things existed!

2) not sent out any novels without having feedback on them-- not just friends' opinions, but writers' feedback.

3) concentrated on agents instead of sending the books out to publishers as I finished them

I'm not sure I agree with you on the need to write short stories. I think the two art forms are vastly different, and it's the rare writer who is truly good at both. It's not that I don't see value in writing short stories so much as I feel that most writers have a natural length at which they are best-- short story, novella, or novel. When you write contrary to your natural talent, you may be so daunted that you depress yourself out of ever writing at all.

Another thoughtful post!
Nov. 11th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting point about short stories. I quite enjoy writing flash, but it's certainly a different skill set.

Thanks for the kind words :)
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 11th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
'...I started my writing career this morning,...'

Lol, I know that feeling ;)
Nov. 11th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
I don't honestly know that I would change anything, since I am in a pretty good place with my writing now. But, if I could I would have written more, and more consistently, and sent out more. I would also have learned to rewrite much sooner! And I would have worried less about getting published. I think it's important to write for enjoyment - your own, as well as your readers. If you cannot relax and have fun with your story (which can include cutting it into pieces and moving them around), your readers probably won't have fun with it either. My two cents!

As to rejections, I sent out an unedited short story - I think to SF and Fantasy magazine, since I enjoyed and read the magazine. As an adolescent (I was in college) I did not realize that I hadn't actually written a story, since everything that happened, was happening in the main character's head. I'd guess this is a very typical young writer's mistake. It was modeled on part of Till We Have Faces actually, but I did not realize as a very young woman that Lewis could get away with what I couldn't, not only because he was more experienced and had written a lot more, but because (1) Orual's dream world is clearly based on a real world the readers actually know about. They already have reason to care about her! (2) It reflects and comments on a story with action and dialogue and characters!

Instead, I just tried to plunge my readers straight into a monologue. At least that's not a mistake I made twice! And I've gotten a lot better at telling a story in the years since then.
Nov. 11th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)
Ah, the fine art of re-writing. The more I learn about it, the more I realize I still need to learn :(

As for mistakes, I guess the trick is not so much avoinding them, as it is not making the same one twice, as you say :)
Nov. 11th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
Ignore the advice "Wait till you're older and have life experience!"

Then happily going off and doing non-fulfilling stuff with my time. :(

No one lives forever. Be like Nike and "Just Do It!"
Nov. 11th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
Who was it told you to wait till you were older?
Nov. 12th, 2009 09:53 am (UTC)
There were a few writing books that I had. Some made the statement directly other indirectly.

The reasoning made sense to me. You learn more about yourself, experience more of the world, deal with a wider range of people, etc.

Although, I didn't write that much. I did read a lot, which is part of learning to write. And because of that I was able to understand some things that people had said about my writing regarding the use of the Omniscient POV.

I think in a way, some of the stuff they said was true. I think my experiences have changed how my writing developed.

I just have to wonder what if...

There's a saying that you do not regret the things you do in life, only the things you didn't do. Probably because you always wonder...what if?
(no subject) - jongibbs - Nov. 12th, 2009 10:04 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 13th, 2009 11:04 am (UTC)
I wouldn't have finished my first novel at 500,000 words, single-spaced. (Yes, you read that correctly!) Which means I would have finished and moved on a lot sooner.

The very first sentence is still flash-burned onto my brain. It was a hot, summer day. Oh, the utter pain of it. >_<

Nov. 13th, 2009 11:58 am (UTC)
Lol, why didn't you enter that one for a Puddle? ;)
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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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