Advice to my Younger, Newbie Writer Self
By Sara Davison
It is often said that when we start out on our writing journey, we really don’t know what we don’t know. And that is especially true of you. Eight or nine years further down the road, I still carry with me the haunting feeling that there is so much l don’t know that I don’t know. Maybe, though, I know a little more now of what I didn’t know I didn’t know back then, so I will cling to that hope and claim it as a tenuous right to give you a little advice.
That first rough draft of that first ever novel you think is so good? Let that go, honey. A rough draft is rarely good, and a first ever rough draft is practically guaranteed to be rubbish, so let me save you a little humiliation and disabuse you of the notion that it’s anywhere near ready for public consumption.
I realize you’ve been reading practically non-stop since you were in diapers, but it’s a big leap from reading words on a page, and arranging them yourself on a blank screen in any credible fashion. It seems like it shouldn’t be. I mean, you have no trouble distinguishing between other authors’ good writing and bad writing; you should have no trouble telling whether or not what you have written is Pulitzer Prize worthy or not, right?
It is impossible to be objective about your own work, so here is my best advice to you: Be teachable. Let other people, knowledgeable people, people in the business, people who aren’t your mother, take a look at what you have done. Listen to their feedback. Carefully and prayerfully consider everything they say. Take what works for you and leave what doesn’t; they’re not objective either. If two or more knowledgeable people agree on an issue, however, think long and hard before you reject what they say as they most likely have a valid point.
Don’t rush this process. Learning to write takes time. Learning to write with excellence takes a lot of time. Beyond getting feedback and constructive criticism from as many others as possible, take courses, read books, find a mentor, join a writers’ group, attend conferences, sign up for webinars, travel, experience new people, places and things; take every possible opportunity to learn, grow, and stretch yourself—as a writer and as a person.
When you think you have learned everything there is to know and no one can teach you anything else about the craft of writing, go and find another career. You will never learn everything there is to know. If you start thinking you have then you are no longer teachable and you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favours by continuing to produce work that isn’t getting any better.
If you believe in your story, never, ever give up on it. Not giving up on something isn’t the same as refusing to work on it and make it stronger, clearer, tighter, smoother, more descriptive, more vivid, more alive and more powerful, though. Never, ever give up on doing that either.
It’s a long road you’ve started out on. Enjoy every step of it. Don’t rush ahead so quickly that the breathtaking views on either side become little more than a blur. Put in the time. Put in the work. Persevere over, under or through every obstacle in your path (and there will be many). Derive every bit as much pleasure from the journey as you will at arriving at your destination. In fact, prepare yourself for the possibility that the journey may be your destination. Leave that in the hands of the One who gave you the gift in the first place; only then will you experience true joy in your calling, wherever it may lead you.
So buckle up and hang on. Even from where I stand, just a little further down the path than you, I can promise you this: whatever great and unknown challenges lie ahead, it’s going to be a glorious ride.
About this Contributor:
Sara Davison has been a finalist for three national writing awards: Best New Canadian Christian Author; Best Column – Single; and Best Novel – Mystery or Suspense. Davison is a member of three different writers’ groups, two of which she helped to found. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.
Visit Sara’s website: Choose to Press On
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