Friday, August 26, 2011

Advice from Successful Authors is Different

Not to sound uppity, but I find that when I read advice from a well-known author, I read it more closely than that of other writers.Best-selling authors do not tout their abilities. They list their accomplishments instead, letting them speak for themselves.

Bragging about our abilities without substantial measure of success is like telling someone you're on a diet and going to lose 25 pounds. It's a good idea; it's a starting point. But don't expect me get excited about it . . . because the work has yet to be done.

That's why I preach for writers to shout out about their strengths not their dreams, even if those strengths have nothing to do with writing. Strengths are proven and tangible. They make you credible. I started FundsforWriters because I couldn't sell my mystery manuscript. And for years, I led with Freelance Hope for Writers instead of Pending Mystery Novelist. I knew grants and markets. I had experience in those arenas. I was a newbie in the fiction and mystery department. In the background, I read dozens of mysteries, studied fiction, and wrote hundreds of pages that landed in the trash as I tried to understand that part of the craft. It wasn't until I placed in a few contests, landed an agent, and signed a contract did I mention my mystery interest. You won't find me teaching fiction at a conference, however. I'm not qualified. Once I publish three or four books? Maybe.

So when I read advice from famous authors at Gotham Writers Workshop, I sit on the edge of my seat. Take Jodi Picoult, for instance. When asked what was the most valuable advice she ever received, she replied: "My mentor, Mary Morris, taught me that I wasn't nearly as great a writer as I thought I was. If not for her, I wouldn't have challenged myself—and kept challenging myself—until I was where I am today." 

Today we run around patting each other on the back about how hard we try, as if being busy at it merits award. We shout "good for you" to people who talk about wanting to be writers instead of asking them to produce what they've accomplished or asking how many copies they've sold. Saying "at least you wrote a book" or "at least you sold 200 copies" is not accomplishment. If Jodi Picoult had felt warm and fuzzy and grown confident when someone told her "at least you write beautiful characters" before she'd mastered plot development and dialogue, we would not see all her books on Barnes & Noble shelves because she would have settled too early in her career. That's quite profound if you stop and ponder it.

Jonathan Franzen stated that writers block is a sign of tackling a piece that maybe wasn't meant to be. "In my experience, it happens when I'm trying to write something that I'm not ready to write, or that I don't really *want* to write."I can relate to that.

When I'm working and working a sentence, trying to bent a word to make it fit, I catch myself, delete it all, and start over. It wasn't the right angle, or the right paragraph, or the proper thought. Franzen validated my inclination to delete rather than force my writing. I'm going to listen to his experience rather than someone who's published two books that sold 1,000 copies. Why? Because he's obviously better at this. He's followed through. He's studied hard, made publishers sit up and take notice, and sold millions of books.

Enjoy this site. It's a quick read yet full of remarkable advice. Hearing how-to's from masters just makes sense. They don't readily hand out their secrets. On the other hand, be careful of those who shout out their writing ability from the rooftops (i.e., blogs, Facebook, etc.) If they have to shout it rather than you absorb it through their publishing credits, there's something wrong with that picture.

Work hard. Brag when you have bragging rights. Otherwise you wear out the words and diminish their luster when you finally see success.


Jessica McCann said...

Excellent advice, Hope. Personally, I find the more "experience" I get as a writer, the more I have to learn. Thanks for sharing this website. I'm off to surf right now!

Karen Lange said...

Thanks for the advice, Hope. I am testing the fiction waters as we speak. As it is with life, the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know...A good thing, I'm thinking.

Linda K. Eaves said...

So true!

D.G. Hudson said...

This post almost sounds as if you're discouraging newbie bloggers from talking about writing until they can produce a published book? Am I understanding you correctly?

I think that the value of the information comes not from how many sales the author had (or which bestseller list they topped), but rather from the delivery and content that the person produces, even on their blogs or websites. That would apply to authors, editors, lit agents, etc. as well.

KJ Bain said...

D.G., I think the gist of the Hope's article is that some writers put themselves out as experts when they aren't. If you are not published (several times over, not just once), you are not an expert in that genre or on getting published.

I was told by an agent a while back that she hated new writers who create a blog on writing because they are putting themselves out as experts in something they didn't have the credentials for.

I took this to heart. So when I chose to do a blog, I did it on God's strength, not on the craft of writing. (I write inspirational.)I've gotten complimented several times over by people in the profession because I chose not to do a "writing blog".

Hope Clark said...

That's what I'm saying, KJ. Only you said it so well!

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks for the clarification, KJ)
But I'll politely disagree on 'who should have a writing blog'.

"Bragging"? Really? Or just offering information?

Hope Clark said...

Okay - maybe I need to clarify since I haven't communicated well. A writing blog can be widely interpreted. For instance, I'm not about to teach writing, but many would think I have a writing blog. I haven't published in fiction so I'm not about to tell you how to write it. But I have published in magazines and managed grants, and run as well as judged contests, for quite a few years. So I can have a writing blog on those topics. Someone just jumping into writing may write about their stumbling and trials but by no means should be giving advice until they're experienced enough. Hopefully that clarifies.

Hope Clark said...

Also, remember this is my blog and my opinion. It isn't a law passed by Congress or anything. If you disagree, do it. If like it, say it. But I'm by no means the sage of this business. Nobody is.