Jaye Wells

Big Ass Advice Post

So last night I spoke to a class full of aspiring writers. Most of these people have just begun pursuing writing. This is a sensitive time in a writer’s development. Right now it’s all about getting over the fear of trying. Soon enough there’s query letters and rejections and all the other worrisome aspects of trying to be a professional. Right now, it’s all about fanning that little spark of excitement about putting words on a page.

I spoke for probably an hour. I tried to tell them things I wish someone had told me. I repeated advice that had helped along the way. In addition to sharing my experience with them, I also shared the following ten tips. I’m sharing it with you guys today in case they can help you too.

A caveat first: As with all writing advice, if something here doesn’t work for you or apply to your path then ignore it. There’s always exceptions, and what worked for me may not work for you.

Jaye’s Ten Tips for Aspiring Writers

1. There’s a difference between the craft of writing and the business of writing. At the beginning, your job is to learn everything you can about craft. Don’t obsess about the business until you have an actual product to sell. Educate yourself but don’t get sidetracked from the job of learning how to write well.

2. Grammar and punctuation rules are the basic tools of a writer. Ignore them at your own peril. Once you’ve got some experience, you can break them on purpose and call it your style. Until then, your job is to learn how to communicate clearly and effectively using these tools.

3. Writing for the market is like walking the wrong way up an escalator. When you try to write to the current trends, you’ll always be a step behind. Instead, write something you’re excited about. That might be a trend, but even if that trend dies before you can sell it, at least you haven’t wasted your time writing a book you don’t even like.

4. Read widely. Definitely be familiar with your genre, but read the masters of other genres too. You never know what techniques you can pick up from other authors. Always, always, always try new things and push yourself to grow as a writer.

5. Be thoughtful about joining critique groups and professional organizations. They can be helpful but they can also be detrimental. Do what’s right for you–not what everyone else is doing. Also don’t be afraid to leave if it no longer suits your needs.

6. When in doubt, put your butt in the chair. We do a lot of thinking and talking about writing, but unless you’re putting words on paper you’re not going to improve. Give up TV, write on the toilet (you’re reading in there anyway), get up at the ass crack of dawn–you’d be amazed how much time you can find if you’re creative.

7. The fact is not everyone will be published. Good writers never get deals. Bad writers get huge deals. Luck and timing are huge factors. Don’t worry about all that. Love the writing first.

8. Your family and friends may not get what you’re doing. Find new friends who do.

9. Never ever pay someone to read or publish your writing. Repeat after me: The money flows toward the writer. Unfortunately, a lot of bottom feeders try to make a buck on the dreams of aspiring writers. They’re parasites. Avoid scams by educating yourself.

10. Develop a thick skin. That scabby exoskeleton will serve you well beyond agent rejections. Pubbed authors deal with it on a daily basis between bad reviews, demanding editors, and, yes, rejections. Also, if you never get negative feedback, how will you ever improve?

Anyone have anything to add? Any questions?

22 Thoughts on “Big Ass Advice Post

  1. Jennifer on October 21, 2009 at 7:49 am said:

    Thank you for mentioning the “fear” aspect of starting out. I thought I was the only one. I’m not writing for any other reason than I have stories in my head that I want to tell. Maybe someday I’ll try for the business aspect of it, maybe not… but I didn’t realize that it would be scary to try to put all these thoughts and daydreams onto paper and try to make what is in my head seem real. So anyway, thanks for mentioning that part of it, for whatever reason I really needed to hear it.

    • JayeWells on October 21, 2009 at 8:00 am said:

      Jennifer, in my experience, fear is just a part of the writing life. Even if you’re ignoring the business side of things. Fear of exposure, fear of not being good enough, fear of mining our experiences and emotions, etc, etc, ad infinitum. So, yeah, it’s scary. Do it anyway.

  2. Awesome post! Time to go RT it! I especially like #5. Some people advise to join, join, join, and I’m not a ‘group person.’ I prefer to form my own small group of like-minded writing friends who encourage, support and advise. I do belong to one professional group, and may join another, but it’s refreshing to see an established author say it’s not “join or die” situation! 🙂

    • JayeWells on October 21, 2009 at 8:03 am said:

      Lori, I’ll admit I got a lot out of a writing organization as I was coming up through the ranks. But I was also very aware that agendas and politics were at play. You have to be smart about how much you buy into the system, you know?

  3. This is a fabulous post! Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. Number 2 scares me because I’m always worried about unwittingly looking like an idiot.

    Number 4 is my favorite and I work on it every chance I get.

    Number 6 is most important for me right now. I’m amazed at how quickly the days fly by with only 1/2 of my to-do list checked off. 3 kids is exponentially busier than 2.

    But hey, I’m reading this on the toilet, so I guess your advice is sound! 🙂

    Great post.

  5. Good stuff, Jaye. All ten are dead-on, but I especially like Number 6. Butt In Chair is definitely the hardest part — it’s a lot more fun to talk about and think about writing than it is to, y’know, DO the writing. If you want writing to be your job, then treat it as your job.

    Surprisingly, it ultimately does NOT take the fun out it.

  6. JayeWells on October 21, 2009 at 5:50 pm said:

    Hoodie, see? Sometimes the John is the only kid-free place to get stuff done.

    Brian, before I was published I treated writing as a part-time job. I’d set deadlines for myself (generally conferences where I’d signed up to pitch the book I was working on) and wrote pretty much every day. That may not work for everyone, but it was good practice for “real” deadlines.

  7. Robin M. on October 21, 2009 at 9:14 pm said:

    Great advice all around, Jaye–right on target.

  8. ERAUGRAD on October 21, 2009 at 9:22 pm said:

    From Mur Lafferty’s “I should be writing” podcast. Give yourself permission to suck. This will free you from the fear of writing and get you to do it. Odds are, you will suck at first, that’s what editing is for. Get the words on the page and you’ll get better as you go. Don’t let fear stop the flow of words.

  9. Great post. I think #1 is something I’m trying to remind myself of daily, because I’ve done a really good job learning about the business end, but that takes a lot of time (reading blogs and such online) and thus affects #6.

    Gonna share this with my fellow aspiring authors…!

    (here via Moonrat, btw)

    • JayeWells on October 22, 2009 at 6:08 am said:

      Hi Kristan, yes the old internet time conundrum is alive and well. I struggle with it daily. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Areteus on October 22, 2009 at 2:32 am said:

    In counter to nunber 9, I would also say get as many opinions as you can for free. I agree that you should never pay for it (save retrospectively such as when an agent reads your work, gives you advice, gets it sold to a publisher for you and then takes their 10%) because they are almost certainly scams and even if they aren’t scams you should assume they are regardless. However, an alternative viewpoint on your work is invaluable. A writer is usually too close to thier own work to assess it critically (for at least 2 days after you write it, you will read the idealised version in your head rather than the actual version on the page) so a good crit can really help to spot your common errors. I also like to get several levels of crit – including a crit from a ‘typical reader’ and a more professional crit from someone who writes, edits or publishes themselves.

    • JayeWells on October 22, 2009 at 6:06 am said:

      Areteus, I’m not sure your point is counter to no. nine, but it is a valid point. Absolutely critique is invaluable. I warned people to be thoughtful about joining crit groups is they can be detrimental if the group’s goals and methodology is not a fit. However, I am a big proponent on seeking out ways to improve, and, like you said, critique at several levels is an excellent idea. Like no. ten said, how can you improve if you don’t know what’s not working.

  11. emily cross on October 22, 2009 at 12:10 pm said:

    Excellent post! Brilliant advice, especially the first one. Its terrible but i always find myself jumping ahead of myself – learning about the business when i should be all about the craft 🙂

    Great advice!

    P.S. also can’t wait to see your interview on the bookbundle – thank you so much for doing it 🙂

  12. I’d change one part of it Jaye, the writing what you’re excited about, I’d perhaps change it to write what you want to read. Excitement is still a big part of it but the key is not to compromise the piece and by creating something you want to read you’ll be kept stoked right to the last line.

    As to reading widely couldnt agree more, what has surprised some people is that as well as reading fantasy, Sci-Fi and Historical Fiction, I’ve even read some Jackie Collins, a good amount of young adult fiction (some of thier horror stories are creepier than the adult as they can’t rely on the old four letter words to put points across) along with autobiographies as when you read the parts from a person’s recall it can be a key part to help you figure your own voice.

    One thing that I’d advise is if you’re going to read self help how to novels, just don’t stick to the type such as how to write a novel, look at how to write screenplays as well as graphic novels/comics. They take differing techniques but most of the advice is just as prudent from one type as another and it can also demonstrate a differing route to your goal.

    Great advice and for those participating in Nano this year, best of luck.

  13. Great post–way to boil it down to the essentials.

    One thing I would add, is don’t buy into your own press (such as it is). Even if “everyone who reads it” loves your book, you may never impress an agent. Even if you land an agent, you are unlikely to get a big deal. Even if you get a big deal, you are unlikely to be a bestseller. Even if you become a bestseller, you are unlikely to become a millionaire. And even if you become a millionaire, you are unlikely to become a literary classic. There’s always something to be disappointed about–choose to love what you’ve accomplished, instead.

  14. One more — Be Bold!
    Your viewpoint is what makes you different fro every other writer. Do not self-censor but write what you feel to be true.

    • JayeWells on November 4, 2009 at 9:20 pm said:

      Gareth, really good points. When Is tarted writing, i was taking a very basic class. The teacher told us to go home and look at our bookcases. What we find most of is what we’re likely to be best at writing. I thought it would be historical fiction, but what do you know? It was vampires. Also great point about reading self help books for other mediums.

      Kenneth, it’s true. No work is ever perfect. There’s always room for improvement.

      Bob, I really like that one. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Pingback: Quotes and links for the writerly minded • Kristan Hoffman

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