Today we welcome our guest, friend and TKZ emeritus, Michelle Gagnon filling in for Jordan Dane.
On the road to publication, I was fortunate to receive many tips and pointers along the way. Today I wanted to offer the three pieces of advice that had the biggest impact.
Getting published was an extremely long and tortuous process for me.
More than a decade ago, I started compiling a series of short stories into a novel. Like many debut novels, it didn’t have much of a story arc, and was largely autobiographical (sounds great, right? J). Convinced that it would be an instant bestseller, I immediately send it off to dozens of literary agents.
Then the rejections started rolling in. I seriously must have set some sort of record; by the end, more than 50 agents had passed on it.
A few wrote lovely letters, encouraging me to try again. But frankly, I was heartbroken. By that point, the book represented years of my life; time I would never get back.
So I stopped writing for a few months. Then by chance, I attended an author event. Lee Child spoke about how it usually took a decade to become an “overnight success story.” And he explained that in his opinion, the authors who succeeded were the ones who didn’t give up.
I’d come close to doing just that. But the next day, I started writing another book. That book became THE TUNNELS; the first literary agent I sent it to offered to represent me (and mind you, this was an agent who had rejected my first novel).
So tip #1: never give up
-Don’t pick up that red pencil until you’ve reached the end
I meet a lot of writers who have written 50, or 100 pages of a book. And that’s precisely when a lot of them give up. Listening to them, I’ve figured out why: when they got to that point, they went back and started editing their work.
Granted, everyone has a different process, but here’s my advice: don’t start editing AT ALL until the bones of the story are in place. I’m currently finishing the rough draft of my 12th novel; and when I say rough, believe me, it’s no exaggeration. The manuscript is riddled with typos, overwrought metaphors, and clunky dialogue. I accept that much of the time, I’m going to despise what’s appearing on the page. But I grit my teeth and keep going, because the rough draft is called that for a reason. It’s all about getting the bones of the story in place. Later, I’ll end up reworking it chapter-by-chapter, scene by scene; I usually make between 15-20 passes on every book I write. So there’s plenty of time to fine tune it later.
The problem with editing as you go is that it’s a much slower process. I usually write 10 pages a day; during the editing process, I’m lucky to get through 3. So when a first time writer finally gets back to page 50, after perfecting those opening chapters, it’s daunting; like looking up at Everest, and realizing that you’ve barely reached base camp. Many, many people give up at that point. Avoid that by not stopping until you reach the end.
-You don’t have to write every day
Stephen King famously claims to write 4 hours a day, and read 4 hours a day. Every time I hear that, all I can think is that he probably never has a day that starts with driving carpool, followed by a PTA meeting, then returning home to discover that the water heater burst and somehow he has to get that fixed and clean all the water up off the floor.
Or maybe he does, I don’t honestly know. But the truth is, we’re not just writers, we’re people too; with families and pets and homes to maintain. We need to go grocery shopping and pay the bills. We need to take care of the people in our lives, and sometimes that doesn’t leave a lot of extra time to work on our manuscripts.
And you know what? That’s okay. Because here’s the thing: even if you only write one page a day, by the end of a year, you’ll have a book. And if you manage to write five pages one day, and nothing for the next four days: same result.
I write when I can, for as long as I can. And there are days—heck, weeks—when I don’t write at all. I don’t bring a laptop on vacation; I don’t take it with me for family visits. It’s not always easy to get back into the groove of a story after a long absence, but it’s manageable. And preferable to not writing at all. So don’t buy into the myth that a “real” writer spends every spare minute slaving away at their keyboard, because by and large, that’s not the case.
I hope these three tips are helpful; I honestly wished that I’d known them when I was starting out. So persevere, plow through your rough draft, and know that skipping a few days doesn’t make you any less of a writer.
We all take different paths to publication; the important thing is that we all end up at the same place.
Michelle Gagnon is the international bestselling author of thrillers for teens and adults. Described as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets The Bourne Identity,” her YA PERSEF0NE trilogy was nominated for a Thriller Award by the International Thriller Writer’s Association, and was selected as books of the year by Entertainment Weekly Magazine, Kirkus, Voya, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. The final installment, DON’T LET GO, was just released. She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.