Several weeks ago, I came across a great post by YA author Natalie Whipple called “10 Things I Wish I Would Have Done Differently”. If you’ve never read anything on this author’s blog before, go there right now. She’ll stun you with her honesty. This article, in particular, will make you step back and look at things if you’re out there querying a book right now. Please, please read this article.
I’ll be honest with you, the things she mentions in this article aren’t easy to do. Spend more time on craft? Forget about being published? Stop wasting time online? Even if you choose to only do one thing on her list, I promise, it will make a BIG difference to your writing. You just don’t know it yet.
After wrestling two books out of my head and into Word documents, I thought I knew what I was doing. I could complete a novel. I could get an agent to read it. But that’s where it stopped for me. And it took me a while to realize why.
I wasn’t good enough. Not yet.
So, I made some changes. And I’m glad that I did. Changes aren’t easy to make. To do something differently, first you have to admit something isn’t working. And that’s the hardest part. Once I came to a few brutal conclusions, I began to make my changes.
I worked on craft.
I studied great writing. And I studied bad writing. What made a book so good, or a book so bad? How could I do that in my own writing? Don’t be afraid to pull apart a book you love (or hate) to figure out how and why it works. Look at plot. Look at characters. Look at language. Look at chapter length. Everything that’s in there is a lesson for you. You just have to find it…and remember it!
I learned I didn’t need speech tags.
I went from: “I love you, Jessica,” Joe said, scratching his chin to hide his nerves.
To: He tried not to be nervous. “I love you,” Joe said.
And finally, to: “I…love you.”
You really don’t need all those little explanations that come after dialog. If you do, then you need to work on the dialog a bit more. The examples above are really basic, but they get a bit of the point across. Get rid of the fluff. Your writing will be stronger.
I listened to what agents told me.
Even if they only responded with a simple line like, “I didn’t love it”, or “It wasn’t for me”, I took those responses and tried to figure out why. Was I querying someone who just didn’t like the type of book I had written? Did they typically represent books that were fast-paced or funny or scary, and did my book really not fit into that mould?
But it was the one or two really, really exacting responses that made me sit up and take notice. Agents aren’t there to be mean. They’re being honest with you because they have no other reason to be anything else. So listen. Listen, and understand. And then change.
I wrote what I wanted to write.
I know that sounds ridiculous. Like you could write anything else? But too often, we write to what’s trending, or what we hear might be trending soon. More often, I think we just write what we’re reading at that moment. It’s probably not a conscious thing. If we’re reading about Pirates, we’ll have Pirates on the brain, and we’ll probably end up starting something about Pirates. (See? Are you thinking about writing something with pirates now?) So, sit down and look at your sparkling new idea. Is it really new? Is it the same thing that’s lining the bookshelves at your local store right now? Do you really just want to write about a cute talking dog, but you think no one else will want to read it? Do it anyway.
I believed in myself.
Sort of. With the help of people who loved me and cared about me. And some inner “okayness”. It makes a difference, though. Believe it will happen. Believe you can do it. Believe you’ll make it to the next step. You will. I believe in you.