In the aftermath of submitting the final version of my novel “Winds of Wyoming” to the publisher a week ago, I’ve been thinking about the individuals I credited in the acknowledgements. As all writers know, we cannot recognize everyone who helped us on our journey to publication (even if we could remember all their names!). The list of supporters would probably begin with the person who taught us to mouth our first words and the one who helped our stubby fingers scrawl our first alphabet letters with a crayon. We could even add God, who made those little digits and the muscles and synapses that connect them to our brains. On through our development the list would march, including mention of the junior-high, high-school and college English teachers who gave us “As”—and the ones who gave us “Ds” (and predicted manual labor would be our lifetime occupation).
But certain people stand out as do significant events that shape who we become. I am deeply grateful to those who focused my vision and kept me on the path to reach my objective, whether it was a writing friend, a critique partner, a career coach, my husband, my agent, my editor, a workshop leader, a writing class or a book about writing. I honestly could not have done it without them.
The key ingredient to growing through the input others offer, I believe, is a receptive, humble heart. Few of us find it easy to accept correction, or even advice, at times. Yet, writers who live and work in the myopic world inside their heads are writing to an audience outside of those noggins. Whether that audience is one person or one-million people, the only way readers will get the message is if the message is conveyed in an understandable fashion. That’s where our supporters play into the picture. They encourage clarity in our writing and teach us how to achieve writing that truly communicates.
To grow and learn as a writer, one has to not only be open to suggestion and correction but to find places and ways to receive instruction and encouragement. Join a local or online critique group or find a critique partner who’s courageous enough to tell you the truth. Join local and national writer clubs and organizations. Take writing classes. Read, read, read, READ! Anything and everything (well, within limits …). Read books and magazines and newspapers. Read poetry and short stories. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read within your interest area and outside of it. Read online and offline. In addition, read books that show you how to improve your writing, at least one a month.
You may have been told you’re a gifted writer, but as Dan Miller of www.48days.com, says, that’s just raw material. “Every one of you has special gifts – singing, writing, gardening, art, computer skills, selling abilities, teaching others, encouraging others – but whatever our gift is – it’s a raw product. It has limited value until we apply the discipline necessary to make it useful to ourselves and others.”
Probably the most important advice I can offer is to write, write, write, WRITE! Write every day, at least a few sentences. Do a brain dump onto your paper or computer without making changes. Wait a couple days before returning to the first draft. You’ll be able to see needed “fixes” if you lay the writing aside for a time. When you’re satisfied that what you’ve produced is the best you can do (I have to go through my work several times to reach that stage), give it to a loved one to read. But don’t stop there. Hand your story, poem, essay, chapter or article to your writers group or your critique partner and ask them for an honest, critical evaluation. I’ve found that, though positive responses stroke the ego, such input doesn’t always improve my prose or provide learning opportunities. Also, in case you haven’t entered writing contests, those competitions are great places to receive unbiased input from anonymous but knowledgeable judges.
Keep on, keep on, keep on, KEEP ON WRITING! Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander, summarized the writing life in a recent Writer’s Digest interview. “It really, really is read, write, and don’t stop.” Write every day, even if you only eke out a few sentences. It’s true—practice makes perfect, or at least improves the final product. I’ve heard more than once that a true writer cannot not write. So open a blank page in your notebook or on your computer and write. Don’t stifle your muse a moment longer.
Lastly, don’t give up. By now, you’ve heard how Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, spent years not only writing and editing the book but approaching agents—sixty (60!) of them. It was agent No. 61 who made the magic happen for her. I don’t know Ms. Stockett, but I know from reading her book that she’s a good writer. And I don’t know her motive for writing The Help, but if it was for fame and fortune, I think she would have dropped the project at about agent No. 5 and written about vampires.
Believe in yourself, believe in your work. Never stop growing your gift and sharing it with others. Tenaciously pursue and perfect your passion.
Coming soon from StoneHouse Ink: Winds of Wyoming — A Kate Neilson Novel
Fresh out of a Pennsylvania penitentiary armed with a marketing degree, Kate Neilson heads to Wyoming anticipating an anonymous new beginning as a guest-ranch employee. A typical twenty-five-year-old woman might be looking to lasso a cowboy, but her only desire is to get on with life on the outside—despite her growing interest in the ranch owner. When she discovers a violent ex-lover followed her west, she fears the past she hoped to hide will imprison her once again.
Debut novelist Rebecca Carey Lyles grew up in Wyoming. Currently, she and her husband, Steve, live in the neighboring state of Idaho. She enjoys the creativity and beauty that abound throughout her adopted state as well as opportunities to hike, camp and cross-country ski in the midst of God’s grandeur. Check out her website and find links to her blogs at www.beckylyles.com.