Most writers don’t wake up one day and find that they’ve become famous. There’s no American Idol for books, there’s no Youtube sensations happening with authors. We have the difficult task of asking readers to buy our books and then also make the commitment to read what we wrote. If I could go back and help my young self, this is what I would say:
1. Write because you LOVE it, not to get rich and famous because hardly anyone ever does. I didn’t start making money off my writing until late in my career, so you can’t ever write with the expectation that it will make you famous. And even being famous has it’s downsides.
2. Save the best/worst thing that ever happened to you to write about until you have the skills and competency to actually give such an intense, HUGE thing it’s proper due. In high school your teachers tell you to write your college essays about the hardest thing that ever happened to you, and while that may get you accepted, it won’t be the best. Becoming a good writer takes at least some maturity (I can tell you that I’m mostly immature. a 14 yr old kid trapped in the body of a little old man), so wait it out before you knock out that award winning novel.
3. Don’t worry too much about heartbreaks, personal disasters, being popular or not, pleasing or displeasing others because as a writer, everything is useful to you so find ways to embrace the s*^tiest stuff as much as the best. Just because it’s shocking doesn’t mean it’s going to be good writing (ahem – I won’t name any specific work, but you all have read, or at least TRIED to read, what I’m talking about – ahem). Don’t hold back on the hard stuff, you and your writing will be better in the long run.
4. Ignore your teachers. To all the teachers out there, I’m just kidding. To all you students, I’m not. You have a lot to learn from your teachers but writing creatively and passionately means doing something outside the confines of what everyone else is doing, including your teachers. So pay attention in class and follow the rules (blah blah blah . . . don’t eat red meat, wear a seatbelt blah blah blah), but when you write, don’t just think outside the box, ignore the box and dance around in yer own circles! Challenge yourself to be different, or at least real and true to who you are.
5. Develop a few bad habits because no great novel ever started out with someone eating a salad (I stole this from a funny thing on facebook). This one is a lot like the earlier one, only not so much about lifestyle as about sitting there, you and the blank screen and getting down to bidniz!
6. Steal ideas like a cat burglar and always act innocent when confronted by the person from whom you stole them. I don’t mean plagiarize. I mean that we’re all influenced by each other, no one is writing or creating in a vacuum anymore, so don’t be afraid to use what you’ve learned and seen from others, (but don’t forget number 3 – you still have to be different than the rest for anyone to take notice of you.) Also, as you get more into this and meet more and more really talented, exceptional people, you’ll find that the bigger the name and success of an author, almost always the nicer and more generous they are–your colleagues are not your competition, they are yer brothers and sisters in arms! I’ve met scores of good writers who are “one and done, or two and thru”. The great ones, who last and stick around, share and root for you as you do for and with them!