If you could pass on one piece of advice to a new writer, or a school student interested in writing, what would you say?
Working as a boarding house supervisor I'm constantly confronted with the problem of wanting to give advice but needing to condense all that I would like to say into a short, pithy sentence.
Here's what I've come up with so far.
If I'm in a sporty mood, I copy Nike: Just Do It.
This was a piece of advice no one gave when I was young, and I wish they had. I think one of the most important things for developing a career as a writer is getting in and learning as much as you can as soon as you can. As with a lot of talent based activities, you need to practice to get perfect. Some suggest 10,000 hours to become an expert. For writing, I've heard it's your first million words. So why not get these out of the way as soon as you can?
If I'm in a techy mood I'll tell them: Build A Platform.
Even high school students, okay maybe especially high school students, can start a blog. Or build up a Facebook presence and connect with other writers. They can load up works in progress and start getting feedback. Start now, I'd tell them, because it's going to take years and is one of the greatest things you can do outside of actually writing towards becoming a best seller. Publishers will want you, or you'll already have a tribe if you want to self-publish.
If I'm in a carey-sharey mood I'll say: Connect With Writers.
I was petrified the first writing conference I went to. Obviously they would all be really serious writers and laugh at my poor attempts at YA. But surprisingly they weren't. Half were just as nervous as I was, and the other half were so supportive and shared such great advice that I've been hooked ever since. It's great catching up at least once a year and seeing what everyone's learned and working on, who's published what, and how far everyone has come. Then there's the online writing community; following people's journeys on their blogs, and feeling the support when they comment on mine.
If I'm in a slightly pessimistic mood I'll remind them: Think Long Term.
Writing is not a short term goal. I don't actually believe in 'overnight successes'. All the great writers I've talked to or read about either wrote many books before they were noticed, or developed their craft for years before writing their first runaway best seller. If you are not prepared to put in the effort, don't start. If you think it's the next 'get rich quick' scheme, well (insert laughter here).
If I'm in a professionally minded mood I'll suggest: Do Everything To Improve Your Craft.
The number of non-writing people who believe that all it takes is just sitting down with a laptop makes me want to cry. It's like saying you can be the next Picasso by spending an afternoon with your kid's paintbox. Writing is a craft. First, you need to be able to manage the writhings of a plot that threatens to slip out of your hands and tangle itself on the floor. Then you also need to be able to tame the English language with its profusion of adverbs and adjectives,and its hydra type sentences where you cut off one overly long sentence only to create two in its place. Dealing with all this takes experience and skills.
Finally, if I think they've understood all that, my final piece of advice is always: Don't Stop.
If you just don't stop, it is almost impossible to fail. Maybe you'll have to put aside your first manuscript. Maybe you'll have to publish five books before people start finding you. Maybe you'll have to self-publish your work until a traditional publisher realises how awesome you are. Maybe they never will, but you'll develop a devoted following who wait for your next book. Even if all that happens, if you just keep improving your craft, polishing your manuscripts, and building your platform, eventually you will get there. It's just a matter of whether you want it that much.
Luckily I do.
How about you?