First of all, I’d like to thank Cheryl and Ericka for the privilege of being here today.
Hi, Red Dress Writers! My name is Joann Mannix and I have a blog called Laundry Hurts My Feelings where I cover everything from the writing of my very first novel to my thong-stealing daughters. And for the record, my daughters aren’t juvenile delinquents or anything. They’re stealing the thongs from me, which I know is super gross and probably something I shouldn’t share with the Internet, but I’ve always been an oversharer. Sorry.
I was incredibly honored when Cheryl asked me to guest post at The Red Dress Club, but my first reaction was, “Wha? You want me? You want the unpublished writer to talk about writing a novel?”
After I got over the initial shock, I realized that my journey, although still at its beginning, just might be worth telling. I have learned so much throughout this process. And so, with my humble unpublished writer’s heart, I would like to offer up my advice for anyone thinking of writing a novel.
When I decided to write a novel, I did exactly that. I just started writing.
This was the biggest mistake any writer could ever make. Big. Huge. Obese. And if there is one thing I hope you carry away from this, it is to always do your homework first.
There is a great wide world web out there, chock full of information on how to write a novel. Use it for the good. Examine the different types of genres and decide where your story will fit in the literary world. Learn what the publisher’s market deems to be a marketable word count and aim for that number when you write. Study the process that takes an unpublished novel to publication. Learn. Study. Read. Subscribe to agent blogs and writer blogs. Information is one of a hopeful writer’s biggest allies.
My favorite agent blog, hands down, is Nathan Bransford's blog. Nathan is not only a very successful agent, he is one of the most generous people out there in the literary world, offering up freely his advice to all hopeful writers. His blog is filled with information, links, advice and contests. And it doesn’t hurt that he looks like a California surfer boy, if you know what I’m sayin’.
There are a bevy of others out there— blogs, writer forums, author pages and if you need someone to point you in the right direction, please contact me. I could fill up a page with just helpful links alone.
Which leads me to my next bit of advice— this writing community is one of the most gracious, generous places I’ve ever found. Writers, for the most part, do not hesitate to hold out a hand to other writers. I’ve been astonished, really, at the kindheartedness I’ve found throughout the writing community. Even bestselling authors will quite often answer your question or point you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid or intimidated to reach out. Comment on writer and agent blogs. If you love a book you’ve read, write a good review for that author on Amazon. Trust me, every writer appreciates support and a good review. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to an author. Make yourself known. The more contacts you make, the better your chances are of getting your book in the right hands.
And most importantly of all, study your craft. A good writer never stops trying to hone her craft.
A great way to keep you on your writing toes is to read. Read constantly. Read authors who inspire you. And here’s the part where, if you’ve never read my blog, you will now realize I am a freak of humongous proportions. I know I’ve read a great book when I kiss the book when I’m finished because the words were just that glorious. Joan Didion does that to me. Her writing is so beyond stellar, I feel like I become a better writer, just by soaking in her spellbinding words.
And in that same note, read books on the art of writing. One of my favorites is Stephen King’s, On Writing. It is a plainspoken, straight to the guts schooling on how to write. Almost everything you need to write a novel is there in Stephen’s part memoir, part instructional book.
And if you haven’t by now, start a blog, join Facebook and Twitter. Social network every way you can. Not only will you establish contacts, you will also be building yourself a reading audience. Talk to your readers about your novel, how the words are coming and in the meantime, give them a show. Let them see through your everyday posts how you will dazzle them with your writing brilliance when the big day comes. And when that big day does hopefully come, you will already have this built in marketing network.
And when you’ve done all that, Go.
Write hard. Write well. Write like it is your job, which it is. Dig into the recesses of you heart and when you think you can’t go any deeper, go further to find the right words. On the days that I was really in the midst of my writing, I would find myself in this daze. The world would fall away as I molded my story. There were many days, I would have to set my alarm in order to remember to pick up the kids from school. Those are and will always be the greatest kind of writing days.
Here’s another lesson — I’ve learned the hard way that if you’re serious about this, you must, must make it a top priority. I didn’t for the longest time and if I could have a do-over, I would treat it with the vigilance it deserves.
Towards the end, when I began to understand, the amount of sweat and diligence it would take to really accomplish this, I sat my 3 daughters, my husband and our moronic pack of dogs down, (long story, but trust me when I say I have no Lassies in my house), and informed them I needed a stretch of time to call my own, every single day. I needed quiet and space and no pressure. And those gorgeous loves of mine, did just that. I won’t lie and say it was all peaches and cream. There were meltdowns on the days I couldn’t find my niche of time. There were solid blocks of frustrating days. But along the way, we all learned that “Momma is writing”, means unless the house is on fire or someone is bleeding and it better be profusely, that she is not to be disturbed. There are more dust bunnies and dirty dishes these days. And sadly, I have what is now called a writer’s ass, a malady that falls upon all of us who sit and let the words roll out for hours at a time. My family has given me that, (not the ass but the time and freedom to do this) and because of them, I have written a book— a very good book, I think.
And after you’ve written your own book, pass it out. Pass it out to your most trustworthy friends and peers. Hand it to the people you are certain will give you real truths. Ask them to tell you what works and what doesn’t. And don’t be offended by any of their critiques. I have learned to welcome advice. My fragile, papery writer’s heart is now more like a Shamwow. It can handle the critiques, because I know my novel is always better for it. But having said that, trust your instinct and your voice first. And keep your writer instinct strong, you will need it.
And one more valuable thing you can do for yourself. Find a critique partner or a critique group. I have had the great fortune of snagging a critique partner, another writer who, beginning next week, will read my novel with her expert eye. I am going to do the same for her. Fate brought us together via our blogs and so now, we will hold hands and help each other through this part of our writer’s journey.
I am about to step out on that very steep, scary cliff of shopping my novel out to literary agents. I’ve written a query, which is another post for another day, if Cheryl and Ericka are foolish enough to ever have me back. But we won’t speak of queries today, for queries are ungodly. And that’s all I’m going to say about that right now.
What I will say is that to write a novel has been one of the most joyous, fulfilling times of my life. It takes diligence and hard, hard work, a strong and steady heart and all the support you can find, but every single moment of it is absolutely worth it, when you put those 2 magical words to your novel—The End. There is nothing like that finish line to feel like a writing champion.
I’d like to end this today, not with my words, but the words of one of my most precious writer friends, Amy Shouse. Amy writes under the pen name of Cupcake Murphy on her fabulous blog, Odd, Good, True —A Deeply Profound Kind Of Shallow. Amy is also a published poet with a book of poetry that never ceases to amaze me every time I breathe in her words. Amy said this to me, one time, and I think it just sums up everything there is to be said about writing: “Writing is just the most beloved, holy endeavor.”
I wish all of you safe and wondrous journeys on your holy endeavor.