This post, by Cat Valente, originally appeared on Charlie’s Diary on 2/10/12.
I’m teaching a lot this year, and thus having to think more about that old question: do you have any advice for young/aspiring writers? Since I’m still usually the youngest person on any given panel and not too long ago I couldn’t sell a book to save my life, in many ways I still see myself as a young/aspiring writer. I wrote my first book when I was 22; it came out when I was 25. And I’ll tell you, when it came out? I knew jacks**t about writing.
I did it because I wanted to and because I didn’t know I couldn’t. And I hit the ground running. But the result is that I’m kind of like a sitcom kid–I grew up in front of everyone. All my (ongoing) efforts to figure out life, the universe, and fiction have happened on paper, widely published, in more or less equal measure torn apart and loved. It’s a harrowing, amazing, nailbiting way to spend your twenties.
You can find lists of rules for writers and advice and top ten dos and don’ts just about anywhere you care to look online. They’re mostly of a kind: write what you love, follow submission guidelines, don’t quit. Market yourself aggressively but not too aggressively. Write every day. There, I’ve saved you at least the cost of two books on writing. I’ve always been uncomfortable with telling people how to do these things we do, in part because I don’t really see myself as an authority–why would anyone want to do it my way? And in part because good writing is a moving target, and what’s more, no one agrees on where the target lies. But it is Friday and I am almost over my cold and I have students this weekend, so I’m going to drop some knowledge–which you should pick up, brush off, squint at dubiously, and only take home with you if you really like it and are willing to feed it, walk it, and pick up after it. Since I don’t believe in soundbites and even two entries on the list is bordering on the epic, this is going to take a little while, so I’m splitting up the entries over the weekend and hopefully some of you won’t vanish into the pre-Valentine’s Day thrill ride.
Let’s all repeat the holy refrain: Your Mileage May Vary. I am assuming here a level of desire to write interesting, chewy, risky fiction that is awesome after the fashion of the submission guidelines I wrote when I was editing Apex Magazine. Those who aren’t into that sort of thing will find many other bloggers to guide them on their way. I can only attest to what I’ve learned, I can’t mama bear every kind of writer there is.
1. Write What You Love