If You Can’t Laugh at Yourself: A Funny, Serious, and Somewhat Embarrassing List of My Newbie Mistakes

When we first came up with the idea to give our former selves writing advice, I thought, how on earth can I limit it to just one thing?  I’ve learned so much over the last five years about myself, my writing, and the industry.  How can I pick the most important?

Well, I can’t, so I’m not gonna try.   Instead, I’m going touch on all the things (or at least most of them), and hope my former self realizes she needs to do her research!

Dear poor, clueless Jenna P,

So…you want to write a novel, huh?  It worked for that Stephenie Meyer chic, so why can’t it work for you?  You’re smart, good at grammar, have one hell of an imagination, and won a bunch of creative writing contests when you were younger.  You’ve got this in the bag!  Piece of cake.

Not.

Sure you can do this.  I truly believe that.  But in no way will this be a piece of cake, so let me save you a lot of spilled milk and give you a few ingredients of advice before you begin.

Don’t be ashamed of your writing — it’s a gift and there are others out there just like you.  The first chance you get, join a writer’s group.  You’ll meet some of the best friends you’ve ever had, and you’ll learn lots of stuff too.  Like what a mimosa is, what POV and GMC stand for, and that head-hopping is NOT a good idea.  You’ll learn that 160,000 words isn’t a romance novel, it’s an epic, and just because you have a suspenseful scene doesn’t mean you write romantic suspense.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic, you don’t write romance.  You write something called women’s fiction.  So read it.  A lot of it.  You’ll see what I mean, I promise.

Get comfortable because this adventure you’re on will be a marathon, not a sprint.  I know you hate that because you’re as impatient as they come, but this is something you can’t control.  There’s a lot to see along your path, so keep your eyes open and enjoy the journey.  And be sure to pace yourself, or you’ll burn out before the end.  Along the way, people will pass you and the finish line will seem to get farther away, but don’t stop.  Keep going even if you have to crawl.

What you write will take longer to produce, be more difficult to reduce down to a query, and be harder to sell, but don’t take the easy route.  You’ve got something here, and your main goal is to share it with the world.  Keep that in mind when the rejections start coming in, because they will.  You’ve got to pay your dues because you’re not going to be the exception to the rule, no matter how much you think you will be.

You’ve never been a jealous person, but be prepared:  Writer jealousy is inevitable, no matter how hard you try to look the other way.  Your friends will get more requests than you at times, some writers will get signed after only a few months of trying, and you might just be the last one to make it.  That’s okay; doesn’t mean you’re any less of a writer.  This business is a lot about luck and market, and it might just mean you weren’t in the right place at the right time holding onto the next hot genre.  Being a great writer sometimes just isn’t enough.

Don’t use the word quite quite so much.  Watch out for waist/waste and peak/peek.  Don’t let anyone talk you out of your oxford comma.  Find a better way to describe your protag than through a mirror.  Don’t open up your book in a dream sequence.  Skip that last drink at your first M&M banquet.  And for goodness sake — don’t send that query the minute you type THE END.

Oh, and hey – fiction doesn’t need a table of contents, dork.

Your future self,

A much older, wiser, and few pounds heavier,

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