Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Good Advice

When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I was still in high school. I didn't seek out any advice -- I didn't know there was advice available. I just started writing.

It was probably pretty awful stuff, though I remember at the time thinking it was really good. But I wrote what I wanted to write about, and made it very exciting, with a happy ending. One English teacher in particular insisted her students learn the fundamentals of spelling and grammar.

Then I joined the Navy, and after a bit of struggle succeeded in getting into the field of journalism. The advice I got there was on the mechanics of writing and putting together a small newspaper -- composition, proofreading, headlines, deadlines, dealing with reporters, etc.

Then came the long struggle. I worked at many jobs, mostly in the secretarial area, and tried my hand at selling fiction with no success. I had one opinion column published in the Milwaukee Sentinel and several letters to the editor, but couldn't sell any of my fiction.

Then I got married and moved to Minneapolis. My husband, God bless him, got me into a writers group. And they put the final polish on my writing that moved me from wanna-be to my first sales.

I was working for an advertising company and making progress within it, but I also began working on my first novel. I didn't know which path to take. Writing was so risky! Then I talked with Gordon Dickson, well-known science fiction author, a friend of my husband's. How do I know which to focus on, advertising or writing? "You don't choose to be a writer," he said, "writing chooses you."

And he was right. I found myself working harder on writing than on advertising, I took pieces of my manuscript to work and fooled around with it at lunch and even on coffee breaks. I gave up going to movies or baseball games in order to work on the book. It became an obsession.

Then I met a man who wanted to become an agent. He liked the book I was writing, but it was badly flawed. My subplot went on longer than the main plot. I had too many characters. I wasn't able to describe the setting very well. He taught me how to write a novel by insisting I straighten out every problem.

As it turned out, The Unforgiving Minutes was the second book I sold -- the second book I wrote was a better novel and it sold first. I am forever grateful to him, but I still think the very best advice I ever got was Mr. Dickson's

1 comment:

Betty Hechtman said...

Great that you sold the first book you wrote, even if it sold second.

My first is probably hidden in a box somewhere. It's so old, it was done on a typewriter. It did manage to get a page long personal letter rejection from the publisher I'd sent it to, telling me what was wrong with it, but at the same time praising my writing.