I talked about lessons from school, learning to drive etc., last week. This week I’m going to look at what I have learned from writing and how that has developed life skills too.
Becoming More Sociable!
Being a writer has led me to go to writing conferences such as the ones at Winchester and Swanwick and you end up chatting to fellow delegates about their work. They quiz you about yours. This means I’ve learned to describe my work in a way that makes sense to others (and is a useful skill to have as it will help with pitching to a publisher or agent if you have one-to-one sessions at said conferences. Even if you don’t do that, practicing your pitch is still useful as you can write it down for when you send your MSS in by email to someone).
You also develop more social skills doing all of this. I was a friendly enough soul before becoming a writer but the writing side of my life has led to that developing much further than it might have done without the writing. That’s partly because I am going to events associated with writing. I am also meeting far more people than I might otherwise have done.
Every writer has to engage with social media too and the art of that is to focus on what you enjoy here and can manage. For me, that’s Facebook and Twitter. And the art of social media management is to BE sociable. It’s not all about “buy my book”. You learn to think of ways of talking about what you do without sending a prospective audience off to sleep! If you can give “value” with your posts (and advice and tips are always “value”), then you are engaging with potential future readers in a positive way.
There is a lot of truth in the saying “what goes around comes around”. It has been my experience that in being willing to help other writers (via such things as sharing their posts on social media), they in turn will help you. It should be a positive, virtual circle here.
And, of course, you are busy making writer friends. They can tell you things about the industry you didn’t know. In time, you can share your experiences with those new to the business. And there’s nobody like a fellow writer to understand what it feels like when work gets rejected again or when you’re over the moon because you’ve had an acceptance. It’s also lovely having writing buddies to share those joys with.
Getting Out of The Comfort Zone
I’ve done this on a number of occasions and I know I’ll do it several times in the future. It is a good thing. You are stretching yourself as a writer. You can only know whether you can do something if you give it a go – and that was how I got into flash fiction writing and that in turn has led to my having a collection published, with another soon to come out via Chapeltown Books.
I hadn’t done radio interviews or been a guest on a podcast prior to this year. Yes, I was nervous about both, but also knew both would be thundering good experiences for me which would stand me in good stead for later on. Right on both counts there.
Every writer has missed out on book events this year so all of us have had to adapt to Zoom and the like.
And I didn’t start out writing non-fiction posts like this one. It was Richard Hardie who told me about Chandler’s Ford Today and suggested I send a piece in. I did, Janet liked it, and the rest is history. Being willing to try things that are different from what you usually do is good. You find out what you like, what you don’t, and, if fortunate, you end up having more than one string to your bow.
I never anticipated taking part in Open Prose Mic Nights either, reading to people I don’t know, or of being a guest speaker for the Hampshire Writers’ Society. That was great fun to do. You learn to prepare for events like that with plenty of practice, practice, practice, reading work/speech out loud to get it right for the day.
Facing Up to Being Turned Down
The writing life is full of ups and downs for all writers. With time, you accept that and get used to the setbacks. You also get more enjoyment from the acceptances and other successes precisely because you know it’s not like that all of the time. You also toughen up when dealing with rejections. When I was a novice writer, any rejection would throw me. Now I know it happens, it never is anything personal, I’ve got a better understanding of just how busy editors and publishers can be, and I see a rejected story as a chance to rework it and resubmit it. I’ve done that a few times and had work accepted which had previously been turned down.
You get used to stories not doing anything in a competition so you look at the story again, see if you can improve it, and, if so, send it out to a suitable market/competition. You also get used to the idea of not just writing one thing and pinning all of your hopes on that. You write lots and send your work out and hope they find suitable homes.
Learning Not To Be Precious About Your Work
This is vital for writers to learn and the sooner you can do this, the better. All writing can be improved. There is no such thing as a perfect piece of work. What you can do is improve with practice and by picking up useful tips along the way. I can look back at work I wrote five years ago and understand why I wrote those pieces the way I did then. That was the stage of writing development I was at then. I can also see how I’d write those pieces now. It is important not to be blind to faults in your own writing. Every writer needs an editor to cast a crucial independent eye on their work. You are too close to your own work to always see the flaws.
It helps enormously to know criticism of work is not criticism of the writer. It is never personal. Editors are looking to get your work to the best that it can be. That in turn increases the likelihood of work being accepted. Given there are no certainties in the publishing world, doing what you have to do to improve your chances of acceptance must be a good thing.
Refusing to change a word of your precious MSS is rarely a good idea.
Having Your Eyes Opened to Opportunities
It is a big world out there. It is a big publishing world too and there are more options available to writers now than there was when I started. Print on Demand has made self-publishing viable, as has the development of ebooks. This is why networking with other writers is invaluable. No one writer can know all that is out there and you never know when a snippet of information from someone else will prove invaluable for you.
(It is also lovely when it works the other way around and something you’ve said helps someone else. It is good to “pay it forward and backwards”, so to speak. You never know when you might be the beneficiary of that and it’s my experience again that all of the writers I know and I have a strong sense of wanting to contribute positively and to give something back. Well, nobody likes those who pull the ladder up after them, do they?).
Never Being Afraid of Editing Ever Again!
I learned this one quickly when I saw what a good edit could do to improve my stories and make them more saleable. With time, I’ve accepted the first draft is precisely that. Get the story down and then get rid of what you really don’t need. (See what I did there!).
Lessons then are nothing to fear but it is a good idea to make them as palatable as possible!
So, again, over to you. What lessons have you learned which have gone beyond the scope of where you first learned them?
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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