Concerning things like social relationships, employment opportunities, financial responsibility, and nutritional needs ("You mean one can't survive on a diet comprising solely of Coke and Doritos?"), I confess to a certain naivete on my part -- a naivete that is to be expected of one in her late teens.
However, when it came to my writing, I wish my professors had done a bit more to prepare me for the Real World.
You see, in University, my writing endeavors went very much like this:
- Receive assignment.
- Research as necessary.
- Write paper.
- Submit paper.
- Receive "A."
How very silly of me.
You see, there is nothing like having one's writing be the primary source of family income to give the phrase "publish or perish" a whole new relevance. Similarly, there is nothing like actual real-world experience to help one discover the secrets that power a career.
What follows are things I learned only after leaving the hallowed halls of higher education and entering the Pit of Despair -- er, the publishing industry. Each one was a hard-learned lesson. In some cases, the lesson is still gelling. This is by no means an exhaustive list of such Writing Secrets. It's a decent start, though.
1. If you don’t love it, don’t write it.
2. Respect yourself. Respect your characters. Respect your readers.
3. Breathe life into your words. The writer helps words to find their soul.
4. Write every day. Stories are like boulders: It’s easier to keep them moving than to than to get them restarted after a stop.
5. Expect millions of readers. Be content to read your words alone.
6. Write like you mean it.
7. Write with intent.
8. Write until it’s finished. When you stop, your characters become trapped in amber. Wait too long, and the story’s heart hardens.
9. Your writing is like your child. The world will judge your viewpoints and attitudes from your words just as they will from your parenting. If you don’t like the assumptions being made – change your approach.
10. The first draft is never the final draft.
11. Words hold the potential of immortality. What you write may well outlive you and speak to future generations of readers. Every word you write should reflect your awareness of its power.
12. The edit will often take just as long as the draft. Occasionally it will take longer.
13. Winning a contest does not necessarily equal an immediate career boost.
14. Getting published is not the writer's equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.
15. If giving your work away, do so advisedly. Writing for free does not always mean you're getting shafted. Nor does it always mean you'll eventually get recognized or rewarded. Know what you get out of the deal before you agree to it.
16. Nothing fuels creativity like a looming deadline. (Ok -- this one I DID learn in university. And it still holds true...)
17. Talent is not the determining factor of success. Many many writers less talented than you will be published and find a following. Accept this and move on.
18. Networking with industry professionals is imperative. If connecting with people does not come easily to you, study those who do it well and emulate them. No one is born knowing how to market themselves. This is a learned skill, just like all others.
19. 5 D's separate the pro from the hobbyist: Drive. Dedication. Determination. Desire. And a slavish adherence to Deadlines. If even one is missing from your make-up, you will not succeed.
20. There is no such thing as an overnight success. In publishing, every New Bright Light that enters your awareness represents a writer who has been polishing his or her craft -- sometimes for years -- in obscurity.
There you have it: the Writing Secrets I never learned in school, humbly proffered for your consideration. What are the Writing Secrets that you had to enter the Real World to learn?