Writing is hard. If you’re like me, you have more than a few moments of discouragement. You might need someone to encourage you to press on, keep writing -- it gets better.
Hallie Ephron’s keynote speech at the recent Lakefly Literary Conference did that for me. Even though she has written and published at least nine novels, she remembers what it was like to be the only non-writer in a family of highly successful authors. Hallie’s parents, Phoebe and Henry Ephron, were playwrights and screen-writers, while sisters Nora, Dalia and Amy were established novelists.
Hallie decided to write in her 40s after a reporter asked if he could do a story about her because she was the only Ephron sister who wasn’t an author. Hallie refused, thinking if anybody was going to write about her not writing it was going to be her.
Although there obviously were writing skills in her genes, she says it took 10 years to get published. She brought a handful of rejection letters to the
conference and shared snippets with us.
Most of us in the audience were smiling and nodding, having fielded rejection letters containing similar discouraging messages.
Hallie’s counsel was clear: There’s hope if we, as working-to-get-published authors, keep trying and acquiring wisdom along the way, eventually we're likely to get there. And, she went on to say, in the process, why not enjoy the trip?
I scribbled notes, trying to commit to paper as many of her affirmations as I could. The end result: 13 encouraging comments from Hallie, which I'd like to share.
1. "For a long time your taste will outrun your talent." But if you keep writing, you WILL get better.
2. Practice is important -- and writers must realize that first drafts are often less than wonderful. Sometimes you simply have to “hold your nose and write.” In other words, get the words and scenes in your head on paper, even if they’re not perfect. Each practice session makes you a tiny bit better.
3. But remember, on the way to getting better, you’ll have flops and failures. It’s simply a part of learning. We master new skills by making and correcting mistakes. Even when you get your story polished, it might turn out to be not quite right for a particular editor, agent or publishing house. So Hallie cautioned, "Be prepared for rejection."
4. "So much in what makes for success is out of your control. Get used to it." She added: "There might be times when you do everything right and still your book isn’t snapped up." Unfortunately, this can happen.
5. So you might as well learn to have fun in this journey to develop your craft. Enjoy what you do. "Don’t wait until you sell the book to celebrate.
is meant to be opened."
6. Know that you have a very special story to tell. "No one can write exactly what you will write."
7. Everything in your life, even the frustrations, can help develop your story and your craft. Learn from your daily experiences. “Everything [in life] is copy. Take notes."
8. Never forget: You can learn from others. And reading is vital. As she puts it: “You must be a READER if you want to be a successful writer.”
9. When you write, spend more time listening to yourself than trying to follow trends or attempting to re-create a recent best-seller. "In your writing, please yourself first."
10. The story you’re going to tell likely will require many hours of effort, so the best approach is to choose your topic wisely so you'll be "writing what you love."
11. If you want to become more proficient in writing, set aside a specific place and time to practice. Her advice: Don't be haphazard in "making space and time in your life to write!”
12. As you write, remember that it’s an art and know that hard and fast rules won’t always work and that sometimes the writing and selling process doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s OK. "Trust the chaos."
13. Don’t consider your status as a pre-published author to be a negative. "Having never published a book might be a "brilliant place" to be. Agents and editors are on the lookout for the next new talent."
Really? Agents and editors are looking for me? Like most of the Hallie’s
Wisconsin audience, I hope so, but even if they aren't,
I’m going to take her advice and enjoy my time as I work toward refining my
Hallie’s latest mystery, There Was an Old Woman, has just been published. Actually, first, I’m hoping to read her book, "The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel: All the tools you need to write and sell your first novel."
In the meantime, I’m open to hearing encouraging advice. Do you have any tips on starting a new hobby? Or finishing a novel? Please share.