First Draft + Unbridled Enthusiasm = Billy Mumphrey

He was a simple man. You will have a simple manuscript…

Advice I WISH I could have given myself before beginning my novel.


1. Write because you have to. It’s why you started. You missed mountains. And it was a good alternative to wallowing in NY’s miserable weather. You have to be okay with knowing your words may never be heard by anyone but yourself. Write for the joy of it. For the creation of something expressive in a universe that overwhelms, intrigues and humbles.

2. Your first draft is going to suck. S-U-C-K. You’ll make all the rookie mistakes. Why? Because you’re spontaneous and impatient. Get over the fact that you just wrote an entire book length manuscript. Brava. Get in line and join the masses. Don’t feel you should somehow be rewarded for it. Take yourself out. Dance around the kitchen to Rapper’s Delight. Oh, yeahhhh… Then, get back to work because it sucks. S-U-C-K-S.

3. Actually, put it away and don’t look at it for as long as humanly possible. 2 month minimum. If you do, you will be rewarded. You will see things that will make you piss your pants with embarrassment if you send it out… Let alone to an agent. Sit and wait. Patience is rewarded here.

4. Don’t ever have friends or family read it. Pleazzze. You’re not a joiner, I know. You’re fiercely independent. Good for you. But goddamnit, find someone that knows something about writing, you stubborn woman! And beta readers does NOT mean your neighbors. They’ll just tell you to put more sex in it.

5. Read. And I don’t mean just books you love. Stop drooling over Michael Cunningham’s prose or wishing you were related to Wallace Stegner. Know who you are and what you can write. Read books on writing. Everyone thinks they can write a book. I haven’t met a person that thought they couldn’t. Do they? Almost always, they do not. But if they do, they don’t appreciate or take the time to learn the craft. Why? Because it’s time consuming and hard. I didn’t wake up one day after three children (disclosure: avoiding age disclosure) and say, “What the f*ck. I want to be a doctor.” And then start doing little surgeries on all the people I knew. But that’s what new writers do everyday. They write, then share (disclosure #2: I did this. Poor bastards.), leaving behind something worse than blood…a trail of soul crushing confidence.

6. Don’t think because you were a creative writing major ions ago, or that you were in publishing, that somehow qualifies you as a writer. Writing is an entirely different ballgame, one that is more humbling and masochistic. But you never kept up with your writing and your publishing history will only give you a realistic idea of your odds. Period. You saw countless writers — talented, hardworking types — that never sold more than 1,200 copies. Remember those slush pile Fridays in which you volunteered for just to get a free lunch? The next Hemingway could have been in that pile, but you were too busy licking cheese pizza off your fingers, lamenting the fact that you took an ill paying job right at a time when publishing was no longer about the three martini lunches. Plus, the reading masses are fickle. In a world where stupid people are celebrated, this should be no surprise. I’m reminded of it every time I stand in the checkout line, looking at the glossy rags. S-N-O-O-K-I-E has a book for godsakes!

7. This is the hardest… Do NOT seek validation. Yes, we all want to know we are not wasting our time as a talentless village idiot, but if you love and learn, and pursue your passion with a hunger in the belly, you will triumph. The road of life is littered with people that gave up. Hurdle them.

8. Don’t give up. Revise.

9. Don’t give up. Revise.

10. Shelf it. Write another book. Don’t give up. Revise.

11. Because a list of 10 is too neat… Rejection is part of the deal. Lot’s of it. Just remember the Nike ad (I know it’s not Shakespeare, but you get the point):

All your life you are told the things you
cannot do. All your life they will say
you’re not good enough or strong
enough or talented enough; they will
say you’re the wrong height or the
wrong weight or the wrong type to
play this or be this or achieve this.
a thousand times no, until all the no’s
become meaningless. All your life they
will tell you no, quite firmly and very
quickly they will tell you no. And

*And this does not mean repeating the same mistakes. Part of perseverance is constant improvement.

Now go make Billy Mumphrey a three-dimensional, complex character caught up in a high stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue!


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