As with my fellow Wicked Writers, I’ve enjoyed thinking back on all the great advice I’ve received over the years and am inspired and recharged by my trip down memory lane.
The first best piece of advice I received came from an old boss. I was new at my first reporting job for a national magazine in Washington, D.C., and dying to prove myself. Soon after starting the job, I'd ended a particularly challenging week of juggling multiple tasks and deadlines and wanted my boss to know all about it, in plenty of rich detail that she could perhaps save for a future personnel evaluation. So I composed a long interoffice email summarizing my accomplishments. Within minutes of sending it, she was in my office, a concerned look across her face.
She took a seat across me and seemed to search for the right words, which ultimately were: “Supriya, your email had not one, but several typos in it.”
I countered with, “But I checked all the work that’s going into the magazine, the actual work, and there are no typos there.”
“That’s great,” she explained, “but you’re a writer so everything you write in a professional setting, even casual correspondence, affects our perceptions about you as a writer.”
I probably wasn’t grateful for this advice at the time but over the years, I’ve learned she’s right. Writers should always triple check the work we send out, not only to agents and editors, but to fellow writers and potential readers as well. All of them are likely to make assumptions about the caliber of our writing, our level of professionalism, and how serious we are about our craft based on careless typos or poor grammar. Some would say this isn’t fair, but it does happen and is easy enough to correct.
The second best advice didn’t come in the form of actual advice as much as a sharing of an experience. A few years into writing, I had reworked Breathing in Bombay several times already, and although I knew revisions would be necessary, I felt a long way off from getting it right. A writing friend of mine told me she’d spent years working on her first novel yet had thrown away close to a thousand pages of previous rewrites. I’d read her book and it was terrific, making me realize that while the work isn’t always easy, the journey and the potential results are well worth it. The friend went on to rewrite that terrific book at least once that I know of, write several others after it, and now has a contract from a major publisher that would fill any novelist with envy.
And finally, I probably wouldn’t have made it this far on my own writing journey without CJ Ellisson, who is far more than my writing partner but also an incredible role model. She’s turned a lot of conceptions I had about writing, both the process and the journey, on its head. Though she’s a fairly new writer, what she lacks in years of experience, she makes up for with sheer raw talent, high energy, dedication to learning the craft, and her generous support of other new authors. I learned various aspects of craft from her, such as an efficient technique for outlining, ending a chapter at the start of a new scene rather than at the end of one, and so on.
More important, she showed me how writing fiction today involves more than just spending year after year mastering the craft but also a disciplined approach with an end goal in sight. I could have been writing for another 10 years before I felt comfortable enough even telling non-writers I’m working on a novel. Following CJ’s lead, the journey became practical−and fun.
Beyond all the useful writing advice, what CJ has taught me most of all is something all novelists require–an unwavering belief in one’s self and one’s work.
CJ jokes to everyone about being an “aspiring New York Times bestselling author.” The fact is that only a year after beginning her journey, she’s written a phenomenal novel AND acquired representation from a successful literary agent who recognizes what CJ has accomplished in such a short time and how vast her potential is. It’s no surprise that her new agent represents a number of NYT bestselling authors. If you can dream it, it will happen. Watching CJ succeed by believing in her abilities has given me the confidence to believe in myself and make my dream reachable too.