My Advice to My Newbie Writer Self: 20 Things I Wish I’d Known 7 Years Ago

1. Get on Twitter and into the blogosphere as soon as possible. Don’t worry about numbers, retweets, or “building a platform.” You don’t even have to actually blog. Just follow all the experts you can find and begin learning. Knowledgeable people share tips in these places that they don’t say anywhere else.

2. Use WordPress to build your blog. Just… trust me.

3. Don’t believe what Wikipedia has to say about word counts. Look up acceptable lengths according to actual industry professionals before starting your first novel. (For example, 40,000 words is much too short while 150,000 is far too long.)

4. Never promote someone you don’t want to be associated with. People take your suggestions seriously. Back-scratching isn’t worth tainting your professional reputation with negative connections.

5. There are teachers everywhere. Find them, learn from them, and never be too proud to take knowledge from someone with more experience than you. Or for that matter, from someone with less experience than you. Knowledge is knowledge.

6. Never feed the trolls. Get negative people and influences out of your life as quickly as possible and as fully as possible. When that’s not an option, kill them with kindness. When that doesn’t work, ignore them.

7. Don’t expect your family and friends to read everything you write. Not even your blog. It’s not personal. Promise.

8. Listen to your internal voice; if you’re tempted to send or publish something petty, controversial, personal, or combative… put it in the incubator. This goes for emails, tweets, blog posts, and Facebook statuses. If you still want to do it after three days, go ahead. (But you won’t.)

9. Don’t post information about your submission process online. Don’t blog about your query stages. Don’t tweet about going on submission. Don’t announce on Facebook when you get a manuscript request. Agents and editors google potential clients, and you never know what will put them off. Realizing you’ve already been querying for two years doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. And realizing they must be your 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th-string choice isn’t flattering.

10. Learn to drop the defenses. If you receive critique that hurts, take a few days to recover, but then go back to it. That’s probably the feedback you most need to hear.

11. Think very hard before paying anyone for any service or information. For example, why pay a company to help you find good agents to query when Agent Query and Query Tracker are free?

12. Learn your market. Seriously. Read every book you can get your hands on. Classics that paved the way. Staples that changed the road. New releases creating buzz. Read them all. Read them now. Learn everything you can about what’s successful and why. Reading will not “drain your creative energy.” It won’t “bias your ideas” either. It will teach you techniques, familiarize you with your market, and make you that much more adept and professional in your fields. Reading is part of your job now. (And doesn’t that rock?)

13. Listen to praise. Learn your strengths. There’s no merit badge for ignoring compliments. Knowing your strong suits can help you utilize them fully; being aware of strengths makes you a better and more well-equipped writer.

14. Don’t let people convince you that you need a “thicker skin.” Your skin is just fine. You should feel passionately about the things you’ve created, and it should hurt when someone rejects that. The important thing is to separate self from work. They aren’t rejecting you; they’re rejecting a particular project. For one thing, that’s subjective. For another, you can always create more projects. Accept the hurt, but then move past it. (It does get easier — usually.)

15. Flex that patience muscle. The waiting never goes away; learn to implement productive distractions. (I.e.: Start writing the next thing. Always.)

16. Give back to the community as much as possible while still remaining productive and focused. Don’t be greedy with your time, but also learn to say no.

17. Writing is important, yes, but so is submitting. You’re prolific enough that you’ll never catch up with your short story and poetry submissions, so submit the best ones as you go. This, too, is a part of the job. No one can read your creations if you don’t put yourself out there.

18. Never be ashamed of your early work. Learn from your mistakes and keep growing.

19. Trust your gut. Arm yourself with knowledge and consider all the options, but trust your gut. It usually knows what’s up.

20. Never give up. But of course, you know that, or you wouldn’t be here now.

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  • Peggy

    I have such admiration for you, Annie!!! Here you are giving back to the community by sharing your hard earned knowledge and making yourself vulnerable for a very good cause. You have a wonderful way of organizing and presenting seven years worth of blood, sweat, & tears in a format that goes straight to the point and rings so very true! I sure hope some beginning writer/writers find this post and listen.

    • Aw, thank you! If it helps anyone even a little, it’s totally worth it. 🙂

  • Regina Richards

    Awesome! Absolutely Awesome!

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    GREAT list. I especially like #6, 8, 9, and 19, well I don’t like them, but those were the hardest lessons for me to learn. Really helpful, Annie!

    • Thank you, Julia! Good to hear that I wasn’t the only one learning these the hard way. =)~

  • A. B. Davis

    I agree with everything Peggy said wholeheartedly. Thank you for putting yourself out there to share your wisdom. You were made for writing and positively influencing people–and I think, if I’m not mistaken, those are two characteristics of being a famous author. 😉

    • Ashley, you never fail to brighten my day. Thank you so much. <3

  • Natalia Sylvester

    Love this list. #5, #7 & #18 especially were things I know I needed to hear and learn along the way.

  • Jackie Cangro

    Terrific advice, Annie. I wish I’d had these tips 7 years ago also. #20 is the most important and maybe the hardest. It’s so tempting, sometimes, to pack it all in, but I would miss it too much.

    • Thanks, Jackie! It is hard sometimes, but I think it’s worth it.

  • Ann Marie Thomas

    Why couldn’t I find a list like this before I learned the hard way! I totally support all your points.

  • I learned number 9 the hard way. Great list!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I know I sound like a broken record, but, Miss Annie, you are wise beyond your years. No. 15 is one that I’ve learned (but still need LOTS of practice with): flexing that patience muscle. And I need to work on 18 — not being ashamed of early work, even though, looking back on the first novel, it feels quite cringeworthy. Part of the process, I know! Thanks for the fabulous insight, as always.

    • You’re so sweet! Thank you, Melissa. That means a lot to me. <3 I cringe at my first novel too, for sure, but if I hadn't written it I never would've learned from my mistakes, so I'm grateful for it even though it's quite a mess. 🙂

  • KelsNotChels

    Perhaps my favorite Annie blog of all time. 😀

  • lynkaypr

    4 and 8 are important not only for writers but in life as well, especially since people check out your personal brand on all internet platforms. Great post, Annie!

    • Peggy

      You know, Linda, I agree & was thinking that many of these are also relevant to life in general. #s 5, 6, & 8 are universally great advice regardless of what field you’re in and could transform a life & career! Also, #s 4, 7, 14, 15, 16, 19, & 20 are especially applicable to other careers and life. Lots of wisdom here!

    • That’s a good point. Thank you so much!

  • Pingback: My Advice to My Newbie Writer Self: 20 Things I Wish I’d Known 7 Years Ago | Annie Neugebauer | My Blog()

  • This ALL such wise advice. Some I really nailed and I’m proud (got on Twitter and was commenting on blogs , out of pure interest, long before I had my own blog). The thick skin . . . I agree totally and for sure need to work on separating my ‘self’ from any criticism, even from friends or family.

    • Thanks, Nina! Yeah, the friends and family one was a bit of a struggle for me, too. It’s hard sometimes not to take it personally, but now that I understand the source (not malicious) it doesn’t bother me anymore and I’m much happier.

  • Sharing on my FB page by the way. It’s REALLY so applicable to so many people.

  • lemead

    I love this. So true. Especially love #5. xo

  • Ingrid Chant

    This was incredibly helpful. I’m glad that you thought me those lessons as I am just beginning to let my writing take shape. Thank you!

    • I’m so happy to hear that! You’re very welcome. Good luck with your writing!

  • This list is a gift, and I’m sharing it with my other newbie writers. We have many questions, and we get answers that are all over the map. This list, though, is practical, thorough, and easy to take to heart. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Darla! That makes me feel wonderful. Best of luck to you and your writing friends!

  • It’s so nice to hear about what other writers have learned. Good job putting yourself out there for others.

  • Diann (books+body)

    *Really* wonderful list, Annie. Thanks for sharing your insight!