J.L. Langley is one of the most gifted and imaginative writers around. I love all of her series and standalone books, but my personal favourite is her Sci-Regency series with two books released to date: My Fair Captain and The Englor Affair. I keep asking when the next book is going to be available because it seems so long since The Englor Affair. 🙁 I also love her With and Without series, with the latest book With Abandon scheduled for release next March, but The Tin Star was the first book I read by this author and I still re-read it because it’s a ‘keeper’ and a comfort read.
JL is of course very busy but she didn’t hesitate when I asked her to offer advice to new authors. Her post happens to be the last one in the series and I think it’s very appropriate because it’s called Know When To Say ‘No’. This will strike many chords with both new and experienced writers.
One of the hardest things to do as a writer is saying ‘no’. Getting new work out there is a must if you want to succeed, but it’s very easy to spread oneself too thin. I know authors who have books lined up for years to come. Some actually work well with this arrangement. Others fret constantly about the deadlines and become distracted with new ideas they can’t use for some time to come. It all depends on the person, but as a writer you need to know your limits. What can you do and stay sane? You don’t want to make a bunch of commitments and then fail to produce and miss deadlines. My big downfall is anthologies. I don’t care for writing short stories, and they tend to take me longer than a full 100k novel. But given a great list of participating writers sometimes it’s hard to turn down. I get stars in my eyes and go all fan girly and decide to go for it. I nearly always regret it. I do end up with some great stories, but the stress of it isn’t worth it to me. So I’ve learned to say ‘no’.
Changing things around after every critique is a huge mistake I see by beginning writers. They don’t know when to say ‘no’ to their critique partners. Not every suggestion should be followed. If you follow advice to the point of changing your voice or the basic idea you were trying to get across you should have said ‘no’. For one of my critique partners her “no, not under any circumstances,” is dialogue. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s in her character’s dialogue it’s not getting changed. For me it’s what my critique partners refer to as “Texisms” (My Texan way of stating things) if I’m writing a Texan or Southerner character. Don’t go there! Just don’t. My CP’s have learned to ask, “Is this a Texism?” before they suggest changing it. Everything else is up for debate.
There is a romance book I read a couple of years ago by Katie McAlister called Improper English. It’s an absolutely brilliant example of this. The heroine is a writer. She takes every piece of advice she gets on her manuscript and ends up with a train wreck. The author herself broke a few rules which brings me to my next point …….
It’s okay to say ‘no’ to editors too. In the aforementioned novel the hero and heroine are both named Alex. I can’t tell you how many editors I’ve had tell me to change names because they were too similar. Ms. McAllister used the same name for hero and heroine to great affect, and I can’t help but think she had to say ‘no’ to an editor or two along the way even though it was done as a “what not to do” and poking fun. Now, I’m not suggesting being difficult with an editor. Heavens no! I have a ton of respect for editors and value their opinions, but I’ve learned to question and discuss changes rather than say ‘yes’ to everything. Beginning authors tend to do one of two things. They disagree with everything or they’re way too agreeable and change everything. Both scenarios can hurt your manuscript. Lets face it, you don’t want to piss off an editor, but you also don’t want to change something you feel very strongly about, without good cause. It’s hard to learn what you need to say ‘no’ to and what you need to be open to. But in the end it’s your baby, if you don’t understand why the changes need to be made – discuss it, ask questions. And sometimes it’s okay to say ‘no’ even to editors.
I’m still learning new things about the publishing industry and writing on a daily basis, but by far the hardest lesson has been learning to say ‘no’. As writers we are constantly striving to push boundaries and add fresh ideas to our work, but you must know your limits. One of the most important balances in writing is knowing when to push things and knowing when you’re over your head. It’s a delicate balance, but a stressed out writer is not nearly as productive as a relaxed, happy writer. Learn to say ‘no’ while you’re learning to write and you’ll be much happier for it.
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