Sunday, March 23, 2014

Being an Artist: 25 Lessons for 25 Years

Next week is my birthday and I'm turning 25. As a result, I thought it would be a fun idea to see if I could come up with 25 lessons that I've learned over the years in regards to writing. Some I learned young, some I learned yesterday and each was as important as the last.

1.       Read.

·         Read every day and read everything that you can get your hands on. Don’t just read in your genre. Read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, the writing on the bathroom stall at your favorite bar. Just read.

2.       Write every day.

·         This creates discipline and helps you to strengthen your time management skills, not to mention find your voice as an author.

3.       Stay true to yourself.

·         Don’t not do something because you think people will think or feel differently about you. Write the story you want to write, when you want to write it, and be confident. It’s your art and it should be strictly yours and something that you’re proud to sign your name to.

4.       Stay physically fit as well as mentally fit.

·         Exercise the body and the brain. Know when to take breaks, make sure you’re sleeping and don’t kill yourself from a caffeine overdose. Learn your body and its rhythms and then listen to them. Sometimes getting too far into your story isn’t a good thing, and sometimes staring at a computer for six hours will only accomplish a script for a new pair of glasses.

5.       Network as much and as often as you can.

·         Get out and meet people. Yes, I know we’re all introverts to some degree but you can’t write about life and all its ups and downs if you’re not living it yourself. Building a network of other writers and artists will help you to stay on top of the industry and everything it includes from submission openings to friendships.

6.       Attend conventions.

·         Go, travel, observe! Take a break from writing without actually taking a break. Conventions are my favorite way to recharge and get inspired. I love spending time with all my friends and doing nothing but catching up and talking shop for a couple of days. I attend World Horror every year and each time I leave counting down the days until I can come back.

7.       Be professional.

·         Don’t be a dick. Seriously. In fact, I probably should have made this number 1.

8.       Never feel comfortable.

·         If you start to feel comfortable in your writing, then you need to start pushing the envelope a bit. People want new, exciting! Yes, they want the traditional elements of the genre you’re working in, but how many times can we read Dracula over and over again before we want to stake ourselves?

9.       Be prepared for rejection.

·         Rejection is part of the art. Some people will hate you, others will dislike you, some for good reasons, others for no reason at all. Your work won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and you will be rejected…probably more times than you’ll be accepted. Never give up and learn from what doesn’t work.

10.   Be prepared for acceptance.

·         Acceptance is also part of the game, and you have to be ready when it happens. Know how to promote your work and how to be thankful. Also, have a media kit ready to go at all times: bio, author photo, synopsis, etc.

11.   Know what you’ve published and who you published it with.

·         When someone asks you who you’ve worked with, the last thing you want to do is draw a blank. Be familiar with your publications, and if you haven’t been published, know enough about the markets that you’re interested in so you can intelligently talk about them.

12.   Find a critique partner.

·         Find someone who you trust and who you know has your best interest at heart. This relationship will become vital to your writing process because you’ll have someone to give you support and cheer you on, but also someone who won’t let you slide or take the easy way out.

13.   Know your limits with sleep and caffeine.

·         This basically means know how to survive and not become a sleep-deprived caffeine monkey. And no, I haven’t figured out the secret to doing this one yet.

14.   Develop a routine.

·         See what works with your schedule and stick to it. Create habits.

15.   Get on social media.

·         Use Facebook, Twitter, whatever you want, but have a marketing and social media presence. This allows you further opportunities to network, to stay in touch with colleagues, fans, and other professionals in the field, and it will serve as a platform to start promoting your work.

16.   Set up a blog and keep up with it.

·         I created the MADHOUSE when I was a freshman in college and it’s been one of the best marketing tools that I’ve discovered. It’s nice to have a place where you can write and be yourself. This place will let your fans and/or audience get to know you, the person, alongside you, the author.

17.   Discover your author brand and build on it throughout your career.

·         Who are you and how do you want to be viewed? Do you have a gimmick? What makes you different? How do you stand out?

·         For me? I chose insanity as my platform and ran straight to the asylum with it!

18.   Don’t write what you know.

·         Writing is about discovery. Go places where you haven’t gone before.

19.   Ask questions.

·         If you ask questions about the industry or how something should be formatted, people will give you answers. It’s as easy as that. Just ask.

20.   Tell those who you admire, that you admire them.

·         Just trust me on this one.

21.   Know the rules before you break them.

·         Buy a dictionary, buy a thesaurus and memorize The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

22.   Understand that there will always be someone better than you.

·         And there will be. Learn from them and shove the envy aside. That sin doesn’t wear well on anyone.

23.   Review books.

·         I won’t review a book unless I like it. I personally don’t believe in giving negative reviews of something in print because I wouldn’t want someone doing that to me. If you asked me if I enjoyed something and I didn’t, I would state my opinion, but I wouldn’t run someone into the ground just because their story wasn’t my cup of tea. We’re all writers, and face it, we’re all a bit sensitive.

·         Reviewing books also opens a door to different job opportunities as well as increases your chances for getting a review back from that person as well.
      24.   Go with your gut.

·         If something feels shady or wrong, it probably is.

 And most importantly…

25.   Have fun.

·         You’re doing this because you love it, because it’s what you were meant to do. Take that idea and fly, baby.  

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