As an aspiring novelist, my job is to learn everything I can about the craft of writing, the art of pitching, and the idiosyncrasies of publishing. How do I format a manuscript? How do I pique an editor’s interest with a one-sentence hook? How do keep myself inspired when I’m out of coffee (or tequila) and my muse has left for Spring Break without me? So many questions, so little time.
The good news? The information is out there. The bad news? There is so much of it, it’s often overwhelming to sort out fact from fiction, opinion from fantasy, and pragmatic advice from sour grapes. As I teeter on the tippety-tip of the information iceberg, I wonder: How do I process this ocean of data without my poor, overloaded brain exploding like something on Mythbusters?
I am currently a member of five different, equally wonderful writing chapters resulting in an average of one-hundred-fifty emails per week (give or take a hundred, depending on what might be happening that week.) I’ve taken several on-line writing courses creating an email loop of forty-plus participants, all bouncing questions and ideas off one another. Depending on the topic of the day, that means anywhere from five to fifty emails. I have the two best critique partners in the world. Maybe in the universe (and I’m not just saying that because they faithfully read my blog.) We touch base daily to declare our writing goals, and nudge each other toward meeting them. Then there are the agent, editor and writer blogs, full of inside scoopage on all things publishing.
Every one of these avenues leads to useful knowledge. But when faced with so much information, how do I absorb it?
Here’s what I have figured out for me. As with most things in life, moderation, repetition, and variety are the keys. Apples are good for me, but if that’s all I ate, I’d be unhealthy. I can’t live on just bananas or bread or hot fudge either (Yes, I have tried.) At the gym, I only like the treadmill, but I still have to do those damn crunches and lunges and… I don’t know what else because to date, I’m still avoiding the rest. But my point is, for all-over fitness, I can’t just focus on one muscle group. And I can’t run fifty miles in one day and get the same results I would get from running one mile, fifty days in a row. It’s baby steps forward. Or as Anne Lamott would say, “Bird by Bird.”
It’s the same with gathering knowledge about writing and publishing. A little of this and a little of that. Lather, rinse, repeat. Some days I don’t read emails from the chapter loops. Other days I set aside an hour just to focus on my writer friend’s blogs so I can learn from them as they bump along on this journey with me. And if something resonates with me, I’ll save it, and reread it again later, hoping it moves from my questionable short-term memory into my equally questionable long-term memory. I don’t try to learn everything in one day, and Lord knows I’ll never understand it all. But when I feel overwhelmed by all I *don’t* know, I pause. And I think of how far I’ve come. Three years ago, I had the kernel of a story and I knew how to type. It doesn’t get much more novice than that. Now I have a finished manuscript (that went through many versions before it was picked up by my agent.) I know how (in theory) to write a query, a synopsis, and a pitch. I know what HEA, MG, YA, and WF stand for. I know what ‘mainstream with romantic elements’ means. I know to avoid clichés like the plague. (Yes, that’s a joke.) I know how it feels to final in a contest, and how it feels to not-final in a contest. My CP’s and I refer to The Donald, and know we don’t mean Trump. Better yet, I know not to talk about an agent by name at a conference because she might be standing in front of me at the poolside bar – and then she’ll turn around and I’ll see her name tag and wish to God that I wasn’t dripping wet, wearing my bathing suit, and talking about how she rejected me last month. (Okay, that might be an esoteric learning experience but believe me, I will never make that mistake again.)
So I have learned with writing, as with life, I might go three steps forward, two steps back. I might make a mistake. I might fail in epic proportions. And I might contemplate giving up. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll get smarter. I’ll keep sifting through copious amounts of information from peers, colleagues, experts, failures, Oprah, and my children. I’ll remind myself that a know-it-all is usually a boor and a bore. Therefore I should revel in all I have yet to learn. I’ll teeter on the tip of the iceberg, and enjoy the view of the ocean.