So, I've had to learn the old fashioned way.
That is, by writing a lot. And reading a lot.
Oh, and there have been some conferences thrown in to the mix too, and I always make a point to attend more craft-oriented sessions than publishing-oriented ones.
Anyway, when I say writing a lot, what do I mean?
I mean that if I have an idea I like, and a character I want to get to know, I write the story. Sometimes I check with Sara about what I'm writing, but often times, I don't. Because for me, writing isn't simply about publication. Writing is how I learn. And, there's something sort of soothing about writing a story for myself, just because *I* want to find out what happens.
I wrote some books before I had an agent that didn't sell and I've also written books since having Sara in my corner that didn't sell. And although there may have been some disappointment at times about not selling something, I've never thought of those books as a waste of my time. They are my schooling. They are how I learn. With each book I write, I learn things, and I hope that I become a better writer.
Writers write. And so I do, again and again, each time thinking about my weaknesses and trying to improve in those areas.
I believe writers also read to help them become better writers. In fact, I'd argue, one of the best things a writer can do for his/her career is to read. Have fours a day to spend on your writing career? Spend one of those hours reading. And here's why:
Because I have learned about memorable characters from John Green, Gayle Forman, and most recently Matthew Quick.
I have learned about voice from Cheryl Renee Herbsman and Saundra Mitchell.
I've learned about humor from Kristen Tracey and L.K. Madigan.
I've learned about timing and pacing from Suzanne Collins and Neil Shusterman.
I've learned how to make a setting come alive from Heidi R. Kling and Christine Fletcher.
And I've learned about the importance of connections, big and small, that make all the difference in a story, from Sarah Dessen, Nina LaCour, and Cynthia Lord.
I read so much, I have my 14-number library card memorized. I figure over my lifetime, that memorization has saved me hours of time, since I don't have to find my purse to get my library card every time I want to reserve a book on-line. I visit the library weekly, and usually have two books I'm reading at any given time, one downstairs and one upstairs. Well, I mean, who wants to spend precious reading time climbing stairs?
Reading books also gives me something to talk about with other writers and bloggers. And sometimes, a book can be a point of reference when talking to Sara about a project I'm working on or about editors or whatever (and I'm so impressed that often times I'll ask, have you read XYZ, and Sara will say yes, when she is also reading a manuscript a night! Can you say agent extraordinaire!?).
So, I guess all of this is to say, when writers ask me what do they need to do to get published, I say these things, to start with:
Write a helluva lot, always trying to improve and grow. Don't write the same story over and over if it's not getting you anywhere.
Read a helluva lot, taking in what an author does well and how that can help with your writing.
And sleep with a rabbit's foot underneath your pillow, keep a four-leaf clover in your wallet, and wish on every falling star you see. (Okay, so that's just me, but it can't hurt, right?)