Thursday, July 25, 2013

Harriet Hodgson – My Advice for Would-Be Authors

My Advice for Would-Be Authors

by Harriet Hodgson

Aspiring writers often ask me how I got started. Sometimes the would-be author listens well, and other times he or she tunes me out. After one conference presentation a would-be children’s book author asked me to pencil in dialogue on the manuscript. I was horrified and at a temporary loss for words. “This is your book, not mine,” I replied. “You are the only person who can figure out the dialogue.”

James Michener once said “Most people don’t want to be authors. They want to have been authors.” His quote is really about how much work writing is and the hours of revision it requires. Michener went on to say that most people don’t want to put in all of this work; they want to walk into a bookstore and see their book on the shelf. I agree with him. Fledging writers don’t understand the difference between the words “writer” and “author.”

A writer is someone who writes, and this means his or her work may be published or unpublished. An author, on the other hand, is a writer who has actually been published. Writing is hard work and newcomers need to know this. Over the years, I’ve developed some advice for would-be authors, and here it is.

1. Write every day.  While this sounds like an amazing grasp of the obvious, it isn’t. I can’t tell you how many people have said they want to be authors. When I ask them what they are currently working on, every one of them, without exception, wasn’t working on anything. You can’t become a published author without spending your time in the writing trenches and polishing your craft.
2. Put your writing away. What sounded good to you last month may sound lacking this month. Only with the perspective of time is a writer able to see his or her work clearly.
3. Read your work aloud. I often read my work aloud to check the flow and look for words that I may have used too often. Reading something aloud is quite different from reading it in silence. As I am reading, I also check the “logic trail.”
4. Adapt to the project at hand. Some books take longer to write than others. For example, I worked on a book about Alzheimer’s for a dozen years. I started my latest book, Walking Woman, eight years ago. During this time I had more experiences and gained more insights. The new version is far better than the first.
5. Always be professional. When I’m sending an email or writing a letter, I use the words “please” and “thank you.” Examples: Please visit my website,, to learn more about my work. “Thank you for your reading time and consideration.” Remember, editors are busy people and they are more apt to respond to a query if you bullet information and write concisely.
6. Learn to trust yourself. Many years ago, I joined a local writers’ group. Other members of the group were fiction writers, but I was working on non-fiction. It only took two meetings for me to realize that group members were clueless about my work. My survival tactic was to resign from the group and pursue the genre that I liked best. Decades have passed, and the other writers hardly produced anything, whereas I produced 32 books.
Sometimes you have to fly solo.
7.      Develop a resume. Volunteering can help would-be authors establish a track record. Having a resume shows that you are productive and continue to be productive. I didn’t realize I was making progress in my career until I compared early resumes with later ones. In short, your changing resumes can be a graph of progress.
8.      Have a library of writing resources. Public libraries and the Internet have many resources, yet it’s nice to be able to get up and reach for a book on the shelf. Over the years I’ve gathered a small library of books, including::

  • The Associated Press StyleBook and Libel Manual
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White
  • Write Right! by Jan Venolia
  • How to Develop and Promote Successful Seminars & Workshops by Howard L. Shenson
  • How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen

The most important piece of advice is the first – keep writing. The more you write, the better you get.


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Genre – Health / Wellness

Rating – G

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