Ten things I wish I’d known about the writing life

May 22, 2015 | 4 comments |

A friend working on her first fiction manuscript emailed me this week to ask if I had “any words of wisdom” to share. I answered her privately, but her questions made me think about the things I wish I’d known when I started writing in pursuit of publication.

Find your voice

I’ve dabbled in genres like nibbles at a tapas bar. Young adult, children’s, historical, time slip, literary fiction and more. But none of that writing ever felt right, and it was only when I turned to romance, the books I already read to feel good, and for an escape when I needed it, that I found my voice.

What I learned writing for those other audiences, though, wasn’t lost. Instead, I now use it in a different way.

Don’t be afraid of emotion

There’s not much emotion in the writing I do for my day job. However, when I began writing fiction I had to learn to embrace emotion. Only by connecting with my own heart, and writing from it, could I hope to touch readers.

Make time to write

My friend and writing mentor, Julie Cohen, addressed this topic beautifully in a Novelicious writing advice column. To be a writer, you have to give things up–sleep, watching television and, in my case, certain domestic standards.

Find a community

Writing is solitary, and only other writers understand why you spend much of your time with people who don’t exist.

Whether online, or friends you meet once a month, your writing community inspires you, critiques you, and is a shoulder to cry on. They also make you laugh.

What’s your groove?

Maybe you plot, write by the seat of your pants, or mix it up. Part of writing toward publication is figuring out what process works for you.

Read and learn

Read from the perspective of a writer. How do the best authors in your genre do what they do? 

Which publishers acquire what you write? How should you approach agents and editors? Is self-publishing for you?

Write, revise and repeat

This one should have been easy for me. After all, I revised the literature review for an academic thesis thirty-five times. Fiction, however, is a different animal.

If a reviewer you respect thinks your hero is a “bit of a wimp,” you have to dig deep into character motivation and emotion to fix the problem. Enter contests, and use feedback to strengthen your craft.

Better someone points out an issue privately, than in a future Amazon review.

What do you do when you’re done?

When a book is as good as you can make it, and you send your writing into the world of agents and editors, celebrate. You’ve achieved something most people never do.

Then start your next book, and the one after that.


When writing toward publication, you’re not only a writer. You’re running a small business where you’re CEO, CFO, Marketing Director, and everyone in between.

What’s your writing brand? How will you promote yourself, as well as your writing? What can you learn from how other authors use social media?

Promotion is hard work, especially if you’re an introvert like me, but it’s necessary.

Cultivate a thick skin

You’ll be rejected, over and over again. Some rejections you learn from. Others are funny. Still others devastate. But if you believe in yourself, and your writing, you keep going. 

As hard as rejection is, not writing is harder, and if you gave up, wouldn’t you always wonder, what if?

If you’re a writer, do you have other tips?

If you’re a reader, why are certain authors on your ‘must read’ list?


  1. Mavy

    I really enjoyed this, and what you wrote about dabbling with different genres and then finding what felt right, really resonates with me. Lovely post. 🙂

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thanks again, Mavy. I appreciate you stopping by to comment, and it’s good to know I’m not alone in my genre ‘dabbling.’

  2. Sue Bavin

    Lovely post, Jen, which I’m sure will resonate with many other writers. There is so much in there that I recognised. I think that when writers share what they have learned along the way, it is a great means of paying it forward to newer writers.

    PS I loved your comment about giving up ‘certain domestic standards’!

    • Jen Gilroy

      I’m glad this post spoke to you, Sue. I’ve received so much help in my writing journey, I’d like to give some of that back if I can. Thanks, as always, for your support of my blog.


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