Monday, October 17, 2011

Be a Sponge

Be ready. Be willing. Be able.

A long time ago, I read these three sentences on an agent blog (sorry, I can't remember the author). I thought they were terrific guideposts for writers.

I'd like to add a fourth. Be a sponge.

Many aspiring writers are ready and willing. It's the able that gets them. That's why we need to be a sponge.

Let's look at a fictional aspiring writer, Susie. Susie wrote her first manuscript last year during NaNoWriMo. She spent the bitter winter months revising and editing it, and she attended her first writer's conference in June where she pitched to an editor and an agent. Both requested a partial.

Susie is pumped. She knows she's got what it takes and certain it will be a short wait until her big dream comes true. Of course, if her future publisher has suggestions, she'll take them, but as far as she's concerned, she'll land a contract, and soon.

What Susie finds out eight weeks later from both the agent and the editor is that her story shows promise but she needs to work on her craft. They decline her project.

Her craft? Rejected? What??

Susie takes a few days to rant, cry, and eat brownie batter. Slowly, she returns to life. She remembers how that guy from the fiction workshop self-published his book. He made it sound easy. Maybe the agent and editor don't know everything. A hidden part of her protests, though, since both pointed out the same problem.

She doesn't rule self-publishing out, but decides she'd better investigate writing techniques and make her book as polished as possible before making any publishing decisions.

She starts paying attention to the blogs she's read that talk about point of view, info dumps, and backstory. Even though she doesn't quite believe she's doing any of those things, she checks out a few recommended books on the writing craft. As she reads, she has many breakthrough moments. Once more, she gets excited about writing.

Now she knows what she needs to do. As she writes book two, she knows she's writing much better than her last book. She queries agents and gets a few requests. This time she gets a rejection based on pacing.

Pacing? She heads back to the blogs, checks out more books. And so the process goes.

While she's learning about writing, she's also picking up advice about self-publishing, e-publishers, and traditional print publishers. She now knows the genre she writes, let's say urban fantasy, sells really well as an e-book and she decides to query a respected e-publisher. She not only gets a request, she gets a contract.

Susie was smart. Sure, she had big dreams for her first book, who doesn't? Some writers actually get their first book published--why not her? But when her book one got rejected, she took the advice given and worked on improving. She kept studying, kept her ears perked for advice, and picked up every tip she could.

Now when Susie writes, she's creating better books, and she's building an audience. Her confidence is based on a solid foundation. She knows she'll always be soaking in writer advice. And because she was willing to be a sponge, she is able.

Be ready. Be willing. Be able. Be a sponge.

Are you always on the lookout for tips to improve your writing? Do you have anything to add to the mantra?

Have a wonderful Monday!


  1. This is sooo true, Jill! Once we master one writing skill, there's always a new one to learn. :)

  2. How about be patient? That's been a big one for me to learn. Really great post, Jill!

  3. Wonderful advice. I don't think we should ever stop being sponges in everything we do.

  4. I so agree with Ayda!

    Be ready. Be willing. Be able. Be a sponge. Be PATIENT!

    Great post, Jill!

  5. What a wonderful reminder, Jill. I'm reminded of a quote I heard about how we should never stop learning. I try very hard to learn something -- even if it's a new truth about myself -- every day.

    As far as a tip to add to the mantra. Perseverence. Never give up, keep knocking on doors until someone answers.

  6. Be....strong. Because in the face of rejections and 'not nows' and other bad news we get on a writerly basis, we have to be strong in ourselves - confident in our stories, abilities and desires.

  7. great advise!! This is exactly what I am currently going through. Ok maybe not exactly but close.

  8. Much wisdom in this post! Writers haven't arrived just because they receive a publishing contract. All of us need to constantly improve. One of my favorite quotes comes from Phyllis Diller, I think--Do the best with what you've got. As you know more, you'll do better. That may not be the exact quote, but that's the basic concept of it. Always strive to do better. Never settle.

  9. Great advice! My sponge is so dry it begs for moisture so once again it can bend, be flexible.

  10. So true. I would merely add - never give up. Writers might give up on a certain piece they are working on, but don't give up on the pursuit.

  11. Wow, there is a lot of wisdom here today!

    Jessica B: Love it! That one might be the most important one of all. We have to believe in ourselves.

    Sarah: Yes! I'm stunned at how much I learn every year. You'd think there would be a limit, but there isn't. :)

    Ayda: Be patient--so smart. I've definitely learned that over the last two years. Patience gets me through a lot.

    Terri: I agree. Except for loading the dishwasher--I am the expert at that and someday my husband and kids will recognize it! :)

    Katie: I know, brilliant!

    Connie: Great advice. And I love the idea of learning something about myself every day. You are wise, my friend. :)

    Kristi: Yes! Be strong. We have to be to make it in this business! Fabulous!

    Christina: I've been there, too. You will get through it, and you'll be amazed after when you realize you needed to go through it. Right now I'm plotting, and I'm studying my process--I wish I could say everything has become second nature to me--but reviewing keeps me sharp. I need the review!

    Lisa: Love it! I've gone by a similar motto for years. I just congratulate myself on doing the best I can right now. I know a few years from now my best will be better, but I don't have to be perfect.

    Lynn: I don't believe you. You're always studying and learning. You're a fresh sponge!

    Karen H: Absolutely! We can't give up. We just can't. :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  12. Absolutely.

    Another willing to delight fully in the here and now.

    ~ Wendy

  13. I like yours and Katie's. The patient part is soooo hard!

  14. Yep, I needed this.

    I'll add- be assured. God is working behind the scenes to bring us to the place that He promised!

    And we serve a God who cannot lie!

  15. Love your pretend scenario. I'm glad Susie got it right. I try to be a sponge and soak up all the goodies I can.

  16. Great pretend scenario and something we all need to remember. There is so much to learn about craft that even the best sellers are still honing their technique. The important thing is to be willing to learn.

    And like others, I have issues with the patience part, but it's a marathon.

    Thanks, Jill!

  17. Yeah for Susies who keep trying and don't give up! I'd love to know the actual percentage of us.

  18. Absolutely! There's always something new to learn. When you're first learning you can get "info overload" and become discouraged. Anyone out there experiencing this???

    Hang in there and tackle one thing at a time. You'll get it and then be ready to take on more--yay!

  19. I'd like to say that I'm a sponge. Since I've entered the writing world, I've tried to soak up absolutely everything I can, and I know for a fact that it's changed me as a writer. (For the better!)

    Oh, and definitely Be Patient!! :)

  20. Patience? Yuck. Why is it a short path for some and not others? Yes, I know, patience.

  21. Always looking for tips. My mantra? Never give up. It will happen.

  22. Wendy: Ooo, good one! It's easy to pooh-pooh our present, but each step forward is a reason to rejoice. Hey, even some of the backward steps are reasons!

    Erica: It IS hard to be patient! I'm with you!

    Tamika: Yes! We don't have to doubt. Just keep swimming... (oops, had a "Dory" moment!)

    Nancy: Me too. I'm amazed at how much good advice is out there. :)

    Stacy: Oh, definitely. It is a marathon. Great point. And runners train, they run most days of the week. We're smart to emulate them!

    Margo: Umm...let me guess, 99.9%?? Ha! Ha!

    Cheryl: Of course! The lists made my head spin--avoid adverbs, use strong verbs, no passive voice, she can't see herself smile, head-hopping--the rules still drive me nuts!!

    Jennifer: Same here. And I'm finding that my knowledge keeps building on earlier techniques. Also, the more I read, the better my writing gets. It's weird!

    Jill: I know. I've had many envious moments. Unfortunately, this is not a who-gets-in-line-first biz. One thing that helps my patience levels is to remind myself that God is preparing me for success, and timing is part of that. :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  23. Jill:
    I appreciate your post today. I believe I am being led to do some work on my story I started back in the early summer. What happened is I though it was turning into milk toast( getting boring.)So I put it aside.

  24. So very true!! I read somewhere that as writers, we need to use all of our experiences as potential material. Definitely soaking up advice, my experiences as well as others' experiences!!

    Great post Jill!!

  25. Brandi: Never give up--brilliant!

    Quiet Spirit: Well, I understand that! Any boring story can get overhauled to be exciting though, so keep writing it. The perfect solution will come to you!

    Latisha: True! Even the painful times in life can strengthen our writing, because we understand how bad it feels. :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  26. Be tips, ideas, friendly advice, what to do next, meeting others who are on the path. Great post.

  27. Excellent advice! BTW, I'm not Jill's "Susie."

    I'd add, "Be patient and trust the Lord."

  28. Hi Jill your story today was brilliant! It really described a situation we could all relate too. And I think having a mantra in our mind will help us stay focused on what is important. I would add two more "Be's" to my mantra and that would be; "Be Compassionate", with our selves, and our mistakes. Be Forgiving to those who let their egos get in the way and who can not find it within their hearts to be happy for others who are meeting with success. Successful people in any endeavor develop good working relationships with all kinds of people and they have a positive patient energy that keeps them from never giving up. Delisa :)


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