The most important skill you’ll need as a career author

All career authors need to know how to write. Well, der, you didn’t pay good money to hear me say that.

But wait, let’s look more closely.

You need to know how to speak in public. You need to know how to work a Twitter account or a Facebook account or an Insta account or some other fun-times, social media account.

You need to know how to read a contract and, I don’t know, maybe you need to know how to lean forward when having your photo taken…

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But the most important skill, the one you absolutely must have, the one that will help you stay in the game and forge ahead, is the ability to rewrite.

Not only that, you need to know how to rewrite under instruction, quickly and with competence.

I’ve seen it many times. A manuscript comes in, it’s from an unknown author but it shows great promise. The publisher wants to take the risk. Really, truly wants to take the risk.

But to the trained eye SO MUCH needs fixing.

And guess what?

The publisher can point out the problems but ultimately it’s the author who has to sift through, discern and implement the solutions.

Ultimately, the only person who can fix a wonky story is, The Author.

So the publisher, often quite nervously, asks the beaming new author to fix their pretty manuscript, and the author grows pale. They’re paralysed. Not because they can’t write. They’ve written a book for Pete’s sake. A whole book! But ask them to rewrite and they’re lost.

It’s like dropping them into a maze, blindfolded.

Why do they panic so?

Because they lack experience, that’s all. They can’t, as yet, rewrite. They haven’t mastered this crucial skill, the flip side of the author coin.

It can take years to learn how to rewrite; years of fiddling with words and characters and narrative arcs and story structure.

This is why I say, please, for the love of all things holy, don’t rush to have your first novel (or picture book) published. Be prepared to let your early work be your training ground.

Put in the rewriting time with humility and enthusiasm. Do it because it’s the sensible and honourable thing to do. Refine, polish, edit, restructure. Learn what happens when you pull this string or turn that cog. Remember, creative writing is experiential. You gotta do it to know it.

Spend time mastering the craft of rewriting before you go seeking a contract. That way, when opportunity knocks, you’ll be up at the door, your curlers out, your lipstick on, your Author badge shining.

You’ll be ready.

Jen xo

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