Do As I Say, Not As I Do (Mary Strand)

This month is all about advice for writers and wannabe writers: how we’ve screwed up, and wish we hadn’t, and hope you don’t.

My favorite quote on this topic comes from Dorothy Parker:

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

I can’t improve on that, but I can offer my own top-10 list.

10. If a friend asks you to serve on the Board of Directors of a large writers’ organization, run screaming in the other direction. (You may also want to take that friend off your holiday-card list, but unfriending them on social media seems excessive.) I lost two years of my life and a chunk of my soul while serving on the Board of Directors of Romance Writers of America, reminding me of the life-sucking machine in the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride. Yes, I met some fantastic friends on the RWA Board. Still: run.

If you haven't seen The Princess Bride, what are you waiting for?

 9. Say yes. Sure, some opportunities are crazy (see Board of Directors, above), but don’t make excuses or say no without at least considering them.

8. Cultivate writer friendships. Other writers UNDERSTAND. Your spouse or partner or family or nonwriting friends often don’t. Also, writers tend to appreciate fruity cocktails, but your mileage may vary.

7. Be polite and kind to others. You don’t want to get a reputation for being a diva or jerk, but it’s bigger than that. YOU will be happier.

6. Don’t let rejection stop you. There’s SO MUCH rejection in the writing business, it can make you avoid sending out queries. (Hoo, boy.) Send them out anyway. Keep sending. Administer chocolate or wine as necessary. I sometimes spray liquid sage in my office after receiving rejections, to remove the stench of negativity that the rat bastards who rejected me have inflicted on the sanctity of my work space. Oh, did I say that out loud? J

5. Move on. If your agent isn’t right, you know it. But you avoid taking action, because getting rid of the wrong person means restarting a search for the right person, which will undoubtedly involve more rejection. But like in any relationship, being alone is WAY better than being with the wrong person. You get sole possession of the remote control of your life.

4. Keep writing, despite everything. You’ll keep getting better. I promise.

3. Write what calls to you. Yeah, yeah, people argue over writing to the market vs. writing the book of your heart. If writing to the market calls to you, go for it. But the best book you can write is the one that comes from YOU. Yes, it may be harder to sell, but when the right person finds it, it’ll be worth it. (AT LEAST I HOPE SO, DAMN IT.)

2. Always do your best. This advice comes from one of my favorite books, The Four Agreements. What I love about the advice is this: always do your best, but based on who and where you are in the moment. If you’re depressed or sick or just found out that your movie-star crush really DOESN’T love you (mine does, however), your best on that day may not be all that. Do what you can, when you can. And on days that you simply can’t, go to a movie or read a book or listen to music. Refill the well.

1. Don’t beat yourself up. Life is short. You’re going to screw up or fail, just like everyone else. Things aren’t going to go your way. There is no avoiding this. Be gentle. Say the things to yourself that you’d say to a friend who’s struggling. And have a cookie.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at


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