Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Guest Blogger Rebecca Colby: Ten Commandments of a Serious Writer

Rebecca Colby's photo, writing with a baby on her lap, is one of my favourite images from the 10th birthday video of SCBWI. She is one of the 'almost-there's' of SCBWI's unpublished fraternity, one of those unpublished writers who make winning prizes a past-time, while waiting for the undeserved rejection slips to change their tune. At SCBWI's recent whizz-bang 10th birthday conference, Rebecca, as expected, casually won the competition to write up her top ten tips for creative peopleVisit Rebecca's website here.
Here is her hilarious entry!

1. Thou shalt not stalk editors and agents on-line, or send them boxes of chocolates with your manuscript. They far prefer bottles of wine and being cornered in lifts.

2. Thou shalt not place false images of photographs or other likenesses of oneself on websites and jacket flaps that are more than five years old because—believe it or not--these are no longer likenesses!

3. Thou shalt not steal napkins from coffee shops. If you need something to write on, scribble tattoos on your skin instead. You’re more apt to be sent to prison for indecent exposure than stealing a serviette, and what better way to find time and space to write. (It certainly didn’t do Jeffrey Archer any harm.)

4. Thou shalt not fill slushpiles with anything you’ve written that your mother, granny, auntie, best friend’s cousin, etc. declare they love, because the chances are that any editor you send it to WON’T! Get a second opinion.

If you share your book with the dog and he doesn’t try to eat it, then it might not be rubbish after all. In which case, send it to a consultancy agency first--after remortgaging the house to pay for it. It will be worth it! They will cover your manuscript in red ink to ensure you get your money’s worth.

Alternatively, you could just sell the house and self-publish. Your name on a title deed will never match the thrill of your name on the cover of a book. Even if you only sell four copies. Bought by your mother, granny, auntie and best friend’s cousin.

5. Thou shalt not curse (or cry) when Julia Eccleshare does not wax lyrical about your book. It doesn’t matter. It’s only one opinion. Never mind that she is one of the most respected children’s book reviewers in the country. With a degree in English literature from Cambridge. Who has spent her entire working life critiquing children’s books. It doesn’t matter. Much.

6. Thou shalt not lie and tell your partner you’ve been writing all day, when in fact, you’ve been catching up with your friends on Facebook, surfing the Internet and playing Bejeweled. (Technically speaking, however, tweeting and texting counts as writing.)

7. Thou shalt not take another writer's name in vain, even after she (or he) has written your book—that same book with the similar premise, plot, character, etc. that you’ve spent the last five years pouring your heart and soul into—and published it before you. (But you may consider suing her if you believe she’s been spying on you in your locked garden shed 200 miles away from where she lives, or you think she’s been telepathically reading your mind. Especially if she’s sold the movie rights to the book.)

8. Thou shalt not succumb to middle grade spread. BIC means placing ‘Butt In Chair,’ not dunking ‘Biscuits In Coffee.’ No one wants to spend their first advance on elasticated waistband trousers. (And don’t let your books grow saggy, flabby middles either.)

9. Thou shalt not kill time. You can train yourself to write anywhere, at any time, with any number of children bouncing on your knee, off the walls, or sneaking off to stick their hand in the toilet in the name of discovery (or is that just my kid?!)

They’re your inspiration, not a distraction. Don’t waste time cleaning (your children will have far better immune systems if you don’t—especially if they get a kick out of sticking their hands in the toilet), or cooking (these same kids will have dropped plenty of leftovers on the carpet to eat) or Googling your name (lest you discover a transvestite librarian in Wisconsin uses your name for his female persona—no joke!). The ironing will keep. You won’t. Don’t wait until you are lined with more wrinkles than your clothes to make time for your writing.

10. Thou shalt not loot the family’s holiday budget for writing conferences. Unless you take the family with you. And the conference is in Italy.


  1. Lovely list of Commandments. Cheered my day greatly. Will try to remember them even if I don't carve them into stone (or brain) myself. Thanks!

  2. In fact, Rebecca by chance booked her family into the hotel where all the speakers were staying. But I have to report she was very demure and didn't follow any editors into their bedrooms.

  3. Is it true about the transvestite librarian in Wisconsin?

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Penny!
    And Candy, thank you to you and Teri for having me as your guest today. Shame that you sussed me out though, and put bodyguards outside the editors' doors.

    PS The transvestite is one of those things you couldn't possibly make up if you tried, especially since I'm also a librarian.

  5. Great post, Rebecca. And I hope it won't be a whole year before I see you again.


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