Someone recently asked me what my best advice is for newbie writers, and I wanted to inhale and ask her how long she had. I've been doing this for a long time, or at least what feels like a long time, and the truth is that there's no better experience than on-the-job training. I mean, there is no doubt that some of my lessons have been learned the hard way and frankly, that sort of lesson is invaluable...sort of like how I believe that kids have to pull themselves up from their bootstraps to really grow into themselves...but that doesn't mean that I can't pass on what I believe is my best advice. So here goes.
1) Develop a THICK - we're talking industrial-grade - skin. I was born with too much self-confidence. This, at times, has proven disastrous when I refused to acknowledge that a boyfriend (or two) might be trying to break up with me or other such scenarios. However, it has proven to be among my best assets in this industry. I honestly couldn't give two figs if a pitch or an article gets rejected. Their loss, I think. No matter how brilliant you are, you will get rejected and often in this line of work. If you don't have the stomach for it - and there's no shame in that at all (in fact, you'd be a lot wiser than I am), find something else to do.
2) Be aggressive. I'm reminded of that old cheer from summer camp: "BE AGGRESSIVE, Be, Be, aggressive. B-e-a-g-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e. Aggressive!" You get the point. No one gets ahead in the freelance world by lobbing off on email to an editor and hoping that he/she will respond. Follow up. Follow up again. If you get a nibble, even if it's not a bite, keep pursuing it. Too many writers, in my opinion, treat editors as if they are Gods, so don't use common sense when it comes to establishing themselves. In any other line of work, you'd go after that promotion or that new job. The same is true here.
3) Be Impeccable. Too many freelancers make mistakes and their editors are there to fill in the gaps. They notice. They notice misspellings, fact errors, missed deadlines. There are too many others writers who are willing to slide into your place, and if an editor thinks you're second rate, you're also history.
4) Don't Be Afraid to Suck. Yes, this is a complete contradiction to #3. But in this case, I'm referring to fiction, not magazines. With fiction, it's entirely okay to explore your capabilities because often, you're only writing for yourself. Experiment with different voices, different points-of-view, different characters. Some will work, some won't. Nothing's wrong with abandoning your manuscript if it's crap. Chances are you learned something along the way and you'll be better for it the next time out.
5) Listen to Criticism With Open Ears (and an Open Mind). Nothing irritates me more than writers who don't think that they can get better. (Okay, that's not true, a lot of things irritate me more, but you get my point.) If you're lucky enough to have someone take enough interest in your work to offer constructive criticism, you'd be wise to shrug off your ego (get over it already!), digest the advice and then apply it to your work. Being pig-headed about it might soothe that ego, but it won't land you a book deal.
So I think those are my top tips. There are dozens of others, of course, but that's a starting point. Now it's your chance to chime in. What is your best advice to pass along to other writers?