04 Oct

DIY MFA Keynote Speech: Shannon Whitney Messenger

Posted in DIY MFA, Writing

Today’s keynote speaker is the lovely Shannon Whitney Messenger.  I first came across Shannon’s blog over the summer and right away I was hooked by her charming and honest style.  She writes Middle Grade Fantasy and is repped by Laura Rennert with Andrea Brown Literary Agency. And–as if she didn’t have enough on her plate–she’s also one of the founders and organizers of WriteOnCon, a free online writer’s conference for kidlit writers.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see her book on the shelf and read it for myself!  Here are Shannon’s thoughts and advice about DIY MFA.

I’ll admit it–when Gabriela first asked me to write one of her commencement speeches for DIY MFA, my reaction was…uh…why me? I don’t have an MFA. I’m not published yet. I’m not even cool. So what could I possibly say to inspire you guys?

But then I thought about how I got to be where I am right now.

I’d had an idea I’d been researching—but I kept putting off writing it. I’d tell my husband, next week. Next month.
I stalled for almost two years.

Then I went to an author event called Project Book Babe, where I met published writers for the first time. I wanted to be them. It was time to write the darn book.

Two months later I had an eight-figure-book-deal and I’d taken over the literary world.

Um…yeah—I wish!

Here’s what really happened:

I started Draft 1 in April 2009. By July, I was on Draft 7—and realizing that where I’d ended the book should really be the 2/3 point. I needed help. So I started reading author blogs and figured out what I was missing: critique partners.

By August I started my own blog, hoping to connect with other writers and swap pages. By October I’d found one. And I’d begun to learn about publishing. Agents. Queries. I realized if I was going to do this for real, I needed to educate myself—and fast.

So I followed agents’ blogs. Editors’ blogs.  I registered for a writer’s conference. I took a query workshop. I added another awesome critique partner. All the while I was writing, writing, writing.

By November I was on Draft 11, and one of my CPs emailed me. You’re getting better, she said.

By mid January I typed the two words I hadn’t let myself type until that point (at least not together). The End. It was Draft 12.

I brought the first chapter of Draft 12 with me to the writer’s conference a few weeks later. I pitched my book to agents—and they asked for partials. My pages won a Conference Choice Award.

When I came home it took me three weeks of obsessing to send my query. (Okay, fine, maybe some of my CPs had to bully me into it—whatever!)

Two weeks later I had an offer of rep from my dream agent.

It had been just slightly less than eleven months since the day I decided it was time to start writing. And hopefully someday soon—once I finish yet another revision—I’ll sell my book and finally reach my dream of being published.

So why am I telling you this?

Because I’ve learned two things along that journey.

1. You have to educate yourself as much as possible. Read blogs. Get to know other writers. Learn all you can about writing and publishing—and then learn more. There is always more to learn.

2. In order to be a writer, you have to write.

So you’ve made HUGE progress with the first one by following this program. The wealth of information Gabriela has taken the time to provide is invaluable.

Now it’s time to write.

Whether you’re starting your first draft or revising for the thousandth time, the most important thing is to write.

Lose yourself in your story.

Don’t worry about making it perfect—that will come with revision. For now, just write—because each word you type brings you a little bit closer to your dream. So get started!

Happy writing everyone!


Comments on this post

  1. Stina Lindenblatt says:

    Great keynote speech (?), Shannon.

    Blogging has helped my writing in the same way. I'm much smarter now when it comes to the industry (though I was before from reading books) and writing. The nice thing with blogs is the advice comes in small bites and since many people blog about the same topics, it keeps getting pounded into our heads so the knowledge becomes second nature. 😀

    And I've found great CPs and beta readers through blogging. Not to mention, I've discovered some writer friends who live in the same city as me.

    1. Janice says:

      Very inspiring, Shannon – 11 months – I wish lol

      I agree, educating yourself is so important. Although, reading blogs and taking workshops is sometimes much easier than actually writing 😉

      1. Shannon Whitney Messenger says:

        Aw, thanks guys. And thanks Gabriela for thinking of me for this. You have given everyone a huge wealth of information, and I really hope people are bookmarking it and going back through it as they write. I know I will be. 🙂

        1. salarsenッ says:

          As always, Shannon, you're a pleasure. So glad Gabi asked you to 'Keynote' speak…write. You are one of the first writers I started following six months ago. I've learned so much from you. Thanks. Education ourselves is such a must in this business. If we want it, we need to be willing to grow in this craft everyday and in every way.

          1. Bethany Elizabeth says:

            Great advice, Shannon! I remember just getting started on this blog-learning experience, I couldn't believe how much information was available! And I love hearing author's stories about how they did it, it's really encouraging. Funny, I've been writing since seventh grade, but somehow I've recently forgot your second step – actually writing. Maybe I should schedule some time to do that. I think I will. 🙂

            1. Shannon O'Donnell says:

              I adore you! Your story never gets old, Shannon. I love hearing about how you got where you are and cheering you on towards where you'll soon be. And I better get an ARC! LOL. You are awesomesauce at its finest! 🙂

              1. Jolene Perry says:

                Thanks. That was awesome. I totally saved this post in my bookmarks.

                1. gabi says:

                  Thank you Shannon for a fantastic Keynote Speech/Post!

                  Thank you all for your great comments and stay tuned or more commencement fun this week!

                  1. Elana Johnson says:

                    Awesome speech! I love the part that writers write. Sometimes, once you've written something, all the other stuff can get in the way. I call this "the other side of writing," the one people know about but don't really get.

                    I'm doing what I can to reduce everything else on that other side, so I can get back to you know, writing.

                    1. Natasha says:

                      Good inspirational words here. Thanks!

                      1. Taffy says:

                        Thanks for showing me that I can do it! By working and researching and learning and writing and writing and writing again.

                        1. Ishta Mercurio says:

                          Shannon, this is great. You have inspired me to write. Thank you.

                          1. darksculptures says:

                            I'd love to comment, but I have a book to write. HEHE.

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