Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Everybody's Free (To Wear Pyjamas) by Liz Kessler

Ten years ago this month, my first book, The Tail of Emily Windsnap, was published.

It was a book that I had started writing a few years earlier when I'd left a job as a teacher to pursue a writing career. I left my job in 1999, and in that year one of my favourite ever songs, Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) came out. 

So in honour of both of these events, I've written some advice for new writers setting off today on the path that I began a decade ago. I've written my advice in the style of that wonderful song, so if you haven't heard it (or even if you have, because in my opinion, you can never get enough of this song) do have a listen via the link below. In the meantime, here is my advice...

Everybody's Free (To Wear Pyjamas)

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’13, wear pyjamas.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, pyjamas would be 
it. The long term benefits of working at home in your PJs have been proved by 
scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable 
than my own meandering 

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the freedom and independence of being unpublished. Oh never mind; you will not 
understand the freedom and independence of being unpublished until you get a book deal. 
But trust me, in ten years you’ll look back at those early notebooks and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much autonomy you enjoyed and how many long, lazy days you were free to spend working on a single chapter.

Your opening chapter is not as bad as you imagine.

Don’t worry about getting a book deal; or worry, but know that worrying is about as 
effective as trying to write a bestseller by coming up with an idea about vampire wizards in bondage. The real writing troubles in your life are apt to be things that 
never crossed your worried mind; the kind that ping into your inbox at 4pm 
on some idle Tuesday when your editor tells you to lose 10,000 words by next week.

Write one sentence every day that excites you.


Don’t be overly critical of other people’s books; don’t put up with 
people who are overly critical of yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes 
you’re behind. The race is long and in the end, it’s only with 

Remember the compliments you receive; forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old readers’ letters, throw away your old rejection letters.

Stretch. (Especially when you’ve been at your computer for three hours solid.)

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what to write next. The most interesting authors I know didn’t know at 22 what they 
wanted to write about. Some of the most interesting 40 year olds still don’t know what they want to write next.

Drink plenty of tea.

Be kind to your editor; you’ll miss them when they’ve gone on maternity leave.

Maybe you’ll get a book deal; maybe you won’t. Maybe there’ll be a five-way auction over your book; maybe there won’t. Maybe you’ll be a best seller at 40, maybe you’ll go to see the opening of the movie of your book on your 75th birthday.

Whatever you do, don’t
 congratulate yourself too much (especially on Facebook and Twitter) or berate yourself, either. Your book’s fortunes are half chance, so are everybody else’s.

Enjoy experimenting with your voice; use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of your imagination, or what other people 
think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

WRITE. Even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room.

Read all of your editor’s notes, even if you don’t follow them.

Do NOT read someone else’s tweets when they are retweeting their latest five-star review, it will only make you feel inadequate and cross.

Get to know your publicist; you never know when they’ll move on to another publisher (and they might end up representing you there as well).

Be nice to your fellow authors; they are the ones who will relate to you the best and the 
people most likely to understand what you’re going through when you feel stuck.

Understand that editors come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to do everything you can to keep your publisher happy because the older you get, the more you need the people who championed your writing when you were the hot new thing.

Go to a publishing party once, but leave before you are so drunk you make an absolute fool of yourself in front of the MD; visit a primary school once, but leave before you get asked to run eight workshops and a full school assembly in one day.

Travel. (And remember, if it’s research, it’s tax-deductible.)

Accept certain inalienable truths: Amazon will always sell your books cheaper than anyone else; e-books will probably one day be as piratable as music is now; you too will go out of print, and when you do, you’ll fantasise 
that when you were young, independent bookshops still existed, books were made out of paper and children got lost in reading.

Get lost in reading.

Don’t expect anyone to keep on publishing you. Maybe you have an agent, maybe you have a stash of cash from a six-figure advance; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your proof copy or by the time you send it back, you’ll have to pay for all the extra changes.

Be careful whose writing advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.

Giving writing advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a bit like looking back at our out of print books, giving them a quick edit and self publishing them via Kindle Direct for 99p.

But trust me on the pyjamas.


And now have a listen to the original...

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Sue Purkiss said...

Great! (Except I'm not with you on the pyjamas...)

Charlotte Guillain said...

LIZ! This is genius! I'm half giggling and half nodding wistfully...

Liz Kessler said...

Sue, OK I grant you, going to work in your PJs might not be strictly essential to the job, but I have always considered it to be one of the perks!

Charlotte, I'm guessing that means you look a bit like the dog in the back of the car on the Churchill adverts then?


Jon M said...

Awesome, Liz. I'm with Churchill... I mean Charlotte!

Charlotte Guillain said...

I think I'm supposed to say 'Ohhh yes' at this point...

tracy alexander said...

I'm in my pyjamas, thrilled that it's a good thing, and quite like the idea of attending the premiere of my film some time, but I don't want to be 75. Maybe 60 . . . At 75 I want a part.

Jackie Marchant said...

Great post and so true! (I'm writing this in my dressing gown, don't actually wear pyjamas unless it's very cold - hope that counts!)

Liz Kessler said...

Jackie, I think the general rule is that as long as it's something which you'd feel embarrassed to be seen in at midday when the postie comes to the door with a delivery, then it counts as a writer's uniform - so a dressing gown should be fine. :)

Nicky Schmidt said...

Oh Liz, this is brilliant!
I've had a great week of writing in pyjamas, and ignoring the doorbell!

There's only one omission here though... Chocolate!

Nicky Schmidt said...

Oh Liz, this is brilliant!
I've had a great week of writing in pyjamas, and ignoring the doorbell!

There's only one omission here though... Chocolate!

Joan Lennon said...

This is luscious - thank you !

Richard said...

Great advice, both in the article and the song.

Katherine Roberts said...

Inspiring post, Liz! But I do just about everything wrong... I haven't even got PJ's, just a T-shirt saying "Single blonde princess dreaming of her happy ending".

I kept my early rejection letters - one day, when everyone has forgotten what real paper letters are, I'm planning to auction them off to buy a pension!

natasha narayan said...

I'll take inspiration from this the next time i answer the door in my PJs and a friend asks if I I'm OK!

Tortie said...

Yes, I love this too. Wish I'd been given the advice about the publisher's party and school visits sooner, rather than having to learn from experience. . . Am now off to town to purchase some PJs so I can become a proper author.