This is a guest post I wrote for my book blitz. I figured I’d put it on my blog, too, but with GIFs! I don’t know what I did before the internet. I mean, just look at what it has to offer!
Anyway, here are 10 things I wish I’d known before I started writing.
- Write the Book First
It’s better to do the work than talk about the work. When you’re just starting out, it’s tempting to dream about what your book’s cover will look like or what you’ll wear to your first book signing. Who hasn’t stood in the shower and fantasized about the dedication page for their first novel? To everyone who said I wouldn’t make it — suck it. These are fun exercises, but you’ll never get to do them for real until you finish that first manuscript. When I really buckled down and got serious about writing a book, I didn’t allow myself to google literary agents or publishers. I didn’t research how to write query letters or what to put in a synopsis. My only goal was to finish a manuscript.
- There Are Many Paths to Publication
The traditional route to publication involves submitting your manuscript to literary agents, securing representation, and freaking out waiting while your agent submits your manuscript to editors at publishing houses. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it’s not the only option these days. Don’t overlook small publishers and digital-first publishing houses. They put out high quality books, and many don’t require authors to have a literary agent to submit manuscripts. Self-publishing is an option, too, but like anything else it’s best to do it well. From what I can tell, self-publishing is by no means a shortcut. It’s not the easy way out. Authors who do it successfully are incredibly talented.
- Write Every Day
This is advice I see often. It’s simple, but it’s spot on. Carve out time to write every day. Even if it’s 100 words — even if it’s 10 — get something on paper (or computer screen) somehow. Write on a cocktail napkin if you have to. Writing is like working out: it’s easier and more rewarding if you do it all the time. It’s also easy to get out of the habit quickly if you stop.
- The 30,000-word Slump Is Real
Slump. Hump. Whatever you call it, there is a “sticking point” in every first draft that makes you want to give up and swear off writing forever. You get to about the 30,000-word mark, and you run out of steam. Suddenly, your plot is like overcooked macaroni noodles — all stuck together and unappetizing.
For me, the way out of this is to go at it like a mom determined to get the doorbuster on Black Friday. I just keep shoving doubt and obstacles aside until I get that sweet, sweet word count in my cart. Other people like to jump to a different part in the book and write a scene they’re excited about. However you handle it, know that a lot of writers experience (and overcome) it.
Interestingly, I also go through a weird slump when I’m within the last two scenes of a first draft. My drafts are always pretty fleshed out, and I think I stall at the end because I’m eager to get to the editing stage. Or maybe I’m just tired. Who knows.
- You Probably Can’t Quit Your Day Job (at Least Not Right Away)
Unless you write the Great American Novel and sign a deal for a six-figure advance, you’re probably not going to make enough money to quit your regular job. The phrase “starving artist” isn’t exclusive to painters. There are many, many authors publishing many, many books. However, if you’re persistent and talented and willing to hang in there and continue improving your work, you’ll be successful. Maybe not “dining on a private yacht on the French Riviera with Oprah” successful, but successful enough.
I didn’t have stars in my eyes when I published my first book; I knew I’d have to write another (and another and another) to see results. Even knowing this, it’s tough to keep climbing the hill, you know? Writing is not an instant gratification kind of business.
- There Is No Right Way to Write
Does your favorite author post Instagram photos of her antique writing desk on the veranda of her beach house on the Nantucket Sound, complete with Cocker Spaniels and mugs of Earl Grey tea? It’s probably a kick ass writing environment, but that doesn’t mean yours has to look like that. In other words, do what works for you. James Joyce wrote in blue pencil and sometimes crayons. Charles Dickens wrote his manuscripts in longhand (not that he had much choice) in a pronounced downward slant. Sir Walter Scott wrote on horseback. Lewis Carroll wrote standing up.
There is no magic formula for writing, nor is there an ideal environment for getting words on the page. Whether you write at the kitchen table, in your car during your lunch break, or in between the kids’ naps, what matters is that you’re making progress.
I can’t write with people around me, and I can’t write in cafes or libraries or coffee shops. Basically, I need a Fortress of Solitude, but with a space heater.
- Be Willing to Hustle
Once you’ve written your book, landed a publishing deal, and watched your precious manuscript launch into the literary world, your job as an author is far from over. Being an author today means promoting your work — and yourself. Many authors are naturally introverted, so self-promotion can feel as awkward as a sixth grade dance. Be willing to invest time (and some money) into things like social media and advertising.
Social media is important, but it’s a tough nut to crack. Twitter moves at such a rapid pace, and the social proof factor is strong there. If you’re not a celebrity or someone with a lot of followers, your posts will likely get buried before anyone notices them. I’m more comfortable with Facebook, and I feel like it’s easier to connect with people there, but I make an effort in both places. If you have a lot of friends and followers on your personal profiles, that can be a great place to start, but you can’t count on all of your friends and family members to support your writing career. Sometimes, people just aren’t readers. Or, in my case, maybe they don’t read books that contain the word “nipple.”
- Focus on Writing Before Anything Else
“Wait. Didn’t she already cover this in #1?” Yes, I did, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so important. If you talk about writing and dream about writing and think about writing, but never actually write the darn book, you never will. Don’t let that happen.
- Don’t Get Derailed by Rejection
Subtitle: Get a thick skin, fast. Rejection is a reality for all writers. At some point in their career, every author you’ve read and admired was just starting out. Most likely, they heard “no” more than once. Heed agents and editors who take the time to offer critiques — they usually only do that if they see promise in your work. But don’t let rejection shut down your creativity (or your soul). You can hear no a thousand times — all you need is one yes.
- Patience, Grasshopper
Few aspects of writing — and the business of writing — happen quickly. It takes months (or more) to write a manuscript. It can take just as long to find a literary agent or publisher. Once you’ve secured a publishing deal, you can expect multiple rounds of editing. And then, when you’re finally published, growing your career as an author takes— you guessed it — time. Like most good things, however, the end result is worth waiting for.