Monday, November 08, 2010

So, You Want to Be A Writer?


Isn't this a fabulous picture? Apparently it was taken in Tuscany. If I ever go there, I must find this spot. It's hard to imagine the necessity for so many signs in one place. One envisions a rather treacherous road ahead and may opt to find another way to get to their destination.

This picture, for me, personifies this thing we call The Writing Life.

Since announcing that I am, at long last, stepping over into Published Land, I've been asked two questions with alarming frequency.
The first is, of course, "When is the book coming out?" My answer: "You will know when I know."
The second is, "How long did it take?" Or "How did you do it?"
Okay, that's three questions.
But the last two are both how questions, and kind of interrelated, so let's discuss the how.
One thing I say often, mostly when I'm muttering to myself over having started the tenth revision on a manuscript, is that I wish I had known then what I know now.

* If you want to be a writer you must must MUST be willing to learn. *

But, you say, my mother, cousins and aunties all read my book and loved it! They cried.
Yeah, bully for you. You're going to be crying in a few months when you get your first rejection.
Harsh? Maybe, but don't take my word for it. Go ahead and send out that query letter with an unpolished manuscript and see what happens. Unless of course you're a literary genius (In which case, I hate you), I can pretty much guarantee that you're setting yourself up for a good old-fashioned pity party.
But how do you know this? I'm glad you asked.
I know this because I did it. Several times over. I knew my writing was good. The stories were amazing, honest. I cried while I wrote them.
Did I read one single book on craft apart from Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers? No. I did not.
Did I belong to a critique group, online or otherwise? No, I did not.
Did I know what passive writing, deep pov or head-hopping were? NO. I did not.
See a pattern here?
Listen, you don't just wake up one day and decide to be a brain surgeon, pluck some poor schmuck off the street and do a frontal lobe lobotomy on him. Well, you could try, but methinks it would end badly for both of you. No, you go to university. Then you go to medical school. Then you do your internship, then a fellowship. And a hundred years later, you're a brain surgeon.
So it is with writing.

It is one thing to want to be a writer. It is a wonderful thing. A beautiful dream. But one that takes time, energy, fortitude and a certain amount of humility. If you seriously intend to make that dream a reality you must be willing to make the investment.
If you know without a doubt that you are willing to follow that dream, whatever the cost, wherever it takes you, great.
Here's some free advice for you. Take it. You'll be glad you did.

1. No pain, no gain. Find a writers group near you and join. Immediately. Then enroll in a critique group. Immediately.
If you have never, ever let anyone read your work because you're embarrassed or it's not good enough, get over it. If you want to be a writer you must be willing to subject yourself to criticism. Yes, sometimes it will hurt. You will bleed. But you will learn.
I belong to two. American Christian Fiction Writers - they have zones all over the US. Likewise with Romance Writers of America. If you belong to one or the other or both, you're well on your way to rubbing shoulders with those who have paved the way and are more than willing to help, teach and advise. Take full advantage of this. In the nicest, politest way possible of course.

2. Read to Learn. Do you know what genre you write in? Do you know what genre is? Arm yourself with a library of how-to books on writing. There are literally dozens to choose from. Do a search on Amazon and see for yourself. I recommend Anne Lammot, Dwight Swain, James Scott Bell and Donald Maas, just for starters.

3. Read for pleasure. If you're a writer, this is a no brainer. You love to read. Do. I often find it very difficult to read while I'm writing, but I force myself. There is no better way to learn your craft than to read published books. Whatever those authors are doing, it's working. I tend to read in my genre, but I think if you can step outside the box and read a bit of everything, you'll be ahead of the game. Okay. a warning here. As you grow as a writer, you will quickly develop a pain in the butt thing called The Internal Editor. It's that little voice inside your head that starts pitching a fit when you're in the middle of that bestseller and heads are hopping all over town, with the wases and the just as and the thens and you just can't stand it anymore because this crap is published and your brilliant novel has just been rejected again. For the tenth time.
I get this.
However, said author with the head-hopping issues is #1 on the NYT Best Seller list and is making a bajillion dollars a year churning out the same stuff. You are not. Get over it.
The biggest trap for a writer is to start comparing yourself to somebody else. I have done this too many times. I'll say, "Oh, I just love her stuff. I want to write like her." Uh. Good for me, but I'm not her. I'm me. I have learned to be satisfied with that. I will write like myself, thank you very much.

4. Go to writers conferences. Seriously. I know it is a lot of money. I know it's scary, especially if you're new at this and you don't know anyone. But it is so worth it. If you are serious about becoming a published author - find the money. Decide which conference you want to attend (do the research), start saving, find your babysitters or dogsitters or whatever, and just do it. You won't regret it. There is nothing like sitting in a room with several hundred other people who don't think you're weird. They're weird too. Go be weird together. Be writers.

5. Support System. You might say this does not apply to you. Your spouse is amazing, fully supportive in whatever you do. Your friends love you, they think it's cool that you're doing this writing thing, and your family is always asking when that book is coming out.
Awesome. However. Once you have been at this for oh, five or ten years, and you're still not published, they might not be so supportive. Now I'm not saying they're going to call you an idiot behind your back or anything, but you know... This is a long, hard road. You may be one of the fortunate few who lands that agent and publishing contract within a year or two, and if so, great. Chances are, it'll take a lot longer than that. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who can support you along the way, no matter what. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary occupation. Well, you know. As solitary as it can get with five or six people talking to you inside your head, sometimes all at once.
There will be times when you'll want to give up. You will want to rant and wail when you receive a no that you were pretty a hundred percent sure was going to be a yes. It's a tough gig. Family and friends are great, but sometimes they just don't 'get it' like another writer will.

6. Believe in yourself. You must believe you can do this. If you don't, why should anyone else? Find your faith, spit polish it every day and smile at yourself. You can do this. It will not be easy, but if you want it, you must be willing to go after it.

So that's probably more than enough to get you started. I'm sure those reading who are writers and have been at this a while can add to my comments. What resounds with you? What do you want to talk about? Open mike time.

12 comments:

Keli Gwyn said...

Great points, Cathy. The writer's life ain't for the faint of heart. Every one of the aspects you mentioned is important to bear in mind.

I still smile every time I think about your First Sale. Congrats!!!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Yes, these are great ways to get started--and great ways to continue to grow as a writer. I took each of these steps really close together after I started blogging and they all improved my writing so much. Growing as a writer is sometimes hard but it's definitely worth it if being published is your passion.

Heather Sunseri said...

Oh, yes, yes, yes! Those are all great points. It's funny how easy I thought writing a "good" novel was going to be when I first started. My first novel? Blech! I'm so excited to have found friends to critigue my writing with honest feedback, supporters through blogging, ACFW, ACFW conference, James Scott Bell. I could go on and on. Great points that every writer should read carefully!

Katie Ganshert said...

This is an amazingly wise post. I love it and shall tweet it to the universe. :)

Catherine West said...

Man, I'm glad this wasn't just a pep talk to myself! LOL!! Of course as soon as I posted this I smacked myself and said, "Dang, I forgot to mention Patience!" Well, that's probably because I have none. And that should be worthy of a blog post of its own.

Julie Jarnagin said...

Absolutely! I don't know what I'd do without ACFW!

Dawn said...

I just clicked over from Katie's tweet. This is exactly what I needed to hear. #6 resonated with me. I may turn it into a poster and plaster it on my wall! Glad I dropped by!

Parsley said...

So glad you stopped by my blog so I could meet you! I hope to hear from you often and I'll be sure to follow. God bless!

Rosslyn Elliott said...

This is a wonderful starter post for anyone who is thinking about taking this journey. And I'm so happy that you are able to testify to the rewards of hard work and continuing dedication to improvement!

Kym McNabney said...

Wow, what a great post. Very encouraging and packed full of great information.

Thanks much for posting.

Kym

Jeanette Levellie said...

Excellent list, dear. I might add: get over your little self. Do not believe the lie that the world is waiting for your book to come out, and that no one else can write as well as you. Never say, "This is a good as I can do."

And pray your brains out that God give you words that He wants said, or what's the point anyway?

Anne K. Albert said...

Your post really resonated with me, Catherine. I hear you. Loud. And. Clear! I understand every single syllable.

I've barely written a word since I received "the call". And like you, I would not trade this new experience, and the all-consuming marketing/promotion aftermath, for the world!