In every generation a slayer is born.
Oh wait…wrong opening line. In every generation, a plague of writers is visited upon…
Most people assume the act of writing is as simple as sitting in front of a computer and ralphing out page after page of coherent words. If it were that easy, there’d not only be millions of books adorning the virtual shelves of the likes of Amazon (which there are), but those millions of books would all be best sellers (which they are not). The truth of the matter is, writing a novel takes a lot of hard work. And once you’ve sacrificed sweat and soul for your work, you’ll find yourself up against a giant monster called marketing. Thankfully, countless others have gone through this process so we can pass on our worldly advice to those just now stepping their feet onto a very tall and precarious ladder.
I want to go about this with the assumption that you are either just starting your journey as a writer, or are thinking about jumping into that first book with guns a blazin’. To that end, here is the best, most useful advice I have to offer.
I know, it sounds crazy…but the truth of the matter is, so many people say they are going to write, or want to be a writer, but never really give themselves over to the journey. Or some will write in spurts, only diving into their work when they feel it. That approach to writing will be counter-productive in reaching your goal. I write every night (I always do my writing at the end of the day because there are far fewer distractions)..whether I feel it or not. The next night, I go back over what I wrote previously and slice out the garbage. Even if you’re not feeling it, you should force yourself to let the words pour from your mind. Though you might set to the page a mound of steaming crap, tucked within that dirty pile will be a few nuggets of gold. Or, if it’s all crap, that heaping, festering hill of poo might inspire something absolutely brilliant. That, my friends, is worth all the trouble of forcing the words out.
Break the rules
I’m not going to be one of those that says “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” Why? There are too damn many rules (besides, that’s why I pay an editor). What I am talking about is breaking the rules of story, of character, of genre, of…dare I say…literature! So many writers out there follow the rules, play it safe. This is a new era for the author and the rules are changing on a daily basis. You have to be brave or you will be forgotten. Go against the grain, break stereotype…do something, anything, to set yourself apart. Sure there are formulas out there that have worked well for others — don’t steal that formula in the hopes it will gain you some success. Make your own formula, be your own person…your own writer.
Be in it for the long haul
Repeat after me — “Success will not come to me over night.” Now, repeat that over and over for the rest of the day. When you’re finally tired of speaking, record yourself saying it and play it over and over in a pair of very nice headphones (so you can hear it loud and clear). If you are jumping into the world of writing to become an overnight sensation, you might as well turn in your pen and your membership card now (you procured that already didn’t you?). Once you’ve written your first novel (and published it), write another, and another, and another, and another. After you have about ten novels published, keep writing and hit your stopwatch. Keep writing and publishing as that stopwatch continues to tick away. Once that stopwatch has hit, say, ten years — success should be at the ready. What I’m trying to say is that it takes time…a lot of time. If you are impatient or expect miracles to happen, you are going to be severely disappointed.
You’re a writer, not an editor
This mistake happens all too often with new writers. You are either one or the other — a writer or an editor. You are not both. This is especially true with your own work. Know this: When a book goes through a traditional process, it is seen by many, many sets of eyes. If your book is only seen through your own eyes it will be full of errors…I promise you that. You need to let your book be seen by beta readers, an editor, and a proofer…AT LEAST! Make sure you save up the coin for a very good editor. If you don’t know one, I can highly recommend my editor, David Antrobus. David is very, very good and he knows the business of writing quite well. If you do opt to edit your work yourself, be prepared for the backlash of bad reviews stating things like “This book badly needs an editor!” It will happen.
Cover your jimmy
I just wanted to say that because I’m saucy. Seriously — you’ve put all that hard work into your novel, pay the piper and get a professional cover. The cover is the first thing people see, it’s your first shot at selling your work. People are very visually oriented. If you don’t have an amazing cover, people will overlook your work. I do my own covers because I can. In fact, I have a book cover design business — Adorkable Designs. My rates are low enough for the new writer. A professional-quality cover is not something you should consider an option. Period.
Know your voice
You’ve probably heard this so many times before — but I’m going to lay it out for you in a way you can understand. Have you ever compared how you speak versus your friends or your enemies? There’s a distinct difference. You have a certain way of conveying your thoughts and feelings. You may use a lot of humor or you’re always very sarcastic or snide. That is you and to communicate in a different manner is not you. The same thing with your writing. The voice you choose to write with is as important as the stories you choose to tell. Do yourself a favor — sit down and start writing stream of conscience thoughts. Just put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let the words flow. Don’t think just do. Write like this for ten to twenty minutes. Once you’re done, give it a read. What came out? Can you pick out a specific style? If you can, most likely it will be similar to the voice that you write in. I use humor and pop culture references in my writing and everything I write is laced with a certain level of ‘snark’. That’s me. You have to find out what your writer’s voice is and stick with it. Don’t ever try to write in another writer’s voice; if you do, you will fail.
In the end, one of the most important elements of successful writing is to have fun. Writing should be something you love and that brings you job. If not, it might be time to don your suit and tie and return to the shirt tucker nation.
Writing offers some incredible rewards…if you put in the time and effort necessary to create a quality piece of work. In the end, however, I think these words by my idol, Clive Barker, could easily stand as a guide through this magical journey.
I no longer completely understand my creative process. I thought I did—it’s become much more of a mystery to me. There are laws of what should happen. As you go through life you should try to understand better about how your creative process works, but mine has become more of a mystery to me as I go on. I feel like I have to just let my instincts teach me.