If you clicked on this page seeking the answer to the mysteries of getting published, or the formula to writing a best-selling novel, I’m sorry. I can’t help you. What I can offer, are seven things–rules, if you will–I’ve learned over twenty years, about following one’s heart.
First, however, if you’re writing for anyone else, but yourself, stop. Just stop. Lift your fingers from the keyboard, or put the pen or pencil down, and walk away.
Writing is tough, publishing tougher. You have to want to write, want to spend hours, weeks, months–potentially years–writing, and revising, and writing new, only to delete or toss half of it, and start over, and one day make it great. Polished. Shiny. Perfect. And have it rejected. Multiple times. Ad nauseam.
Because it’s not perfect. Nothing’s perfect. But it can get close. With diligence. And willingness.
Diligence in writing is good. Better is when you’re willing to receive helpful literary criticism; to step back from your work, and see it honestly. See what the agent, or editor, Beta reader or friend, views as a problem.
Passive vs. active? Voice? Weak adverbs? Repetitive dialogue? BACKSTORY. Sluggish tempo and lack of clarity? Flat emotions? Too many beats. If you don’t know what any of this means, that’s okay. You’ll learn. Provided you have a good grasp of the language you wish to write in; spelling and proper punctuation and grammar are not optional, they’re necessary. That’s not to say you have to be able to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious off the top of your head, but you should know which there, their, or they’re, goes where and when, in a sentence. Correctly spelled, but misused words, make for challenging, if not hilarious, reading. But even then, they’re not deal breakers. Beta readers and a good Editor can swiftly identify problematic word usage, and hopefully, point it out, so you can learn proper usage, so you don’t make similar mistakes in future projects.
OK. You want to write. You can spell, mostly. And you’re fairly certain you know the correct usage of confident versus confidant. You’re willing to learn the nuances, and tyrannical technical truisms of writing, like alliteration, and apostrophe use. And you’re up for rejection. Excellent. Are you sure? Are you absolutely prepared to handle being told No, or, Not Interested, often? Or conversely, to hear nothing at all? How do you feel about receiving no response, at all, on a query, or article, about a project into which you poured your heart and soul to get right? Well, buck up. It’s part of the process.
I received multiple rejections, on different novels. I didn’t query continuously, or every year. I have a husband, four children, a mother and mother-in-law, extended family and friends, not to mention at one time paid employment outside the home, pets… LIFE. Life got in the way forcing me to put writing aside to deal with major illnesses and surgeries, and family calamities. For five years of the last seven years, I didn’t write at all. Period. I was working to recover from a debilitating injury related to working in a fast-paced, high-volume, call center without proper ergonomic set up, and adequate strengthening and stretching exercises outside the office. So…
What I’m trying to say, is writing is a long game. For every over-night success, there are thousands of authors diligently scratching away at the Titanium walls of Publishing seeking a crack to squeeze through, in search of the Oracle to Bestsellerdom. There are thousands more trying to get unstuck and write past page 60 of their first draft (Don’t laugh. I was one of them. Only it was page 70, and it took some very practical advice from one learned, and talented woman and author, Diana Gabaldon, to get me unstuck).
If you’re early in your career, or unpublished, there’s no way to know how bloodied and down to the bone your fingers will get, before you eventually breech the wall. Or even if you’ll find a crack to exploit. Unless you opt for Indie publishing. But there is one sure way to ensure you never, ever, see your words, your book, your dream realized: to quit.
So don’t quit. That’s rule #1.
Rule #2? Learn. Target the better online writing sites, and books on writing, and scour them (Tip: Google, Top Twelve Books on Writing). Breathe the knowledge shared by people who’ve found success in the industry, into your bones. Go to conferences. Apply what you learn, and revise, and learn, and revise some more. Ad nauseam.
#3… Find at least one person who’s not a writer you can trust, that you feel safe with, someone who encourages your writing, encourages you, and gives you a nudge–or kick in the @ss–when you get discouraged and want to give up. Remember rule #1?
#4… Join an online, or in-person group of writers on the same journey–and in the same genre–as you, people who get you. Get what you’re trying to do. Who, if they don’t overtly encourage or promote you, also don’t bring you down, but offer you a safe place to hang out and learn, in an environment that stokes your energy.
#5… Be friendly. But don’t break your neck trying to make people like you. Break your neck improving your craft. Writing books, or articles, or whatever makes your heart sing. And be polite. Supportive. Never, ever, trash talk someone, online, or in person. Save your frustration or envy for that one trusted friend or relative, unrelated to your writing community, who won’t take your temporary disappointment at a crushed hope, or critical assessment of your novel or nonfiction article, and make it viral. The writing community is huge; it’s also very, very insular. And connected. Especially in this day of high-speed fiber-optic Internet.
#6… Do, and write, what pleases you. I tried for a long time to be everything to everybody–or at least what I thought they wanted me to be–and ended up burned out. Exhausted. Resentful. Uninspired. Because instead of writing–which always fills me with joy–I was off helping someone with something else. Selling chocolates. Raffle tickets. Managing a sport’s team. Editing a report. Looking after someone else’s children. Organizing a dinner, or special event. Sometimes all of these things in the same week! I let my writing slide in response to requests for volunteers, or help, because I wanted to be liked. And I most definitely didn’t want to be accused of being selfish. And that brings me to rule
#7… Be selfish. Guard your writing time. Look at your life realistically; know how you respond to stress, and what your daily demands are. If you’re barely eking forty minutes of writing time out of your twelve-hour work plus commute day after the kids are in bed and lunches prepared for the next day, before you crawl off to Slumber Land, don’t volunteer thirty minutes of those precious forty to help your spouse research replacement parts for the whining fridge. Trust your spouse to handle it, and dive into your writing. And if your spouse isn’t supporting your dream, get a new spouse. Just joking!
Seriously, learn to discern the difference between true calls for help (Hint: blood, bone, fire, or vomit, must factor in somewhere), and give capable people around you permission to figure bleep out on their own, and build the confidence that comes with solving those problems, while you figure out the next word, sentence, or paragraph of your story, or article. If your spouse or partner isn’t supportive of you doing that, so be it. Simply refer to Rule #3 and Rule #6, followed by Rule #7, and reinforce it all with Rule #1.
You got this.
The first law of success… is concentration: to bend all the energies to one point, and to go directly to that point, looking neither to the right nor the left. ~William Matthews