After years of daydreaming about it, and maybe even dabbling halfheartedly, you’re really going for it. You’re writing.
Awesome. So now what?
If you’re looking for advice on how to improve your writing, how to market your work, or how to get published, this isn’t necessarily the place. I’m groping around in the dark and just beginning to see glimmers of light myself.
But for most new writers, the first hurdle has nothing to do with that. Those challenges are there too, and if they aren’t yet you can bet your butt they will be. But your first battle is more often with the strange array of emotions and life changes that come with getting serious about your writing. Some of them are exhilarating and wonderful and make you think you can dance on the ceiling. Others make you want to curl into a little ball with your teddy bear and cry your eyes out. Or, if you’re more macho than me, to go beat something up.
If you’re going to stick with this game, though, you’ll have to deal with them all.
A little more than a year into my adventures in writing, I’m still learning the ins and outs of the craft and the business itself. But I’ve also learned a whole lot about managing this person who is both my best friend and worst enemy in the process – me.
I’m hoping that by sharing what I’ve learned with other new writers, I’ll help you get more “dancing on the ceiling” than “curl up in a ball and cry” days out of chasing your dream.
1. Ditch the whole “aspiring” thing.
Do you write regularly? Are you constantly making progress on your written work? If so, then you are NOT an “aspiring writer.” You are a writer, period. You may be aspiring to finish your novel. You may be aspiring to get published. You may be aspiring to write better (newsflash: you’ll still be doing that in ten years, if you’re serious about your craft. Even your favorite author is always trying to do better when he or she writes).
But while you’re aspiring to do all those things, if you are writing, then you are a writer. Take off those verbal training wheels and try it out for size. “I am a writer,” is such a freeing thing to say. The more you say it, the more you’ll feel it. The more you feel it, the more you’ll live it.
2. Eat Rejection for Breakfast.
Unless you are going to go the self-publishing route with everything you write, prepare to be rejected. I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, but I personally don’t know any authors who haven’t dealt with a publisher or fifty saying “no thanks.” And I can rattle off the names of many well-known authors who dealt with several turn-downs before they finally got a date with a publishing deal.
I don’t say that to discourage you. Because while I don’t know any authors who haven’t been rejected, I do know many published writers. They got there when they found the perfect market for their work, when their writing landed in the right place at the right time. They got there by being thick-skinned. Maybe they cried over some of those rejections. Maybe they felt as discouraged and frustrated as I do when I get mine. But they sucked it up, learned from each “no,” and used it to get closer to a “yes.”
Learn what you can each time a query or a submission doesn’t get accepted. But always remember when you look a rejection in the eye that you are in very, very good company.
3. Learn. Experiment. Network. But most of all, WRITE.
Learn all you can about the business of writing. Research your options in self-publishing as well as submitting to traditional markets. Read a variety of literary magazines, e-zines or journals that publish in your genre and try your hand at submitting to them. Don’t be afraid to give a writing contest a go now and then.
Blog. Tweet. Reach out to other writers and learn how warm and welcoming the writing community can be. Read books and blogs about the craft of writing. Take a writing or publishing course now and then if you can.
Do all of these things, but only in the time increments you can afford AFTER you have met your weekly writing goals. If you’re like me, diving into all the networking and learning there is to do will exhilarate you. It will feel like you’re a goldfish who has been dumped into a big, exciting pond after spending all your life swimming in a teeny tiny bowl. And before you know it, you’ll find yourself spending hours and hours communicating and learning but very little time actually writing.
Many of us go through this. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just one of the growing pains in the writing process. After years of stuffing our writing dreams into some musty closet, discovering this whole wide web of writers and publishers is like finally getting a car after years of taking the bus. You want to go everywhere, and do everything.
But don’t forget your most important destination.
Make time for all the wonderful resources and writing friendships available to you. But remember to spend more time actually writing than on doing “writing related” things. As a full-time day-jobber with other interests and obligations, I get about 15 hours a week to work on my craft (if I’m lucky). I make sure to spend 10 of those hours actually writing, and then I give the leftover time to other things.
Just keep swimming in this big new pond, and you’ll find a balance that works for you.
4. Say No, Let Go
Chances are that one of the reasons you’re just now getting serious about your craft is that you never had “enough free time” before.
Another newsflash: unless you’ve had a major change in your life such as hitting the lottery or retiring, you still don’t. Life is busy. If you work full-time, are a homemaker raising young children, a student, or some combination of the above, your days are already jam-packed.
But if we let the hectic pace of life keep us from writing, then what we’re saying to ourselves and to the world is that our creativity isn’t worth our time. We can’t all quit our day jobs and we’d never want to sacrifice making memories with loved ones, but if we want to write, we’ve got to squeeze time into our days.
You might have to learn to say no to some social invitations. Sometimes, that means sacrificing things you’d really like to do to make room for your words. Other times, it just means learning to say “no thanks” to invites you’d normally accept to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. I’m not saying you should become a hermit. A writer with no new life experiences quickly becomes a boring read. But you’ll have to make some compromises. Your true friends will understand if you aren’t out quite as much as you used to be. The part of you that REALLY wanted to go to happy hour for the second time this week will thank you when you go out next week to celebrate finishing that story.
It isn’t all about kicking fun to the curb, either. To make it work, some of the icky stuff in life has to give a little, too. I’m not saying you need to live on peanut butter and jelly and grow science experiments under your furniture. But if you’re a perfectionist, you’re going to have to learn to cut yourself some slack. A little dust won’t kill you. The laundry will be there tomorrow. And sometimes, you and your family CAN eat sandwiches or cereal rather than dealing with cooking and cleaning up after a full-course meal.
5. Move Your Butt. A Lot.
My worst rookie mistake as a writer was to stop moving. Ok, not literally. I went to work 8-10 hours a day. On my days off, I moved from my bed to my computer. I occasionally went out and drank a beer or had dinner.
At work, I sat at a computer, or in meetings. At home, I sat in front of my screen and wrote.
My wordcount grew, and so did my ass. I put back on weight I had worked hard to lose. When my skinny jeans got too tight, I sunk into a bout of mewling self-pity.
“Life is soooooo unfair. It isn’t MY fault I have to work all day at a sit-down job. If only I had this or that or this, I could be a writer AND a fit person …woe is me. Pass the freakin’ cheese dip.”
Well, I didn’t hit the lottery, so I had to make some tough choices. Gaining weight depressed me. I know we all have this image of writers as at their creative best when they’re full of angst and despair, but you know what? That doesn’t work for me. My writing SUCKED when I was obsessing about ruining my health and needing my own zip code for my butt.
So I did the only thing I could do. I gave up some writing time to get back in the gym. I went from writing about 8,000 words a week to getting in 2-4 thousand when I was lucky.
The weight is coming off and I look and feel much better – like myself again. But more importantly from a writer’s perspective, I learned just how much a happier body impacts my mind and my creativity. My weekly wordcount is smaller than it was before, but the words themselves flow much better and say more. I actually do some of my best writing right after a workout, when my adrenaline is still pumping and my mind feels alive and alert. I’m more focused, because my muscles aren’t screaming for a good stretch.
Feeling better about my health and my body gives me more confidence, which steels me against those inevitable rejections, gives me faith in the value of my work, and makes me much less shy about networking and marketing myself as an author. When magazines or publishers I’ve submitted to ask me for a pic to go with my bio, I no longer have to go back to photos taken in 2009 to find one I can stand to have appear with my article or story.
You don’t have to join a gym. But you do have to make sure your body is getting enough stretching and cardiovascular activity. As much as we love to write, we can’t create our best stories when our bodies feel like cramped, tired lumps.
Other writers who have been at the game as long or longer than me, what advice would you offer to new writers? Newcomers to the writing world, what lessons have you learned so far?