I can’t recall a time I didn’t want to become a writer. And, with the New Year’s recent celebration, I’ll hazard a guess that some aspiring writers are hoping to take a leap of faith and pursue that
dream of becoming a novelist. So, without further ado, here are five things I wish I’d known years and years ago that might have helped me become published much sooner.
5. Join a professional writer’s organization.
It’s important to surround yourself with like-minded, supportive friends who can help share the joys and frustrations of trying to write. It doesn’t matter which genre you write in. There’s bound to be one organization with monthly meetings within driving distance (even plenty of online groups for those who live in the middle of nowhere). I’d worry less about the genre of the organization (be it science fiction, mystery, or even romance) and worry more about how professional it is. That’s where you’ll receive articles with tips and tricks, or announcements about a writer’s contest that might help break you into the business, or classes being put on in your area. It’s also where you’ll start networking. A good professional writers’ association will be worth the yearly membership, usually around $100-$150 a year. (See links below for my fave groups.)
4. Go to a writer’s conference.
Scrape the money together, use a couple of vacation days, and attend. Ideas pop into your head as you listen to editors, agents, or published writers talking in real time. You’ll network galore, and you gain from being excited and energized when you learn that yes, no matter how many books that multi-published author has written, he/she still thinks that process is hard and that his/her latest draft is the worst. Ever. But what they have going for them is the knowledge that no matter how crappy that book is when they finish the first draft, they can fix it. (And that is the point that writing becomes magical.) I promise you that you will not regret the decision to attend one of the great conferences. But, before you plunk down serious dollars to go, make sure it’s professional. (I’ve included links to a few that I highly recommend at the bottom of the page.)
3. Share your dream with someone who will support you.
I might have continued down the I’m-going-to-write-a-book-one-day path forever—if not for two things. First, I actually had an idea for a whole story, came up with a full-fledged plot, and started writing it down. Second, and most importantly, my husband noticed and asked what I was doing. When told him, he glanced at the legal pad, saw I had nearly filled the entire thing, and commented that I’d written a lot. I mentioned that that was only a small part of it, then pulled out about eight more legal pads, all full. He asked if that was all the same story. When I replied yes, he said, “You need to get a computer.”
I love that anecdote, because my husband was the first person in my entire life who didn’t pat me on the head and say, “How nice,” or some inane bit of nonsense. It was him being supportive right out of the gate. And while that novel never sold, and I had several false starts of other stories after, I did eventually make that first sale. Because of him. It helped that he took up the slack in household chores and kid raising, so I could pursue this dream after I came home from work. We made a pact. Pretend like I was at a second job. He did. The rest is history. So, find that supportive person, or, if your house is lacking your own personal cheerleader, make up one. You are, after all, a writer.
2. Force yourself to finish writing a whole book. It’s good exercise—then, either send it out, or shove it under your bed, or both. Just let it go.
I’ve lost track of the number of stories I’ve started over the years. My typical modus operandi was: write, get stuck, abandon, repeat. It wasn’t until I actually forced myself to write an entire novel that I started training my brain to think beyond the initial idea. (It’s a lot like learning to run a marathon. You don’t just get out there and run ten miles if you’ve never made it around the block at least once.) That being said, once you do finish a book, at some point, pick an end date for finishing revisions, then let it go. I worked/polished my first finished manuscript for a couple of years. I finally realized that I could easily work it to death for several more years. Letting go of that story was the single, hardest thing I’d ever done. It had so much potential! I’d received some positive accolades from editors/agents. At some point, though, it hit me that every year I continued working on it, I was stunting my growth as a writer. Clearly, it was the right decision. I sold the next book—one I probably wouldn’t have written had I not made that leap of faith and shoved the other one beneath my bed. So, give yourself an end goal, not just for finishing the book, but also for revisions to follow. Then move on to the next project.
1. Stop talking about it and Just Do It.
Back when I was dreaming of becoming a writer, I’d run into coworkers or friends who also wanted to write. We’d talk excitedly, then make a pact to write something together. Sometimes we’d even get as far as writing a few pages—which were always abandoned soon thereafter. It took me years to come to the conclusion that if I wanted to write a book, I was going to have to sit down and write it myself. My first “office” was a computer monitor set up on the end of a dresser, and a keyboard set up on a TV tray in front of it. I worked full-time and had 3 kids (two being twins). But I wrote in bits and pieces, 10-15 minutes at a time. I wrote in the parking lot while kids were in Sunday school, in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office or my own doctor’s office. I only watched TV when I was doing something else, dishes or cooking dinner. The point is, I wrote. And that is the single best piece of advice I can give. Write.
I’d like to know: What’s your best piece of advice for the aspiring writer?
(Looking to join a good professional writers organization or attend a top-notch conference? I highly recommend these national organizations: Mystery Writers of America—MWA, Sisters in Crime—SinC, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers—SFWA. And these upcoming 2019 conferences: Left Coast Crime, this year in San Diego, ThrillerFest in New York, and Bouchercon, this year in Sacramento.)
What important advice, Robin. I particularly like what you said about finishing a whole book — then either send it out or put it under your bed, or both. Just to know one can write an entire book, good or bad, is power … lots of people have talent but not everyone has the endurance, until one works at it.
Great advice, Robin. All very important things. I wanted to say that support and perseverance were the most important things a write can have, but without a book to sell all the support in the world won't amount to anything. Finishing a book is critical to the process. I think one thing you didn't mention is to compartmentalize your creative side from your editor side. Sometimes you have to put away your internal critic and just write, otherwise you're continually censoring yourself. And don't worry about what anyone things about what you write. If you worry about what your mother will think, you may not be putting your best work on the page.
Thanks for reminding me of what's important!
Great post!! I think my best advice—but then I’m a plotter, not a pantser, so this is what works for me—is to outline. It doesn’t have to be the Roman numerals and letters indentations that we learned in grade school. It doesn’ t even have to look anything like an outline, as long as you always know, as you’re writing, what comes next. That way you won’t get lost or blocked or panic.
Oh yes, these are great! I did these when I started. In particular the writing conferences really helped. Got me to dip a toe in the world that I wanted to join.
Good advice, Chris! That internal editor!!! So hard to get past. I'd say that's what I struggle with more than anything–and it really slows my writing. Once everything is down, it's so much easier to fix–and I'd do well to remember that!
So true, Gayle! Which goes hand in hand with letting it go. I know several talented authors, who have worked on the same book for ten years. I think about how much farther they'd be if they started a new project! (This is what woke me up about the necessity of letting go.)
Outlining is a bit like being taught figures in figure skating (wonder why they removed that element? Maybe because skaters are like pansters?) I only do an outline when forced, by an editor who requires one prior to sale, or when I get stuck. I know I should do one, but they are hard!!! I'm slowly getting back to doing it, because I think you're right. And, more importantly, just because you have one does not mean you have to stick to it. But having one forces you to think about plot points all the way through!
I agree. I think that jumpstarted my career by immersing me into this world I wanted to join. Easier to envision being a writer when you surround yourself with writers!
Terrific advice here! I remember going through most of those steps (trying to anyway)…as for the conferences/groups you suggest, I completely agree. I remember taking a train from DC up to a NJ conference of romance writers even though I had written a thriller. That's where I met an editor who was taking "pitches" from aspiring writers. I took a chance and pitched my thriller (knowing that her company published those along with romances). She liked the concept and we agreed to work together. You mentioned Bouchercon and Thrillerfest — both are wonderful conferences where many agents and editors come to also interview new writers…again, great advice!
Exactly, Karna. Editors edit multi-genres. So if you can attend a con that has editors, it doesn't matter if it's not in the genre you like. (In fact, it might even be better, because you're bound to stand out!)
Great advice and every bit of it valuable and important. One of the best things for me was getting to a writing conference where I attended workshops and talked to other writers – a great motivator for me. And like you, Robin, I was fortunate to have a husband who encouraged and cheered me on and to whom I will be forever grateful.
Having that home cheerleader is invaluable. Going to my first workshop was amazing. My first conference just blew me away. I hope anyone on the fence about going to one of the big ones makes the plunge. So worth it!