My first book, Joshua’s Tree (Book One–Joshua’s Tree Trilogy, June 28,2013–Muse It Up Publishing, museituppublishing.com … there I’ve said it, stay with me) is the end and a new beginning of my personal experiment in becoming a writer. As I look forward to my debut on the literary world and prepare for all the marketing required to make my new business a success, I reflect on the arduous journey bringing me to this point—the end of trying to become a writer and the beginning of trying to make it as a writer. For newbie up-and-coming authors, those who are at the same place I am, or the lucky few reflecting back upon their success, I thought I’d humbly share my experiences thus far. Will I be a huge success, supported by fruits of the word—yet to be seen. I’ll let you know after five years (will explain later in another blog).
The experience of becoming a “writer” comes with a lot of trepidation. If you tell your family and friends you want to be a writer. They sigh deeply, stare at the sky and/or shift their legs uncomfortably. Perhaps they compliment your decision, but you can sense they are worried you might be suffering from some kind of mental disorder. Sound familiar? If you persist in the face of this total lack of support from most of your social network, you find yourself in a lonely place, but hopefully you have a few supportive friends to help motivate you toward you new goal. In the months that follow, most would-be writers fizzle out, letting their dream of being published gather dust and their first rough draft sit locked away in their computer. Those who persist must create themselves from the raw material of their inborn intelligence, their education and life experiences into an author who will hopefully prove everyone wrong and write the book that will get them … wait for it … PUBLISHED! (“Yippee!” Confetti falling. Balloons rising. Crowd roars.)
Like many writers, I was struck by a bolt of lightning—the idea for a book that nagged me and begged to be written. I remember it as clearly as if it happened last night. Amidst reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini (which I thoroughly enjoyed as I am a huge fan of dragons), I learned how young Paolini was and decided if he could do it, so could I. Besides, I’m college educated dang it! Not just that, I went to grad school. I mean, come on! All that education should give me an edge. Right?
I think it did help quite a bit, but it didn’t make the journey easy. It takes truckloads of persistence—which you do learn in college—but I believe you also have to have some natural inborn tenaciousness to ride out the novel-creating storm. After that third or thirtieth draft of the novel-to-be is written, the next helpful step I took as a writer was to find some critique partners. I joined the local Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) because I was writing YA, but you can join any number of writing groups that are appropriate for you genre and meet other writers. If you’re too far from town to make it to a meeting, find some critique partners online. They will alleviate some of the loneliness you might feel in your new adventure, and they will be in various stages of publication, able to empathize with your challenges and offer advice. You’ll get to critique their writing, which makes you a strong writer because it helps you see your own faults, and they will rip your book apart and help you remake it into something more saleable.
Meanwhile, be sure to ingest as many books as you can on the craft of writing. I’ve mentioned a few in my blog in earlier posts. I don’t think it is wise to follow any one rule of writing you learn from your studies too stringently. Amongst all this learning and being critiqued, something magical must, and will, happen if you persist. You will discover your voice as a writer. A writer’s voice is as unique as a fingerprint, and until you have found it, you can’t produce your best work. How do you know when you’ve found it? Well, for one, you will have invested countless hours (months, years) in learning your new craft and writing becomes a bit easier. I’ve always thought of becoming a writer as requiring a similar investment of time and energy required to becoming a doctor or a lawyer (in other words, pace yourself and expect it to take years before you become proficient). Secondly, your alpha and beta readers will read the second draft (I never show anyone my first) of a new piece you are working on and they will genuinely love it (and not just tell you they do to be polite).
Another point I’d like to make on learning the craft and finding your voice is don’t follow the advice of any critique partner, mentor, or how-to book so dogmatically that it doesn’t allow your voice to evolve. All this external input is akin to fertilizer. Given just the right amount, the fertilizer will cause a plant to flourish—too much and the plant will die. Always remember that the end goal is to nurture that unique quality that only you can bring to your writing—your voice.
After years of revisions and writing rough drafts for many other novels, reading popular books to see what makes them tic, and querying though my book wasn’t quite ready and I shouldn’t have, I finally got it right and found the publisher who was willing to take a chance on a new author. The other option was to self publish. There are numerous blogs that talk about the process and benefits of self publishing—shunned upon just a handful of years ago but gaining immense respect now—in detail. I am not self published and so I can offer little insight into that avenue except to say that all authors must be excellent marketers and sells people, whether they have a traditional publisher or they are going it alone.
Self publishing is very popular now and many writers are going that route and avoiding the hundreds of queries and rejections that come with trying to find an agent or publisher. Doing it all alone wasn’t for me personally, I knew that from the start. Why? I feared if I self published, I would be releasing my book before it was cleaned up enough to be seen by the public. I set the goal of getting published by a legitimate publisher knowing it would force me to make my novel the best it could be before its debut. I wanted the safety net of having a content editor and a copy editor look at my book and I didn’t want to pay anyone for those services. Other perks: my publisher has formatted my book, is creating the cover art, and is doing all the other footwork required to get a book published, leaving me to worry about writing the next book and marketing (though publishers help on the marketing end of the equation too). I’ll blog more in the future on my experiences on this adventure and share what I’ve learned. If you have any helpful hints to help me in the next steps of my writing career, please serve them up as a comment. Thanks.