As I write this post, I’m coming up on the seven year anniversary of my first published book. It never fails to blow me away how fast time has passed, even when there have been books that felt like I was writing them so, so slowly.
In the interest of growth, here’s a Looking Back list of some of the things I’ve done wrong, and some of what I’ve learned.
Where I went wrong:
- Being impatient. When I first started writing, I was so excited to share that I did not get the input I needed. It was mostly due to lack of experience, so at that point I probably couldn’t have understood how it might affect reader experience and future projects. (hello plot issues six books down the road) I still struggle with impatience, but I’m able to temper it with the knowledge that readers deserve the best version of every story you can give them. Also: bad reviews. Take the time and do it right. You’ll be grateful for it later.
- Thinking ideas are original. A common newbie mistake is to believe your idea is the One and Only (First of its Kind, Mother of all Stories, Queen of the Library). If you’ve spent any time in the book world, you see there’s no way that could be true. Yes, your voice is your own and whatever story you tell will have a beauty to it that is solely you, but chances are the concept of the story has already been used. A lot. Don’t believe me? Google “seven basic plots.”
- Thinking writing can just be learned. Writing is a skill. You can learn the technique of it and buff up your grammar, but knowledge won’t make you a master. Expertise comes from experience, and the only way to gain that is the long way: by doing. Write a book, write some more, write another. Try a million or so words, and tell me you haven’t learned more than you ever thought you could about how things work.
- Not realizing famous authors are people. Before social media, probably you’d never run into a celebrity in the course of your day-to-day activities. Now, we have access to nearly all of our idols–and those who decidedly aren’t–in the palm of our hands. It’s easy to forget someone is not their image, that a particularly nasty review or a tag to their account means you could be calling them to your comments like a virtual slap in the face. It’s fine to dislike a person’s work. It’s understandable to be such a massive fan you cannot deal. But authors are people. Give them the space to live their lives. They don’t owe you a personalized critique of your work (so please don’t ask), they don’t need to know your bad opinion of them (so please don’t tag them), and they don’t owe you a book by a certain deadline. We love positive feedback. Excitement about a new book or old characters is amazing. So if you feel like it, send a virtual high five out, create fan art, do the things that allow you to share your love at a respectable distance. The important thing is to treat other humans with decency, but it should be noted that if you do succeed in writing, those same authors will be your peers. And they will remember.
What I know now:
- It’s a long term game. It’s a career, really, but let’s not make it sound too much like work. When you start writing, you feel like you have to rush to get all those stories out. With a little time, you come to accept there is no possibility of that ever happening. You have to chose which are most important to you, and focus on them with steady commitment. Once you’re a writer, you’ll probably be one forever. It helps to form a writing routine.
- Knowing why you’re here. There are many different types of authors (people) and not everyone has the same motives. But one thing that comes with experience, is learning whether you are writing to make money, to get readers, or because it makes you happy and you can’t image living without it. It’s not a matter of whether your reasons are valid (or in the case of fame, likely to come true), but whether you can see that and live/work accordingly. Knowing I would write if it made me money or not takes a bit of the stress away from worrying about bad reviews or a book that’s not selling. If you’re doing it for you, then all that matters is how satisfied you are with the process.
- It’s not for everyone. Every book/movie/food has fans and hate groups. Letting go of the expectation or desire that each and every person love your work will get you a long way in writing. And life, probably.
- You have to put in the work. Words come if you give them the time and space to do so. If you don’t put the hours in, you’re not going to reach your goals. Maybe it’s more fun to talk about writing than to actually do it, but you can’t be a writer without actually writing.
- The middle is going to be hard. Every time. Learning to accept the roller coaster that is writing is a helpful step in a healthy mental state. Know that there are bits you enjoy, bits that make you cry, that you’ll decide you’re a hack and you’ll never make it and you’ve forgotten completely how to write at various points along the journey. Accept those stages as they come, preferably with a laugh, and it will go a lot smoother until you get through the tough ones.
- Famous authors are people. I realize I said this before, but this time it’s the good stuff. Those authors can become your friends. They might read your books. They might love you work. The writing community is a lovely place full of mostly excited, creative, good, decent people who help build each other up. Connecting with authors who have the same passions as you do can be one of the best things to come out of this whole life-altering obsession. Because it is. Life altering.
- It’s here to stay. Writing is part of me in a way I would have never believed possible. Not just telling stories, but all of it–good and bad–is woven irreparably into my existence. It gives me satisfaction, fulfillment, and so much to look forward to every single day. The awareness of that is a security blanket against life’s hard times, and I’m grateful for having found it each and every day.
What are some of the things you’ve learned on your journey? Let us know in the comments.