So, you wanna be a writer? Some practical advice that doesn’t mention adverbs…
Beginner writers are often bombarded with advice—some helpful, some not so helpful. The best advice I can give is to take all advice with a grain of salt. A lot of writers repeat “rules” they have heard elsewhere without providing any background, which leads to a kind of “writers’ Chinese Whispers” when conventions have been taken out of content or are incorrect. So, aside from being particular about whose advice you subscribe to, the most practical advice I can give to beginning writers, without delving into grammatical discourse, is:
Read. Read, read, and then read some more. Read books in your genre that you love, and then read books that you really didn’t like. Figure out why. What was it about the books you loved that resonated with you as a reader? What about the books you didn’t enjoy made you to struggle to finish them. What made certain books bestsellers? Did the bestseller have a unique or intriguing premise? Did it have amazing, realistic characters? Did it have an original authorial voice? Beautiful prose? A twist ending? A love triangle? Did it appeal to an otherwise untapped audience? Maybe it had all of these things. Make a list of writing pros and cons that apply to you as a reader and pin it up in your writing space.
Learn. Some authors insist that reading books about writing or attending writing conventions or festivals is a waste of time and money. Such writers insist that doing so will cramp your burgeoning writing style. I vehemently disagree. Everything I have learned about writing, editing, and marketing, I learned from others (and by subsequent trial and error while following those teachings). I learned from teachers, from mentors, from books and style manuals, from analysing manuscripts, from proofreading following other editors’ mark-ups, and from attending conferences and conventions to network with successful authors and publishing industry professionals. The idea that good writers are born and not made is pure nonsense. Sure, some people have a natural affinity for writing. Some have a natural sense of rhythm. Some authors seem to have unlimited original ideas. Some have a way of thinking that produces incredible metaphor or simile. But just like dancing or painting, or any other activity, writers can improve with practice and with lifelong learning.
Invest. Another truly rubbish piece of advice for beginner writers is: “All money should flow toward the writer.” I know this was designed to prevent writers from being scammed by unscrupulous service providers, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If you’re serious about writing and you want to make a business out of your writing, you’ll need some capital. You need to invest in yourself as a writer, which might mean buying programs like Scrivener or Write or Die or Antisocial to keep you writing rather than procrastinating. It might mean reading books by successful writers. If you’re a self-published author, you’ll want to invest not only in knowledge (by way of conventions or books about writing) but also in editing, cover design, advertising, promotion, and publicity. As always, be careful about which businesses you choose to spend your money with. Ask for referrals, check service providers out thoroughly, and ensure they have a good reputation for being ethical and delivering on what they promise. There are a lot of scammers out there who target writers, so make sure your investment will be a sound one. When writing is your profession, or you run a small business, you can claim these investments as tax deductions. Like any business, don’t expect to start turning a profit immediately. Expect to inject some capital into your business for the first year at least.
Grow. By grow I mean continue to live your life. Most writers draw inspiration from the world around them, so don’t forget to stop and sit in a café people-watching on occasion. Growing also means accepting change. As you change, your writing voice may change and the things you want to write about might change. Be flexible in your approach to writing. Try new things. So far, I’ve self-published Cage Life, a book of short stories; Growth, a book of poetry; two children’s picture books, Hey, Little Sister andPancakes on Sunday; and now Cruxim—a paranormal romance. Yet I have a non-fiction background, and I have literary fiction, young adult novels, and romance novels all half-finished on my hard-drive. Why? Because I write what I feel like writing.
So you’ve always written romance, but you get a feeling you’d be good at writing for young adults—give it a shot (even if you do it under a pen name in case it doesn’t work). You’re not getting any traction with your book and you’re worried it is the cover, change it up and see. Be flexible when it comes to price, too. If you want to self-publish, try it. If you want to query publishers, go for it. You can do both. There is no one single path to success. Growth and change are positives for writers, and being flexible will help you survive in a publishing world that is highly variable at present.
Harden up. Yep, that’s my final piece of practical advice for writers. Drink a cup of concrete—figuratively, that is. No matter what you write, or how you write it, there will be some people who just don’t “get” your work. It doesn’t matter if you have three hundred five-star reviews; those three one-stars are the ones that will play on your mind.
“Why did they hate ‘me’?” you ask (because we writers have a habit of making it personal). When you put your work out there, you invite criticism, constructive or otherwise. To stay happy, you’ll need to develop skin thicker than a rhinoceros’s. I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn from criticism where you can, because you most certainly should. If your critics are saying your book was full of errors, by all means, sort it out. If they’re insisting there are plot loopholes, you might want to stitch those shut. But resign yourself to the fact that no matter what you do, sometimes “haters gonna hate.” Don’t let negative feedback undermine your need to keep on writing, keep on learning, keep on growing, and keep on developing the carapace you’re going to need if you want to write for a living.