Monday, November 9, 2009
Ten Things to Remember if You Want to Be a Published Writer
With computers, the physical exercise of writing has never been easier. You open a file, start typing and wham! You’re writing. But this ease has some drawbacks that can shine an unrealistic light on the whole process. It makes writing look easy. And anyone who’s ever struggled over a stalled plotline can tell you it’s not easy at all.
So, for those starting out (or those struggling) here are ten things to remember if you want to be a published writer:
1. Writing is Hard
Don’t get me wrong, it has its easy moments, but constructing a publishable novel is not an easy task. There’s a reason most people who want to publish a novel never do. It takes a lot of work, skill and dedication.
2. Learn Your Craft
You wouldn’t expect to race in the Indy 500 the day after you got your driver’s license, would you? Then why expect the first thing you write to sell. Writing is a skill like any other, and there are rules to learn and muscles to develop. Allow yourself the freedom to suck at first (we all do) while you build your writing skills. A first-submission failure doesn't mean you can one day publish.
3. Your First Book Will Probably Not Sell
Writing is a skill we learn by doing, and our first attempts are usually pretty bad. Even if they aren’t, they are often filled with flaws that keep us from reaching a professional level. But that’s okay, because we all have to learn somehow, and the next book will be better. Enjoy the satisfaction of finishing your first novel. It only comes once. But don’t get so hung up on the need to publish that novel that you spend all your time revising and never write anything new.
4. Revision is Part of Writing
Much as we love our words, they aren’t set in stone. Revising is part of the business and if you refuse to ever change a word, then there’s a good chance no one but your friends and family will ever read those words. Keyboards have a delete key for a reason. Use it.
5. It’s All About the Story
With so many books on how to write, it’s easy to forget why you write–and read–in the first place. You want a good story, and as my high school creative writing teacher said so beautifully, a good story is just interesting people solving interesting problems in interesting ways. Don’t let yourself get so sidetracked by the mechanics that you forget why people read.
6. Whatever Works, Works
There’s a lot of information out there about how to write, what makes a good plot, the rules that “must never be broken.” Truth is, all rules can be broken in the right situation, and if it works, it works. Forcing your story to a set of rules because “everyone says so” might not be the best thing for your story. However…
7. Rules Are There for a Reason
Guidelines are part of the business, so ignoring them just to ignore them is also a bad idea. Ignoring the rules of grammar or doing twice the average word count doesn’t say creative genius, it says unprofessional writer who doesn’t know the business. When you break a rule, make sure you have a solid legitimate reason, and not just because you want to, or you can point to one book as an example. Which brings me to…
8. Famous Authors Can Do What You Can’t, Even if They Did it Before They Were Famous
Name any rule, and there will be books that successfully broke it and writers using them as a reason why they can do it too. Sometimes they’re by famous authors, and sometimes by unknowns who because famous on that one book. These are exceptions for a reason. Just because Stephanie Meyer wrote a 115,000 word YA debut novel, doesn’t mean everyone can. There’s a reason she got away with it. Understand why a book is an exception, but don’t use it as a free pass to do the same. You might be an exception as well, but odds are you’re not. It’s hard enough to sell a first novel, so why make it harder on yourself if you don’t have to?
9. Not All Feedback is Good Feedback
One of the hardest things to do when you’re just starting out is to sift through comments about your work. It's natural to be unsure about your skill, and any negative comment can send you into a tailspin. Just as any good comment can inflate your head like Macy’s Day Parade balloons. Learn to evaluate criticism and trust your gut on what will help your work and what will hurt it. Even a good idea might be the wrong idea for a story.
10. Don’t Give Up
If being a published writer is your dream, then stick with it. It’s not easy, it will beat you down as often as it lifts you up, but if you work at it, keep improving and keep trying, you can make it.
What "rule" did you break in your writing journey? What ones did you ignore?
Labels: writing rules