My Two Year Top 10
It’s been over two years since I started this crazy and wonderful journey. I hadn’t thought much about it until today when someone at my book signing asked “When did you start writing?” I answered the question, and then my brain started percolating a list of sorts—a two year what I’ve learned list. Now, in the writing universe, two years is nothing, my friends. I know writers who have been at it for twenty-five and thirty years or more. They make my two years look stupid. But two years is enough to accomplish a whole lot, and every milestone that marks your passions is something to celebrate.
In August of 2010, I sat down to hammer out Magnolian. It was really because of a question my husband asked: “When are you going to write your own book?” I’d been blogging about other books for a while at that point.
The question stopped me flat. So, I started writing more than just poetry challenges I’d done with friends or short stories I’d turned in in school that had potential. I set out to write a novel.
And I did…and I kept writing. I couldn’t get enough of words on paper and the muse whispering in my ear, and I still can’t. Since that first day in early August of 2010, I’ve learned a lot. If you’re a newbie writer or if you’re thinking about writing, my list might help you. But mainly, I like to put these things down for memory’s sake. I’ll need to remind myself of them again, too, when I veer off the path I know is right for me.
I must make one disclaimer: my top ten comes through the lens of writing as business and pleasure. I’m pretty darned serious about it, and I don’t “dally” with words. You might have a different goal and thrust to your writing. You might write slowly and make every story “perfect” before it sees the light of day. I don’t believe in such things, and I follow Robert Heinlein’s writing rules. With that said, your mileage may vary with this post. I do hope you’ll see something, though, and find food for thought for your own journey. The second person point-of-view does creep in here since I’m writing for me…and maybe for some of you.
So, without further ado, my What I learned in my Two Year Top 10 in no particular order:
1. Writing is not a team sport. I write what I love and what the muse gives me, not what she gives to someone else. How about you? And I don’t feel guilty for not wanting to collaborate on novels or stories. I personally don’t have any desire to. Another thing I’ve learned about myself is that my muse doesn’t want to write in the worlds that other people create, so I don’t do well with special submissions calls of that nature. There is an “I” in writing, and that’s as it should be. Writing is a solitary and often lonely journey. If you are confident in who you are and you like spending time in your own world, that won’t be a problem.
2. Don’t mix friendship with business. If you can help it, keep the two separate. Take my word for it. The heartache is not worth it. Boundaries are easily crossed. Do business with people you want to work with, and do friendship with your friends. There may be special cases where this rule does not apply, but they are few and far between. Someone will overstep boundaries, and ties will be severed. If you write, this is your business and passion. You know where you are going and why. And if you’re not sure, there are people who can help you with that (for pay).
Don’t muddy things up, even with good intentions. I choose people who are good at things to get things done for me, and I pay them. If they don’t like to be paid, it’s best if I don’t work with them. That is something I’ve learned the hard way. I don’t want you to learn the way I did.
Money should change hands unless there are no strings attached. The moment someone else feels he or she has an investment in your work or has say so on it as an unpaid friend or collaborator, is the moment disaster looms. So, I just pick competent people now, and I pay them. If they don’t work for me, and we don’t jibe, I move on. If you read one of these points, please let it be this one. It will save you a lot of angst in the end.
3. You can do amazing things in two years. Now, I am not calling my work amazing. My point is that if you put your nose to the grindstone, you can put a lot of work out there. I happen to be prolific, but I also write every day. At this point, I have over 40 novels, novellas, and stories out there.
4. Discipline wins. Here’s a little secret about me. Those who know me, know that I’m an ISTJ. Folks like me are not necessarily known for our creativity. We are known for being able to put our noses to the grindstone for things we really want to see happen; we are pragmatists, too. Sometimes I wish I were more creative. I envy some of my ENFP friends, for example, and their story ideas. But I’ve learned that discipline can win out even over wild creativity. Here’s how: it doesn’t matter how creative you are if you never get anything on paper. If you don’t write regularly, you won’t be putting much work out there. So, write every day. Pick a time frame or a word count, and always try to meet it. For me, I am doing two hours a day these days. I don’t always make that goal, and sometimes I promote during that time, too, but I try my hardest. It works if your goal is taking up more shelf space and being prolific.
5. There is no marketing trick. Really. There’s not. The only one is to write more and better books. That is what gets people talking and lands your work in front of them. I’ve had this happen now with a lucky break with getting one of my books mentioned recently in a Salon.com article. A great cover and just writing did that for me. If you have enough books out there, eventually, one of them is going to sell and/or get noticed (with a pinch of luck and randomness thrown into the equation). It’s a simple fact: the more books you’ve written, the more shelf space you take up. People see your name often and eventually might give your work a try. So, if you have a choice of writing or Twitter or Facebook or Kindle Boards or anything like that on a given day, choose writing. Your tribe will find you, and you will find them.
6. You will have some terrible days and some amazing ones, too. Do I really need to give you examples if you’ve been in this game for more than a month? Okay, here are some of the terrible day makers, all of which have happened to me:1 star reviews will happen. People you thought were your friends will turn on you for no reason. You will squabble with editors even when you didn’t pick a fight. Your submissions will get lost in the ether. You will have editors quit on you. Your cover art might turn out terribly. People will do inexplicable things they don’t even know have hurt you. People who should have no say so in your work will give you their opinions in very public ways when you didn’t ask for them. You will get hurt in this business. It will scar you and make you tougher, or you will quit and write only for yourself in your lonely room. No buts about that.
Then you will have the amazing days. These have also happened to me: your manuscript gets picked up by a publisher, or your work is featured in a national magazine. Your editor asks you to do something really cool that you jump at doing. You get astounding cover art. Someone you admire compliments your work. You write 3000 words in a day, and they are good ones. You finish a novel or story. The muse gives you an amazing idea. You meet fans who love what you do. You get labeled by a blogger as tops at writing in your genre. Your Facebook fan page or Twitter account hits a magic number. People start to interact with you and connect with this crazy writing thing you are doing and loving.
Here’s the bottom line for the good and bad days.
You will find that having a trusted person you can share your feelings with is really important and hard to find. Believe me. Choose wisely, and maybe pick someone who doesn’t write. It’s just best that way to avoid becoming enmeshed and having boundary issues. My hubby is my sounding board these days. He doesn’t write, but he’s pretty dang smart, and it works out well.
7. You are probably NOT going to sell tons of books, not for a very long time. So, you must dig deeper. My first few months in, I barely sold anything. It was tough to look at royalty statements and know the work I’d put in for so little monetary return. I had to face myself in the mirror and decide if this thing was worth doing. It was and it is. It’s my passion. I enjoy it, and the world falls away when I write. If you keep at it, you will find your audience, and you will sell books. The truth is, though, that you might have to write ten or twenty before that really kicks in. You might have to write in different genres and follow your muse to places you are unsure of. Be ready to stretch yourself.
And another note: if you don’t feel driven to write and to find success in whatever your version of that looks like, you might be in the wrong field. Holly Lisle has a great quiz in her book Mugging the Muse. If you are on the fence about writing anymore/continuing on, please take that quiz. She nails it. If you want to read it, I’ll loan you my copy. Just let me know.
8. Many people will not “get” what you are doing. Get over it. I have gotten this question many times: “So you’re still doing that writing thing?” I smile and answer yes. Just like I don’t understand passions others may have, some don’t understand mine. And that’s fine. As long as I know where I’m going and what I’m doing, that’s the important thing (and I do suggest a two year, five year, and ten year plan to make that clear for yourself…complete with works you plan to publish in writing). And once I find other people who get that, even better. Those people are called fans. If you are writing what you love and working to connect with people at a genuine level where you care about them and what they love, too, you will find those folks.
9. Ignore the critics unless they are your editors, publishers, or other people you pay to work for you/help you improve your craft. I’m serious about this one. Your publishers are taking a risk. They are giving you the best advice they can in hopes that you and they succeed. If you self publish, the editors you hire are the same way. If they suggest something, consider it. As for everyone else who is offering advice for free, measure their words against your gut and how things are going. If things don’t match up, disregard their “advice” or harsh words to you. If these people are mean and toxic, distance yourself. Put your head down, and keep writing.
10. Keep learning. Push yourself. Grow in your craft and your business. Become better at the writing that is uniquely yours. This is what will propel you forward. I think very differently and I write very differently than I did two years ago or three months ago. I’ve had several people tell me that at different points along the way. That is as it should be. Don’t be content to stay where you are. Push on.
This list is hardly all there is, but it’s what is on my mind today and at this point. So, what do you think? What have you learned on your own journey in doing what you love?