Ask any writer, published or not quite yet, and you’ll get the same response – “If only I’d known then what I know now.” Of course, I suppose that could be said about life in general, but that’s another post or two, or maybe ten! For today, I’ll talk about ten things I’ve learned since I started writing “professionally.” Yes, I know what you’re thinking – “Is it called a profession when you barely make enough each month to pay the power bill? Ahem! Hold your horses - that’s one of the items on my list.
I started writing at a very young age, seven or eight, always writing stories and drawing paper dolls to go with them, but didn’t consider publishing anything until much later. I’ve learned a whole lot more than ten things, but that’s mostly because by the time I decided to actually try to sell some of my stories, I knew almost nothing about the industry. I was working as a school counselor (I know – original, a school counselor writing romance. Put a stop to the sarcastic comments and thoughts for a moment and read on).
As I was saying, I was working as a school counselor nine months a year, and worked as a college counselor and tutor two months every summer when a friend presented me with entry information for a short story competition. I took that summer off and started writing. I didn’t win or even place in that contest, but by the time I finished my story, the writing bug had me under its spell, and eventually, I won. So, here are ten things I’ve learned about writing, the pros and cons, in no particular order…
1. There are millions of writers in the world of every caliber, and thousands of them write romance. Now that could be a con, but considering that there are even more readers than writers (plus, most writers are avid readers as well), many readers devour two or more books a week, and there are 52 weeks in a year, there are still enough readers to get around to your books.
2. Along those lines, readers have to know about your books in order to read them, and marketing is harder and much more time consuming than writing the book in the first place. The positive side of this is that the many avenues available to authors today can make marketing fun (well, maybe not exactly fun all the time, but definitely doable) and engaging.
3. Once you’ve conquered the jitters and silenced the “nay-sayers” in your life and in your head, map out time and a place to write. Yes, this is the part about respecting your writing as if it’s already paying the bills. Treat it like your profession – your passion, even. One day soon, it just might replace that day job, but you must be disciplined to accomplish anything lasting.
4. Learn to say “NO.” When it’s time to write, write. Don’t allow others to distract you with phone calls or tedious chores simply because you “work from home.” Most of us have a regular daily eight to twelve hour gig before we even get the opportunity to write, so don’t allow anyone else to gobble up that hard earned time to pursue your dream. We’ll talk more about this one in number five.
5. Until writing becomes your bread and butter, schedule around it like a second job. For many of us, second jobs are like second nature, but life goes on. Plan time with friends and family, and teach family members to support you by helping as much as possible at home. Prepare two or three entrees at once on weekends. Things might not get done just the way you would prefer, but they’ll get done. You’ve got writing to do, and those fantastic stories will never get written if you’re climbing out of the dishwasher, washing machine, or pray tell, the oven!
6. Find a quick, accessible de-stressor to focus your mind before you sit down to write. One of the best for me is a hot shower. Gives mind and body time to relax, and I like to imagine the problems of the day getting washed away, leaving me fresh, clean, and ready to move forward (I waxed poetic there for a minute, didn’t I?). A favorite song can also be a perfect de-stressor. A few years ago, I used to sit in my car after work and listen to “Broken, But Healed” (I know. Sounds a bit maudlin, but very inspirational) before walking into my house. The song lasted exactly seven minutes thirty seconds, and in that time I could breathe, allow my thoughts to wander, and get ready to cope sensibly with whatever greeted me once I walked through the door. As you know, when other people live with you, you never know what you’ll have to deal with when you get home, and it can be a battle to keep your goals and dreams from being gobbled up by unexpected drama.
7. Now, you’ve de-stressed and you’re sitting down to write. You’ve also told your friends and family that unless they’re calling you to dinner or someone is bleeding out, you are not to be disturbed. Focus on getting the first draft completed. Tell your story freely, keeping in mind that you have the freedom to write as many drafts as necessary, picking and choosing just the right word here and there (later, after the first draft is done) until you’re ready to call in an objective expert – that is, an editor.
8. Let’s talk editors for a moment. You need one. They can be costly, and certainly not every editor is suitable for every writer, but the light the right editor shines on your story and your writing as a whole is priceless. Consider it paying for education. No matter how wonderful an editor you are, you are too close to your own writing to do all of your own editing. That’s not to say self-editing should be overlooked, but don’t stop there. Get a good editor with glowing recommendations from at least three authors whose work meets your standards. You can find a list of over forty editors here along with a short post on finding the right one for you.
9. One more note about editing, I’ll count this as number nine because it’s just that important, and number eight was pretty long. Learn to use track changes. The feature will save you immeasurable hours once you reach the editing phase.
10. Organize your life, the space around you, and your computer files. These days, I keep calendars on my phone, desk, and online so I can check my schedule wherever I happen to be. I’m an avid user of the file feature in email to help keep track, and another handy tool I came across just a couple years ago is Scrivener, a writing program that allows me to keep everything about my stories in one place. It’s been particularly helpful since I started writing series – stores all my details, and I’m a big fan of keeping everything in one place.
These ten things barely scratch the surface, but take a look at my site for more right now, and stay tuned here for future editions. I literally learn something new everyday. There’s always more to learn, and someone willing to share – that’s one of my favorite things about the writing community. Tell me about some of the things you’ve learned since you started on this journey?