This isn’t an easy one for me to write.
Recently, one of my presses shut down – my third press to either change management or go bankrupt in just three years, and this very morning I got a pretty devastating rejection letter. I’m having one of those periods of being a writer that you don’t wish on anyone, the period where the waters are rough and it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. From where I’m sitting, my advice to new writers is to run far, far away, as quickly as you can.
But, of course, that’s nonsense.
In fact, this, right here, is lesson number freaking one. Being a writer – it’s hard. Shocker, surprise, knock me over with a feather. You should know going in that it’s not going to be easy. If you don’t know that, here’s your wakeup call. You will get rejected. You will get bad reviews. You will struggle to sell books. These are all parts of being a writer.
To break down lesson number freaking one to a more nuanced point, however: It gets harder to get up again. The first few rejections, you bounce back. Or maybe you don’t, maybe the first few are hard for you, but after awhile, you get used to the setbacks and learn how to steel yourself against what’s coming. You stand up, you re-submit and you one-two-punch harder, faster and better this time.
But there gets to be a point when the air starts to go out of the punchy clown balloon and you don’t pop up quite as quickly. For me, this morning, with my third press in three years changing the rules and a rejection letter I’d really hoped I wasn’t going to get, only the second time I stepped in shit this morning, (my grandma has a puppy who makes her presence known in the house in creative ways) yeah, I felt real creaky-knee-ed and fatigued.
And here’s what you need to know about being a writer. You have to get up. Because no matter how long it takes you, no matter how battle-weary you feel, no matter how many times you’ve cried this year, if you don’t get up, that’s game over.
So there’s lesson one. Now let’s move away from the truly shitty part of the coursework, to what to do when you first start and how to make the most of life as an author!
Treat it like a business:
Keep your expenses. Make deadlines for yourself. Hit those deadlines. If you treat writing like a hobby, that’s what it’s going to be. If you treat writing like a career, you’re halfway there already. (Also, it bears repeating, keep your expenses.)
You need an editor:
Sorry, no exceptions. If you’re self-publishing, you need an editor. Them’s the rules.
And a cover artist:
Because the truth is that, in this industry, we do judge books by their covers.
It takes money to make money:
If you want to market right, whether you’re with a big press or self-publishing, you’re going to need to spend money on (see above) things like editors, cover artists, marketing and more. Big presses do a lot of that for you, but you will still need to market. You can’t overmarket. Get really good at selling yourself.
Imposter Syndrome is all in your head (and mine and hers and theirs and his):
Writers at all stages of their careers experience Imposter Syndrome, the sense that you’ve somehow gotten into this group or industry or event or publishing house on a fluke and you don’t deserve and you’ll never be good enough. Find a way to quiet the voices. They lie. You are good enough and you’re only going to get better.
Find your Tribe:
Every genre has support systems. Find local writing groups or online writing groups or chat pages or events. Go to conferences, go to book signings, find out when your favorite authors are holding Q&As on Twitter and tune in. Writing is solitary and it’s easy to forget where you are in the world, but you aren’t alone in this at all. Finding people with similar experiences, challenges, and successes will only help you.
Keep a series bible:
It’s never worth your time to have to go back and look through three manuscripts to find out if your character has green eyes or blue. Keep notes. Write the important things in one place so you can find them later.
Don’t call yourself aspiring:
Drop the qualifying word. The instant you put your fingers to the keyboard, your pen to paper, you’re a writer. Working on a novel? Novelist. Short stories, novellas, epics? Author. This ties back into that sense of not being good enough. Yes, let that voice guide you and make you want to prove yourself in this big crazy world, but don’t let it limit you. Shout it to the rooftops and be fucking proud to call yourself an author. Not an aspiring author. Yes, you aspire to success and a career, sure, but you are an author. Don’t forget that. If you are writing, you are a writer.
You’ll hear this advice the most because it is the most important. Writers write. Writers research and storyboard and outline and market, but at the end of the day, without words and drafts and edits, you don’t have a product. Find a way to write all the time. Keep notebooks of stories in every room. Empty space on your phone for overheard quotes, title ideas, and settings.
Writing isn’t part-time. Writing is constantly taking in the world around you and absorbing new ideas, styles, and senses. Writing is getting up an hour before your alarm to write. Writing is scribbling stories during math class. Writing is hacking out chapters on your phone during your morning commute. Whatever it is. However it is. You write.
Everyone is going to have a different journey. I hope to hell that none of you experience that sense of drifting that I’m feeling today, that weary, tired feeling of wondering when you’re going to get a break, when what you’re doing is going to work. I hope none of you feel that, but some of you will. Many of you will. Being a writer will include high highs and low lows, and it’s important to prepare yourself for that.
But at the end of the day, it’s also important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. You have stories deep inside you, tales to tell, characters to introduce to the world, universes to build. There will be challenges. However hard you think it’s going to be, it’ll be harder. But I can promise you on every unwritten story pinned to my bulletin board, on every character I’ve created from the depths of my heart, on every tale I still have to tell, it will be fucking worth the climb. ♦