So, You Want to be a Writer?

Some of my favourite books

Some of my favourite books – I’d love for my name to be here one day. Don’t you want the same?

You poor, poor fool.

I’m just kidding. Kind of. Regardless of how old you are, where you’re from or what you currently do, you’ve got a burning desire to tell stories and that just isn’t being fulfilled right now.

Maybe you’re writing something in your spare time; novels, short stories, poems, scripts and such. Maybe you want to but don’t know where to start. Well, I can’t tell you I’m an expert on the subject since, you know, I’m (at this stage but if you read this years later I may be) not a published author right now.

What I do have are experiences, insights and tidbits of information that may help in some way. I’m going to share these with you here. They won’t make you a writer but if it helps you pick up that pen or open that word processor, I’m counting it as a win.

What a better way to start 2016’s blogging than this? Precisely.

You’re a writer. Deal with it

Not everyone has a problem with this but it can come up every now and then. Calling yourself a writer – or having someone else call you it – is fine, but actually feeling like one is something completely different.

Maybe it brings a sense of pressure to produce or do something. Perhaps you feel guilty because it doesn’t feel like a job or bring the same stability other careers do. Or, you might just find it frees you and you can relax at last.

Whatever it is, you’re going to have to deal with it. It comes down to feeling comfortable with who you are, maybe not your entire being but this aspect of it. It might strike early on or later, but just remember, you’re not alone. Proof of being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be the next Tolkien, King or Rowling – far from it. Just be yourself, write the way you want to and, most of all, enjoy it!

Plan, plan, plan and plan some more

It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s mind numbing.

Sound familiar? Then you’re doing it wrong. Planning your work is the first step of a challenging, rewarding and enjoyable process. I love writing books but at the same time, short stories and blogging are hugely enjoyable. Each needs different levels of planning and it’s different for everyone.

My novels need a lot of planning. I develop characters, settings, plots and subplots usually before writing anything (although sometimes I write little extracts that do or do not feature in the story later). Once I understand the world I’m writing in, I start. My plan is usually a list of points per chapter and I play connect the dot. Whether you storyboard, mind map (or whatever the PC term is for it now) or use audio notes, it helps keep you on track.

Short stories need less planning but just as much research. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. On the flipside, if you get a flash of inspiration, go with it and then come back to your plans later, then work out how to use it.

Writing is actually fun!

Yes! Yes, it really is. It’s the most enjoyable part of it, but if you’re doing this solely to make money, turn around right now and pick another career.

Don’t get me wrong, we all (those of us who choose this) want to earn a living as a writer but if you’re writing for money, your writing will suffer because it’s not what you want to do. People are smarter than you think and they can see through the façade, so write honestly, about something you like and are passionate about, and the success will come.

I’m a great believer in the best job is the one you love doing, day in and day out. If you enjoy writing, whether its books, poems, web content, blogging – whatever – you’ll write better, build a bigger and more genuine audience and achieve the goals you want.

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself

It’s the ‘p’ word again – no, not publishing/ers. Pressure. It’s one of the biggest killers to any good story or project. If the pressure mounts up and you can’t deal with it, you’ll come across that infamous writers block.

I’m no believer in ‘writers block’ although I do use it as an umbrella term. There are a number of reasons why you might suffer from it. Pressure is one, tiredness and stress are others. A lack of focus or concentration, illness and many other factors can all stop you in your tracks.

Social media can be a big one. Too much time mindlessly clicking on Facebook’s timeline or Twitter’s newsfeed can destroy hours and days and – whoops – you’ve lost a week, then a month. That’s when the pressure builds. It’s a vicious cycle but if you put small steps in place to build a routine, you’ll get there.

Don’t get me wrong, some days you’ll write 20 words and others 5,000 but that’s okay. I try to write for at least one hour every day. The routine helps.

Find real feedback

This is tricky. Real, constructive feedback is essential to help you grow as a writer, and to develop your work. Other writers are great but they can often be busy. Readers are good but a reader doesn’t always make for good critic.

AVOID family and friends. They’ll have the best of intentions, no matter what you say to them beforehand, about what you expect and would like from them. You’ll get a “it was really good” or “I really enjoyed it” and that’s about it. Occasionally, you’ll dig and dig and dig and get a little nugget but it’s not worth THAT level of effort.

Find a writing group, in person or online – they exist everywhere. Follow the rules and be respectful. You won’t always like or agree with what they say but it’s for you to decide how to use that criticism. Throwing it back in someone’s face and going in a huff won’t help you and you’ll find feedback disappearing.

There are rules. Follow them or don’t – it’s your call

Every genre of writing has rules. So does every medium or format. Some people will tell you to stick to them at all costs while others will tell you not to worry and break them whenever you want. In the end, you have to decide.

It depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your writing, the genre, context and so much more – it’s why planning and research are important. It will help you figure out which rules to follow (if any) and feedback will help prove or disprove your decisions. Be willing to adapt to meet the story and expectations of your reader to an extent. It’s a very fine line.

At the end of the day, it’s your call.

Editing…

It’s. So. Much. Fun.

Not.

However, it’s essential. You’ve written your book or script or poetry collection and you send it off straight away, so proud you’ve done it. Now you just have to wait for the phone to ring for hours on end with publishers offering you deals. Right?

Wrong.

You’ll make mistakes – spelling and grammar included, no matter how hard you try to spot them – and there will be plot holes, lines that don’t make sense to anyone but you. This is why you need to edit your work. Read it over and over and over again, and then get someone else to proof it as well. The repeat. Iron out those mistakes BEFORE you send it anywhere. It might take a full year to do this. Be patient.

Publishing, agents and rejection

There’s so much to say on this but you are going to face more rejection than you are success – at least, early in your career. The worst thing is, it’s not always just plain rejection. Sometimes you hear nothing at all in the months you’re waiting. It’s awful but that’s the way it is.

Get used to ‘no.’ It might be in a nice way but that’s what it is. Dust off and try again. It takes many, many tries to get someone to even acknowledge you. So many writers have what could be successful books or stories and give up after a few no’s.

Bear in mind, a ‘few’ in this instance can be hundreds. It only takes one yes, however. For more info on dealing with rejection, check this post out when you get a chance. It might open your eyes a little more.

Further Reading

Hey, look! Homework!

There’s so much reading you can do, from people like me to the ones who have done it. It’s important to remember that you’re not me, and you’re not them. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else so don’t get caught up on an idea if it doesn’t work out.

That being said, it can’t hurt to know about what people have gone through and use it to help, if you can. I’ve started you off, or given you some encouragement (or maybe I’ve put you off entirely – sorry!).

Either way, it’s a long and hard journey ahead of you. Stick with it and you’ll get there. Honest.

I read this article recently, on how to smash through seven writing roadblocks writers come across at various times. It’s quite interesting and worth a read, either now or later.

Good luck!

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The Road to Getting Published: It Just Takes One

So, in my non-chronological order of The Road to Getting Published, I want to move on from the heartbreak and depression of constant rejection and look at something a little happier – a positive response!

As I said before, you’re going to face a lot of rejection. Some will be brutal, some will be dressed up nicely and at times you won’t hear ANYTHING (yeah, you know who you are!) but it only takes one positive response to completely change your world and make sure you keep working on getting that book of yours published. Again, I’m speaking from experience here.

If you want to catch up on what I’ve gone through already, read the first post in this series. If not, let’s continue, shall we?

So, what happened?

A screenshot of a nicely written rejection

A nicely written rejection!

Well, after the rejections (one actually quite a nicely worded one but still a no – see picture) and non-responders, I found some other publishers to submit to. I did that and then came more waiting. I hate waiting. I’m not a patient person at all and I should point out that I used to be a lot more impatient when I was younger – thankfully I’m better now or I’d have no friends left!

The longer this goes on without any results, the more other options start to creep into your mind. I started to think about the logistics or self-publishing and such, and while I’m not closing the book (I like puns) on that one, it’s not something I really want to do at this time. There’s a whole blog post worth of reasons but that’s for another day.

A screenshot of an email asking for my full manuscript

A step forward at last – I needed this!

Then it happened. It was the morning after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron so I was already in a pretty good mood but I got an e-mail asking to see my full manuscript! I had to read it a couple of times and pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming but I was wide awake. I gave it a once over again, because I’m a little paranoid I’ve missed something and sent it on.

Woo!

I’m not getting ahead of myself

It’s important to keep grounded. Just because someone has asked to see the full manuscript of my novella doesn’t mean they’re going to instantly take it on. It’s a step closer than I’ve been before, so I have to take encouragement from that. At this stage, it’s balancing things out and trying not to let my imagination and the ‘what ifs’ take over and drive me insane.

I was in an incredibly good mood for the rest of the day – and the days that followed! I’m sure you can understand that and those of you who know me can picture how much I was just bouncing around. If you actually saw me then you have an even better idea.

It was better because that e-mail came a lot quicker than I expected. If a publisher gives you a timeframe, they normally stick pretty close to it and I’ve had a few come back to me after that with responses but never before. Whether that means anything or not, I don’t know but at this stage, I’d rather take all the positives I can as it helps balance out the rejections.

As I said, there’s no guarantee here. This is just another stage I have to go through but if you can’t take satisfaction from the small victories then you need to rethink your priorities – especially in this game.

The senior editors are likely to be a lot harder to impress but if I wasn’t on the right track then I would even have this little victory. Right?

Patience, patience and more bloody patience!

So, what’s next? Well, I’ve just got to keep going, keep searching for opportunities and believe that eventually it’ll get published. I have faith that this novella will do well if it gets out there, which is why I’ve been able to (mostly) keep a cool head throughout this whole process.

It’s not been easy and at times it really is depressing. Thankfully, I have good friends who I can rant to about it and that helps keep me sane. What’s annoying is that after sending off my full manuscript, it can take even longer to hear back. That’s normal because it’s a longer document they have to read but it’s still annoying (in an irrational way).

The journey is nowhere near over but I’m trying to stay positive for as long as I can. This took me one step closer. Let’s see how far along it will take me.

Until next time!

The Road to Getting Published: Dealing with Rejection

Rejected

Rejected

So, it’s 2015 and I’m at a stage where I’m looking to get published. I have a novella that I think is good enough after writing and editing the damned thing but now comes the hard part; finding someone to publish it. There are going to be problems and challenges and, hopefully, success at the end of it. I’m going to keep track of the big moments and feelings as I go through it all.

And you’re welcome to join me!

Choosing where to submit

This is the tricky one – maybe the subject of a post itself – and there is no easy way about it other than doing your research first.

I never said I was doing this in order!

Don’t just submit to the first opportunity you come across as it might not be the best one. Find out what they’re looking for and see if what you have ready is suitable for them. You can submit anyway, sure, but they are likely to get hundreds to thousands of submissions a week and anything that doesn’t fit in won’t even get glanced at.

Why?

Why should they, they’ve got plenty more to choose from. Nowadays especially, you’ll find most are okay with you submitting to multiple places but check first. You’re downfall is not preparing and researching – that’s almost guaranteed to end in failure.

Also check on their submission guidelines and how they want submissions to be sent. This includes formatting your manuscript or story properly. There are plenty of guides out there that can give you a standard style and form but if you don’t take heed of their personal instructions then you may as well not submit.

Of course, if you or someone you know have contacts in the industry, that can certainly help although it’s not going to make anything end in absolute success. Use everything you can to give yourself an advantage but don’t pester.

You’re more than likely not going to receive feedback either – and for crying out loud, DON’T pay to get your work published. That’s always going to be a scam and it’s different from hiring a proof reader if you think it’s a worthwhile move.

Playing the waiting game

Yup, this is BORING. It can take weeks if you’re lucky and months if not. Chances are, you won’t hear anything from some of them and that’s okay. All it takes is one to get back to you. The dream is that they’ll say yes…but this isn’t a dream. This is life. Honestly, you probably won’t want that e-mail.

That first response…

Is actually devastating.

There’s no point in pretending otherwise because it won’t help. It’s easy to get down heartened and maybe even think about giving up – but what’s the point in that? This is what you’ve been working towards for months, maybe years – and you’re going to give up at the first hurdle?

The first hurdle, I say? What about the writing, editing and all the rest? Sorry to tell you but that’s the easy stuff. You write because you want to, because you love it and/or have a story to tell, a story you just CAN’T keep to yourself. Editing it is a slog but worthwhile. You still have control but getting published? You lose that control.

So, take that response and hug it close. Read that e-mail or letter over and over, go over every detail that you can and look for hints. If you can’t find any then move on. Go for a walk, Run until you physically can’t, listen to loud music, scream at a wall, cry to a friend – d whatever you need to process it.

It’ll make you stronger, trust me.

What next?

Find another publisher, another literary agent, another open call, another competition. Whatever it is you’re looking for, go find it. This is the digital world and most will accept you will submit elsewhere – in some conditions – but make sure you read what their terms are before submitting.

You have to weigh up what’s best for you and your piece. There are other options out there and we’ll discuss in due course.

Thoughts?

UPDATE: The next part is now live – read it here.

Writing Opportunity

This is one of my impromptu posts. Compared to the others, it’ll be much shorter and it has a clear point.

I’m not one to seek out every writing opportunity out there – I definitely do things my way, and it’s different from many other people. I’ll go into that in more detail later. I have been pointed to an opportunity that I think is a good shout, and hopefully you guys will find it interesting, or at least know someone who might! The link to it is at the bottom of the page.

So what is it? The publisher Salt is looking for novellas between 20 and 30 thousand words about life in the city for adults between the ages of 18 and 24. This DOES NOT mean you have to be in that age bracket to enter, rather that’s your target audience. They want relatable characters that tackle the issues faced by this audience, no matter how controversial or dark. That gives you a lot of scope but a direction as well, which is no bad thing.

There’s no closing date, so it’s an open call. That gives you time to plan, research, write and edit. This looks to be a damn good deal so it could give you a chance to break into the writing world if that’s what you want.

Hell, even I’m starting work on this! I’m expecting some strong competition so good luck to you all!

http://blog.saltpublishing.com/2014/01/03/modern-dreams-calling-for-submissions/