If you want to be a published author, you better learn to suck it up.
I was naive when I started out. I thought a vivid imagination and the ability to tell a story from start to finish was all it took to be a writer. Well, that and a little luck in the form of landing on the right editor's desk, at the right time. It was only when those stars aligned and I was published that I discovered how much more it takes to succeed. Having then crashed and burned, and while now trying to rebuild my career, I can add to that list. So, if you're sitting comfortably, let's begin...
Stuck for something to write cos all the best stories have already been told, you've talked yourself into believing you have nothing new to say or think there isn't a place for your story in in the marketplace, so it would be hard to sell?
Suck it up.
According to those in the know, there are only seven basic plots and they have been told and re-told over and over again since we shared stories around a campfire. What will make your story different is YOU. It'll be told in your voice, from your perspective, with your beliefs, hopes, dreams and fantasies woven into it. If that's not enough for you, then take a familiar trope and turn it on its head or re-write an old (not copyrighted!) story from days gone by from a modern point of view or use something you've experienced personally or something you read about/saw in an article/news report that made you think What If...? There are seedlings of stories everywhere. So, hunt those suckers down.
As for there not being a place for your story in the marketplace, the times they've a-changed, my friend. So, if a trad publisher or agent isn't interested in your story, then self-publish. It might not be easy to categorize it but you can cross genres with the metadata and some clever marketing and if its a great story and you follow it up with more great stories, word will spread. Did J.K. Rowling wait for the wizard market to open up before pushing Harry Potter? Did George R.R. Martin wait for winter to get here before writing about whitewalkers? I have dozens of these if you need more. Just sayin.
Can't find time to write cos you have a day job and family/kid/friend commitments you can't ignore and all the other day-to-day stuff that consumes every ounce of your energy and turns you into an extra from The Walking Dead?
Suck it up.
Get organized, get yourself into a routine and stick to it. Prioritize what matters most to you and delegate where at all possible. Yes, things can get manic from time-to-time and yes, there are days when you need jammies, a duvet and a Netflix marathon to stay sane. But if you want to be a writer, you can't let those days become weeks and months. You've gotta write.
If you have a day job, focus on it while you're there but don't bring it home if you're not paid for the overtime. Carry a notepad and pen with you everywhere, so you can jot down a few lines during your breaks or outline a scene or write a conversation between characters using nothing but dialogue. Remember every word counts, even if you don't use it in the final draft. If you're a morning person, go to bed an hour earlier so you can get up an hour earlier and write. If you're a night owl, step away from the TV/Netflix and write. Make sure all your family and friends know your writing time can not be disturbed because it matters to you. If you matter to them, they will give you that time. In return, you will pledge to give them the time they need to do something that matters to them. Communicate. Negotiate. Bribe. Steal time from a chore that won't cause the world to end if its done later rather than sooner. Be selfish if that's what it takes. But whatever you do, once you make time to write, don't waste it. Prep a work space free of distractions. Put your phone on silent (no vibrations!). Turn off the internet, sit down and WRITE.
Stuck on a scene, know in your gut there's a problem but can't pin it down, avoiding writing by spending time on Social Media and Googling pics of your hero/heroine or find yourself staring at a blinking cursor without a single word in your head?
Suck it up.
If you're stuck or can't pin down a problem, move the hell on. Write the scenes that are clearest in your mind, even if they're out of order. Write dialogue only conversations. Write key moments or turning points. The more you write, the better you'll know your characters and what needs to happen to get them to their final destination. When you have a bunch of scenes, you can back-track, fix the mistakes and fill in the gaps. Words on the page are still words, even if you end up deleting half of them.
Get. Off. The. Internet. If you need pics of your hero and heroine for a visual, do it when you're prepping to write, NOT when you've started. Worried about your Social Media presence, then spend a few hours scheduling things in advance so it looks like you're online, even when you're not. And if the blinking cursor has become your nemesis or you find yourself editing the crap out of every word you've already written before you can write something new, step away from the keyboard. Use good old-fashioned pen and paper and write in the park, at the beach, in a coffee shop or at your local library. Just WRITE.
Think every word you've written is crap, no-one will want to read your story and you're wasting your time dreaming of being a published author?
Suck it up.
Every writer has at least one moment per book, sometimes per scene, when they think what they've written is crap. Fact is, it may be crap. But like I've said, words are words and once you have them, you can fix them. You've gotta wade through the crap to get to the good stuff. At some point, you'll hit a part where you think Hey! That doesn't stink so bad. You may even experience a Damn, I'm good! moment. And if you laugh out loud or cry when your characters get emotional, you're doing something right. First drafts can be craptastic. Doesn't matter so long as you finish the damn book. Second drafts involve a lot of shit shoveling via the delete key. Set it to one side for a few days before you make a third pass at it and you might be pleasantly surprised by what you've got. Think of writing a book in terms of a relationship and familiarity can breed contempt. But over time, with better understanding, you can find a way to make it work.
Don't think anyone will want to read it, then give it to people to read and listen to what they say. These people are called beta readers. Want a fellow writer to tell you whether or not it sucks and give you advice to make it better, then you need a critique partner. Need an impartial person with distance from the story to pick up on all your grammar and continuity mistakes, you're in editor territory. Know the difference. Decide what you need from them. Tell them from the get-go. Be prepared not to like everything you are told but take it on the chin like a pro. (I'll have more words of wisdom on this subject next time) But look at it this way, if you've got to the stage where you're stressing over everything in this paragraph, then chances are you've finished a story. And that, is cause for celebration!
Bottom line: Writing isn't easy. And not everyone succeeds. But if you want to be a writer, the first step is to suck it up, stop making excuses and WRITE. There's no way round it and no-one can do it for you, unless you have money to burn and can hire a ghost writer to write for you. Even then, you're not a writer. You're just a name. And appearing on reality TV or committing a murder is probably a quicker way of getting one of those.
Next week, we talk prepping a book for submission and/or publication. And in the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, let me know below or track me down on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.