At the doctor’s office recently, I met another writer. We shared the what-do-you-write pleasantries before she shook her head. “I’ve been doing this for three years. How long did your first novel take?”
I grinned. “You don’t want to know.” (It took five years. That doesn’t count the eight years previously spent on writing short pieces while raising children, or the five years before that penning novels in another genre.)
God willing, I have years left to share more stories. But the conversation reminded me of my frustrations when I started out. I eventually completed all six of the following steps, even though it took a long time. I’m a slow learner.
- Settle in for the long haul. This isn’t an easy profession. You have to love it, and you can’t expect instant success. The “overnight success authors” spent days, months, and sometimes years pounding away on their computer keyboards. Expect the same of yourself.
- Locate a tribe. Local writers’ groups exist everywhere. Find one you can join. If one doesn’t exist in your area, and you don’t want to drive, look for a group on-line. It will keep your sanity. There’s nothing quite like chatting with other authors who are facing the same struggles you are.
- Learn the craft. Invest time (and money, if possible) in this venture you’ve undertaken. Libraries have books on writing and sometimes hold author events or workshops. Bookstores do this, as well. Set up a Conference Fund to attend a writer’s workshop or conference, where you can take classes, learn from established writers, and meet publishers, agents, and editors.
- Remember you’re not a special snowflake. This isn’t a derogatory statement. Everyone has a story to tell and a unique voice. But that doesn’t mean you get a pass at everything else. You’ll have to pay your dues. You’ll have to keep your day job (at least for a while). You’ll have to learn to balance writing, family, your day job, personal health, spiritual health, and any messes that pop up. I’m still learning how to deal with the balance issue.
- Allow others to see your work. I know—it’s hard. But everyone starts somewhere. If the group you’re critiquing with seems a bit too harsh, take another objective look. Are you sensitive because this story is your baby? Learn to take critiques with a thick skin, grace, and open ears. If you have to explain a part of your manuscript, it’s not working. Keep your mouth closed and take notes. (Keeping my mouth closed has been an especially difficult lesson for me. Just sayin.’)
- If you don’t have a religion, you should find one. This is an optional rule, but I’ve found it necessary to often ask God for help. Since I’m still learning, I’ve found the prayer please help to be especially necessary and humbling. If you desire to do it all yourself, go ahead. But I prefer to have Someone bigger lead my writing career and support group.
Tuck these steps in your pocket, and you’ll be well-equipped for the fantastic writing journey awaiting you!