Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Realities about What it Takes

Don't read on if you're feeling a bit vulnerable or depressed!

1. It takes time. Lots of time. It can take ten years to get to the point where you are writing publishable work, or it can take ten years to come up with an idea that's new and different. The ten years won't have gone to waste, because during that time you'll have written many words, and the way you write will have been improving and growing and deepening. You'll have come to understand what it truly takes, plot- and character-wise, to write a novel with impact, that resonates with lots of readers. You'll have written all of the dull, dead, done-before ideas out of your system and be discovering that, behind the daily clutter in your life lie many new ideas and voices that you are only just learning to explore. Why ten years? I'm not sure, but I know many writers who say their "overnight success" took ten years. Me, too.

2. It takes time. That's time in every day. A regular writing habit of an hour a day will get you a lot further than one day every two weeks. That's because writing becomes the focus of every day, you start to feel like a writer with a strong commitment, your project is constantly in your thoughts and you are constantly coming up with new ideas for it, to make it better. You don't need to spend a couple of hours working your way back in the voice and the story. It's right there, all the time.
Sandy Fussell has three books coming out this year (her first three, one of which is Samurai Kids). I have just read an interview with her where she says she writes from 10pm-1am every night, because that's the only time in her busy day where she can fit it in. For many people, that would be too hard. For many people, any kind of regular writing commitment is too hard. Not for Sandy. So she has three books coming out.

3. You need to read. Reading feeds your writing like nothing else. Poetry feeds the language in my novels. Crime fiction helps me with plotting. Reading great YA fiction teaches me about voice. A writer is always learning, always working on their craft, and reading as a writer takes you a lot further along this path than anything else. You need a reading commitment, just like your writing commitment. You need to see what else is being published, what publishers consider is the best, what is selling well and think about why. Those writers are giving readers what they want. You have to know what that is, and how to create it yourself.

Gee, all of this is taking up lots of your time, isn't it? You might have to give up some TV, or socialising, or even a bit of sleep.

4. You need to understand the publishing industry. It's a business. It's not there to make you feel better about your writing (although occasionally there are rejection letters that could be a tiny bit more encouraging, perhaps ... nah, we just need a thicker skin). Your submission is not the only one that publisher received this week. It was one of maybe a hundred, or several hundred. With so many to choose from, no wonder publishers are hanging out for the one that sings to them, not just one more competent story among many.

What are you doing to make your novel stand out? How many times have you rewritten it? Do you need a few grammar and punctuation lessons? You're supposed to be professional, so you need to understand that you are competing with thousands of new writers. You're also competing with lots of published writers.

Do you spend $2000 on a new bed because it looks nice and the person who owns the bed company needs a better car? No, you'd buy a bed that gave you a great night's sleep and was good for your back as well. So no one is going to spend $20 or $30 on your book in the shop unless you are going to give them a great story.

Editors and publishers love books. Otherwise they'd be doing something else that paid more money. Yes, they have to fight the bean-counters in the company, and convince marketing to come on board with books that are a bit risky, but they wouldn't do it if they didn't love the books. Make yours one that an editor falls in love with!

5. Whingeing doesn't help. Yes, this is a tough thing to do. Crazy even. Pour your heart and soul into a book and then not be able to get it published. But complaining and blaming other people only makes you feel better for about five minutes, then you feel worse again. Put that energy into writing and reading, into finding out about the industry, into finding other writers for a critique group (if that's what'll help you, and it probably will).
And think about this - any published writer will happily tell you that getting published does not solve all of your problems - they just become different problems!

6. Love the writing. Love the feeling of having written. Love having completed that tricky Chapter 11, even though you were scared you'd stuff it up. Love rewriting and making your words better. Love talking to other writers and encouraging each other. Love reading and discovering new writers. Love creating new voices. Love the writing, and the rest will follow.


Kristi Holl said...

This is a terrific follow-up to yesterday's truth-telling. Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to point my readers to your two-day blog wake-up call.

Sherryl said...

I don't mind at all!
Sometimes I wonder if I sound too mean when I post these things, but I'm just sharing what I've learned over the years, and hoping someone finds it useful.
People try to make being a writer sound all mystical and special, and it is pretty special when you see your book on the shelf, but the rest of it is all about hard work and persistence. Not very mystical or glamorous at all! But it can be intensely satisfying.

Jennifer Thermes said...

Sherryl- You've put so many truths in this post. (And it's not mean sounding, at all!)

I think the sooner you can accept the realities of the business, the sooner you can deal with them and get on with the creative part. (Keep repeating to self-- love and perseverance...)

Sherryl said...

Thanks, Jennifer. You're right about working *with* the realities and not banging your head against them.
We are being kinder to ourselves if we take the business part on board and tackle it professionally.
At the end of the day, when I have written a good amount of words, I celebrate myself - I think that's important too - to feel good about having written!

Anonymous said...

I must admit, I was feeling both vulnerable and depressed but I read on anyway and feel much better for it. I just discovered your blog and enjoyed reading the recent posts. Thank you for speaking truth and spreading hope to writers of every level everywhere. I will definitely be returning for more inspiration and words of wisdom.

Sherryl said...

Janflora, I'm glad I didn't depress you too much, or put you off writing. That means you won't give up easily, which is a great sign!
Keep writing, no matter what, but keep those realities in sight too.