Worth Every Sacrifice

Like most artists, the road to becoming a published author is unique for each individual traveling it. But anyone planning for success must also plan for one thing: sacrifice. Whether the path is long and arduous like it was for Michael J. Sullivan, or enviably short like Brandon Mull’s, there is no way forward without surrendering a few things.

It’s Time

The most obvious sacrifice necessary is of time. Regular, consistent, methodical, reliable, scheduled TIME. Many aspiring authors disappear into the ranks of the wistful wishful because they fail to dedicate the necessary time to see their vision through, push through the walls, and lulls in creativity between projects. If you are not committing to regular time for writing in your schedule, then you are not a writer. Even the aspiring kind.

Pride

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something” (The Princess Bride). “Get used to disappointment” (also The Princess Bride). Even some of the biggest best-selling novels in history were rejected many, many times. Harry Potter? 12. A Wrinkle in Time? 26. Kate DiCamillo received a staggering 473 rejection letters for various efforts before publishing Because of Winn-Dixie, arguably one of the most-read books in Middle School. To succeed in publication, one must sacrifice their pride, and recognize that even a well-written manuscript may not be picked up right away for publication. It’s also worth remembering that the quality of the manuscript is (obviously) not determined by how many rejection letters the author receives in the attempt to publish. It may be rejected because of that particular publisher’s goals, what kind of works they are currently interested in publishing, or because it’s just not well represented.

And Prejudice

You’ve just written the best thing you’ve ever attempted. The characters are alive and real to you, the story moves along at a good clip and has some exciting plot twists you’re excited for readers to discover. It’s perfect. With all due respect: nothing is perfect straight out of the gate. As the author you see and live the story in a way no one else can. And there’s the rub. No one else can. Which is why every published author has a favorite editor, and many a forward dedicates some space for gratitude toward their editor(s) for helping make the book the best it could be. The editor’s job is to help draw out your vision and trim back the weeds to bring into focus what the readers need to see to experience your work in the best way possible. Check your pride and author’s prejudice at the door, and let your baby grow up and move out into the world!

Worth It

To live is to sacrifice. Each moment of the day we are choosing how to spend that moment. We are giving up infinite possibilities to choose the one thing we are doing right this minute. If your goal is to be a published author, choose to leave behind whatever is holding you back from that reality. Check your pride at the door an acknowledge that rejection is just part of the process. Not everyone is going to love your work, or have room for it in their lives. That is not a value judgement, it just is. Set aside your personal preferences and listen to a good editor help you refine your work and prepare it for publication. Then get to work. And keep working.

You might be a writer if…

You know you’re a writer if:
You regularly include your tweets as part of your word count.
You spend more time staring at your blinking cursor than actually moving it.
You are afraid the FBI will investigate you based on your search history.
Friends and family have come to understand that anything they say or do can end up immortalized in print.
You have a clearly designated idea notebook into which you tape the napkins and bill envelopes you actually write your story ideas and notes on.
You consider staring into space to be a form of writing.
If you have ever finished a draft and then just deleted it.
If you have changed a major character’s name more than halfway through a story.
If you write poetry and hate always having to explain why some poems don’t rhyme.
 
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found a story you once wrote that is actually pretty good!
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found something you once wrote that is absolutely terrible and unsalvageable.
If someone asks what your story is about and you mumble something incoherent about three other stories that have tiny pieces of similarities to yours.
You have ever been *this* close to finishing a story only to have your brain insist that this other idea is too important not to write *right now*.
If you have ever delighted in fictionally destroying a person who was cruel to you in real life.
If you have ever used the same cup for coffee and wine in the same day.
If sending your novel out to it’s first beta reader is like sending your kid off on his first sleepover.
If the string of letters, “NaNoWriMo”, makes your heart start to race.
If you have ever cried for your own main character’s pain.
If you try to write off lattes at a coffee shop as a work expense.
Have one to add? Send us a comment!

Stop Aspiring to be an Author by Amanda Wayne

Are you an aspiring author? It’s time to stop aspiring and start writing! We live in a busy world. There are only so many hours in the day, and life demands we fill those hours with such tedium as food, sleep, and social interaction. All of those obligations can really take a toll on the aspirations of an author. There are a lucky few people who have the resources to simply sit at a laptop for hours a day and just write with no distractions, no obligations, and no excuses. For the rest of us, there is laundry to fold, hours to work, children to raise, and any number of other things that demand our immediate attention. Fitting a thousand words a day into that can be quite difficult. As with any dream or resolution, achieving success is a matter of planning and execution.

In order to successfully write, you must have the discipline to schedule your keyboard time in around the rest of life. Then, of course, you have to follow through with that schedule. Having carved out those minutes or hours, you must protect them and treat them as a precious, necessary item. Perhaps you write best in the morning. Set your alarm for an hour earlier, pour yourself a large cup of coffee and write. If you thrive in the late hours of the night, put your house to rest and settle in for a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. If neither of those are an option, perhaps you could write during a morning carpool, on the bus, or on a lunch break. You could schedule a block of time every Saturday morning, Thursday during soccer practice, or Sunday after The Walking Dead. It bears repeating that you must protect that time. Don’t short yourself the time you need to be successful. If this is important to you, you must make it happen.

A support system is crucial for writing. There is a reason so many first novels are dedicated to children and spouses. Let your family know that you need their support and their tough love. It can be a powerful motivator to have a spouse who is willing to tell you that you should be writing instead of surfing social media for cute cats or funny videos. Have your children ask how many pages you wrote today and give them a truthful answer. Their excitement or disappointment can be critical. Let your friends into your literary world. Involve them as Alpha readers or bounce story ideas off of them. Not only will their advice be helpful, but it can also give you something new to discuss over coffee or wine.    A plot twist or character arc can really add some life into otherwise dull and rote conversations. Perhaps pick a friend’s brain about how they would handle the issues that your characters face. Inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places.

When writer’s block strikes and you simply cannot get yourself to express even a single sentence, it is time for something new. Change which story you are working on. Find a quick prompt to get the words flowing. Take your laptop to a coffee shop and journal about the patrons there. Try jotting phrases free hand instead of on your computer. Compose a poem about falling leaves or the scent of coffee. Construct a dating site profile for your main character. Blog about what you ate for dinner last night. The important part isn’t the words, it is the communication of ideas into something concrete. The act of writing gets your brain into the mindset of writing. Even if you keep nothing from these efforts, you still put pen to paper, and that is a far better use of your time than “liking” pictures of your best friend’s cat.

In the end, it is unlikely that anyone in the world cares about your dreams more than you do. If you can’t find the time or discipline to write, you will never be a writer. Your stories will suffocate in the dark of your mind. They will stay locked inside of that place in you where fictional characters live before they are born of ink and word.  Free them from the confines of “could have been”.  Make time to write. Make yourself accountable.  Be a writer. Not an aspiring writer.

 

What Kind of Writer Are You, Anyway? by Josh Smith

What kind of writer are you? Are you the type who can kick out a book a year, pad it a few short stories, and still manage to keep up on your emails? Maybe you’re a writer who labors meticulously on a single project for the better part of a decade. Do you drift somewhere in the median? There is no wrong answer, but understanding your natural tendencies, methods, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses will help you approach your writing from a more tactful place and help you direct your career into one that not only best suits you, but one that is more rewarding.

The first thing to consider is the rate at which you work. Everyone’s situations, routines, motivations, and abilities are different, but it’s good to understand where you fall on the spectrum of prolificacy. Some writers can dedicate long daily stretches to writing while others wait until their families are tucked into bed before hunkering down and toiling late into quiet nights to pursue their passion projects. Even considering wide schedule disparities, both types of writers could very well end up with a comparable heap of words. No matter the circumstances surrounding your writing, you know better than anyone if you are constantly firing on all cylinders and churning out waves of exceptional prose or whether you meticulously select each word, craft each phrase, and chart the rhythm of each passage to the pace of an unhurried muse.  Perhaps you fall somewhere in between. It is even possible that you fluctuate wildly between these poles. None of these approaches is wrong in any way, but it is important to recognize which one is YOU.

If you are feeling insecure about your word count, whether you feel you create too little over long periods, or you find that you overproduce and worry about slipping quality, consider ways in which you might leverage these factors to your advantage. For the slow writer, perhaps you have embarked on your project prematurely. This is more likely the case if you notice a decrease in your regular output. In this situation, it’s best to take a step back, make detailed notes and a thorough outline. If you lean toward visual thinking, draw some diagrams, or perhaps a map, but be careful not to let a tool become a distraction. Let the story you are telling guide you, but always be aware whether it is pulling or you have begun to push. If you’ve got every detail together but can’t seem to find the words to bring them to life, the problem could lie with your routine or your state of mind. Try setting aside a dedicated, uninterrupted block of time at least three days a week depending on the scale of your venture. Take care of all lingering chores and responsibilities and work out an agreement with your family or roommate(s) that will allow you to dig in without distraction. It may help to begin each session with a brief meditation. Still distracted? Many writers turn off their Wi-Fi or surrender their phones so as not to succumb to the pull of constant connectivity. If your work is deeply complex and multi-tiered, make sure you stay organized and keep any notes easily accessible during writing sessions and keep in mind a loose plan of attack when you begin. Avoid falling into research while you are writing, but jot down anything you need to look into and take care of it in advance of your next scheduled production period. Perhaps none of these instances apply to you—fear not! You may just require more time to properly translate your concepts from thought to text. If that is the case, stick with it and be mindful of moments of clarity. Remember how you reached them and use that information to curate an environment conducive to your particular mode of creativity.

If you are writing so much that it feels the story is going off the rails or meandering into too many unnecessary details, you might just need a side project to sate your creative impulse. An ideal option is getting into a freelance writing gig. Whether it is with a local paper or magazine or an online venue, there are paying jobs out there for the productive, timely writer! Start with areas of interest, such as book, album, or film reviews, or perhaps you have journalistic leanings and would like to write about events in your community. This path is not for all writers, but if output is your specialty, it can help you with focus and teach an economy of language that is best learned through experience. If this holds no appeal for you, start a blog! If you’re feeling a little insecure, you can always keep it anonymous, and it doesn’t need to be something you share with everyone, or anyone, for that matter. You have free reign on topics, no deadlines, no, length, style, or format restrictions. This is your chance to exercise all those excess ideas. When the time comes to sit down with the next short story or that novel that’s been wobbling around in your head, your focus will be in the right place. Not interested in blogging? You can also start mapping out your next project. If your writing stays on topic but you’re producing bloated, opaque slabs of text, get comfortable with killing your darlings. The prolific writer must also become the astute editor, or at least know an astute editor who can be trusted to amplify essentials and eradicate excess.

However you write, regardless of genre or format, intimately understanding your approach will provide critical insight on how to decide which ideas to pursue and how to present your completed works. It’s important not to pander to markets just because they are hot, but don’t pass up an opportunity to take advantage when they bend into your sphere. It may be tempting for fast writers to set their sights on churning out the next Game of Thrones, but adding to the noise leads to over-saturation and substandard work, not huge sales and global acclaim. If you’re looking for a mega-hit, remember that Harry Potter and Twilight weren’t riding the coattails of other works, they were exploring ideas that had not fully permeated popular culture. Instead of bandwagon-hopping, take a step back and consider the format and whether your productivity level would be an asset or a hindrance. A long book series is a smart goal for prolific writers, but write what you love, not what you think other people might love based on the popularity of another franchise. Slower writers should note that novellas and short novels have become increasingly popular in recent years and can be an ideal gateway for new readers. This is an exciting development because a novella can be anything you want it to be. Any genre or topic, standalone or series is an opportunity to make a big leap into the literary world without the daunting length of a traditional novel.

This path is yours and yours alone, so be mindful of its many twists, turns, and detours as you embark. Work to understand yourself and your potential; think about what you hope to achieve. Our literary dreams don’t always shake out as envisioned, but having a general direction will help guide you away from the many distractions and pitfalls you’ll encounter in your pursuit!