Advice: guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action.
On occasion I get questions from one source or another about writing. Many of these are prompted by “interviews” for web sites that promote books. One such question was; “what advice would I give someone who was thinking about writing their first novel?” Generally, I respond to these in kind of a casual way, more or less assuming nobody actually reads the answers. But for this one I was stumped, it seemed to deserve a more serious answer.
One of the first things I learned about writing was that it’s hard. So maybe I should pass that along—hey, this is hard and more than likely will cost you money and a huge amount of time. You might self-publish something and have the first review on your Amazon page be by someone who thinks; “This book is terrible. There are punctuation errors and my goodness this author sure needs a better spell checker. The cover sucked.” You have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to produce this masterpiece and the first review just tossed it into the trash. My advice is; don’t do it!
Okay that would be a bit snarky. So what would my advice be?
Expect disappointment, but never give up. Sure the hard work is more like digging a forever ditch than anything creative, but there are wonderful rewards for doing something that is uniquely you. Nobody else can write the book you write. It may be great or may be not so great, but it is yours. Tell a story you have in your head and be proud of the results. The number one way of becoming a good (and successful) writer is to write.
I’ve written before about practicing to be creative. That idea seems counter to what we think of in producing something creative. We want a burst of creative genius, not hard work or practice—but the dirty little secret is that most creative activity, from writing, to art, to singing, to dance is based on effort and practice.
In my circle of family, friends and acquaintances there are people who believe I write a book over the weekend. They have never said that; but by what they do say– it is apparent they think writing is based on talent and happens in a flash. If you have talent you just dash out a 300-page book like it was nothing. I’ve tried to correct that misconception with information about the hours it takes to write a book. For me it is usually about three months of writing, but often that writing is interrupted by periods of no activity. This can be just the outside world needing my attention or it can be writers block. I have written books from beginning to end without any delays; that would be the three months I mentioned, others have taken much longer. Usually when I give out this real information, I get looks that suggest they don’t believe me, and I’m just trying to make what I do sound harder than it really is. My list of family, friends and acquaintances that I talk to is steadily getting smaller every day.
After my private writing part of the book is “finished”, it is only the first draft. Currently my books are going through months of editing by up to three editors. This could be because I’m a sloppy author and if I was better this wouldn’t be needed. But all professionally prepared books are edited at some level or another. And then you have cover design and other aspects of publishing. All and all, at least for me, it is about six months from start to finish—assuming none of those writer’s block demons drop in. Of course there are examples of great works taking the author years and years or maybe, even decades. That is dedication!
Writing a book is not easy. It is hard work. Once all of the work is completed and you have a finished product there is a great sense of accomplishment and pride. The author knows better than anyone the effort it took to complete. Now you publish and submit it to the public. Unless you’re a proven, known author you have no idea what will happen. You work on promotions and marketing and hopefully sell some books. Then you see the bad review; highlighted, one star, standing out like a sore thumb –saying you wasted your time. You’re a moron.
If you do something creative that is subject to this sort of criticism, then you will understand the angst that is created by someone, who may or may not have any ability to objectively comment on anything, who says whatever they want regarding something you spent hours, days, months and often years creating. In a matter of minutes, they can turn that effort into a hurtful, ugly feeling of self-doubt. Tiny bit of more advice—ignore them; all of them (except those wonderful, obviously accurate 5 star reviews).
Write every day, seven days a week and never worry about what some faceless person says—it’s your story to tell how you see fit. Stay true to yourself, study your craft and write the next damn bestseller. Screw everything else. The more you write; the better it gets.
Thanks for being a reader!