I recently had a message from a reader on social media and it went a little like this.
Them: I just wanted to say thank you for writing your books, they are wonderful and I really wish I could write like you! Me: Thank you so much for reaching out and saying so, I really appreciate that. I’m sure your writing is brilliant! Them: No, I’m no good. I can’t finish anything, I don’t like what I have written when I do write. I don’t have any talent.
I spoke to the reader for a while to encourage them to write more. In doing so; I came to a few realisations of my own. I thought I would share them with you all, just in case anyone finds any of this mental dribbling in any way useful.
Firstly, some background. I’m currently writing my eighth book. My first book was published two years ago. Since then I have developed a system for writing and publishing which works for me. Along the way I have learned a lot, I have had successes and I’ve had failures. I never wanted to be a published author, sometimes I have to remind myself that I am one. I’ve discovered a lot about myself, about writing, and about publishing. Hopefully, some of this will help others to reach their own writing goals.
In the words of Baz Luhrmann from the song Sunscreen, I shall dispense this advice… now…
You are not as bad as you think
I have never written a book and thought “this is great” the whole way through. There are always times when I hate what I’m writing and wonder if it is any good. I have to constantly remind myself that I seem to be able to write, and that people seem to like my books. Most authors seem to come across these moments where they feel they are terrible at writing, and wonder if they should even bother continuing. Some call this author imposter syndrome. Some just label themselves as bad. It’s worth remembering that almost every author has these thoughts, even the ones who you respect the most and consider literary geniuses.
Following on from the above, personally, I find it important to not stop writing. If you stop working on a project and pick up another one, you are giving yourself permission to quit when you don’t like something, or when it becomes hard. If you do this enough you will be left with a number of unfinished manuscripts and nothing to show for hours of work. If you push through and finish a project, you will have a manuscript that you can work with, something you can edit and polish until it is what you want it to be.
Take advice with a pinch of salt
Everyone wants to give out advice in the world of writing and publishing. I’m doing it right now. The key is to listen to people, but take the advice with a pinch of salt. The publishing world is vast and varied. What works for one person, might not work for another. If you try to take every piece of advice you are given, you’ll tie yourself in knots trying to figure out what the best thing to do is. It’s best to try different approaches based on the advice you are given and figure out what works for you.
It’s a big industry
I’ve heard a few people tell me “categorical facts” about the publishing industry, they say that no readers like x or the trend is for all books to include y. But the publishing industry is vast, even within small genres. There are some hard and fast rules but often it’s best to remember that there is scope outside the “rules”. Don’t let industry experts tell you what’s what… find out for yourself. As with the above, listen to what people say but decide for yourself if it’s true or not. What works for one person, might not work for another.
What is your definition of success?
Some people provide guidance based upon their definition of success, which may differ from yours. Do you want fame, money, glory, awards, all of the above? Some people want to make a living off of writing, some people want to win a literary award. Some just want to publish a book. These are all perfectly reasonable definitions of success. Decide what yours is and keep that in mind at all times.
Finishing a book is hard
It just is. If it were easy, we’d all have countless books written and published. Starting a book is super easy, continuing with a book is tough. But finishing a book… wow. But you can. Everyone has the potential to do it. So, finish the book.
You probably shouldn’t design your own cover
Cover design is a professional job, most people can’t do it. Many people with design and/or marketing experience will try to design their own covers. You probably shouldn’t.
You can’t proofread your own work
Always get an editor. It costs money but it’s better than selling a book that is full of errors. You will never, ever be able to accurately proof your own work. If you don’t want to pay to have your book edited and proofed… publish it for free. Don’t ask people to pay for that. And while your proofreader is working on your manuscript… you can write your next book.
Not everyone will like your books, that doesn’t mean you can’t write
It’s a fact of life that some people will not like your books. But then some people like pineapple on pizza. In fact, I saw a menu where you can get banana on a savoury pizza. Banana. We’re all different, we like different things. Just because one, or several, reader(s) don’t like your book… it doesn’t mean you can’t write. So… write.
Some reviewers are just plain mean
Reviewers can give and reviewers can take away. Some will give you a five-star review that will make you smile so hard your cheeks hurt. Some will make you cry. Some reviewers genuinely don’t think that the author will ever read their review and can be quite scathing. Some are just mean-spirited people who like the popularity they get through writing pithy, yet cruel, commentaries about books they didn’t like. So, even if they didn’t like your last book… forget ’em. Write your next book.
Some readers will become great friends
For every shitty review, there’s a reader who reaches out and becomes a friend. I’ve met so many great people since I started to write.
There’s more than one way to write a book
Writing books is about finding what works for you. Some people are plotters, some are pantsers. Some live in a halfway world. Some people write in order, some write out of order. Some use Scrivner, some use Word. Find what works for you. But, whatever you do, don’t stop. Finish that damn book.
Don’t spend too much time planning… start writing
Planning can be a great thing. It stops you from writing yourself into a corner, it helps you to spend your writing time more wisely. But planning can also be an excuse to not start the writing process. Sometimes when you’re researching ways for street lights to work in your dystopian science fiction world… you’re just procrastinating and you need to stop and start writing the damn book.
You will break your body if you write enough
Sitting at a desk for a long time will break your body. Shoulders, arms, wrists, back… you name it… you will break it if you don’t get up and move around now and then. But don’t move too much, write the damn book.
Other authors are not your competition
There are loads of readers. LOADS. Even in small genres. Other authors are your friends, your colleagues. Working with them is important to help reach new readers and to help grow the community. You are not in direct competition with other authors. Readers don’t buy one book a year. Work with other people. Write your book. Finish your book. Work with other authors.
You CAN do it
You just can. I’m telling you now that you can. Don’t think about it as writing a book. Think of it as telling a story, a few words at a time. Write a thousand words a day, you’ll have a book in a couple of months. That’s achievable for everyone. Just don’t stop. You can do it. Write the damn book. Ignore the bad reviews. Speak to your fans. Work with other authors. Don’t proofread your own work. Listen to advice but decide what works for you. Don’t stop. Write the book.