10 Things 2018 Has Taught Me About Being a Writer
1. Writing and Publishing are pursuits that require extraordinary patience.
Writing your book takes as long as it takes. You cannot rush it. You can be disciplined, and have a plan, and work to your deadline if you have one, but in the end, you and your book have to be 'ready' before they will find their place on a shelf. Your first draft might take you two years, or it might only be four months. You might have to write sixteen drafts, not counting any redrafting that is going to take place after someone agrees to publish you. It is extremely rare that you will be able to write something, polish it once and then have someone offer you a publishing deal. (If this does happen to you, well done, and what is your secret please?) Likewise, pitching your book to agents and publishers takes time; time spent preparing submissions and writing synopses, researching who and where to send things to, and then waiting for responses. In short, you are going to have to be patient. Try to forget that you are waiting for emails if you can. I can't, and have been known to check my email every half hour on the hour when I am waiting for responses.
2. The most important asset is a supportive community.
We are lucky in Perth. The community is small, and pretty much everyone is warm and generous with their time and advice and wants to see others succeed. It can be incredibly buoying to spend time with other writers, whether that be in a small informal writing group, at events, over coffee. Plus, spending time building up the confidence of others can really put things into perspective for you. Every time I chat with another writer who is having a crisis of faith and struggling with their writing, I think back later about all the kind things I have said to them about giving themselves time and cutting themselves some slack and about the writing itself being the most important part and I think "Why can't I apply this same sort of thinking to myself." Positivity begets positivity, and creativity multiplies in much the same way. If you can, try to spend time chatting about writing and ideas with someone who inspires you on a regular basis, then come home and write while you're still experiencing that inspirational high.
3. At the end of the day, you have to have written something you are proud of.
I'm not going to be on my deathbed one day stressing about a bad review, but if I rush to publish my book when it's not yet fit to be published, I'm sure I'll regret that. I need to be as happy with anything I publish as I possibly can be. I have to have written something that I enjoyed writing, and something that I stand by. Something that I would be proud to talk about at a Writers' Festival. Something I would be proud to have one of my favourite authors read.
4. Every writer is special and no one is.
Think about how many hundreds of submissions publishers receive a year. A month even. Every manuscript has been crafted by a writer who has poured their soul into their work, given up social occasions, possibly skipped meals to write. Every single manuscript is special. Every single writer is special, because they've done the work, finished the thing, and had the guts to submit it. Publishing is competitive. The Australian market is oversupplied with manuscripts to choose from. I'm sure in some cases, more debut authors are submitting manuscripts than Australian books are actually being purchased. It may seem like every other month, publishing is touting the arrival of another 'Chosen One', the hit debut of the year, but once, that person was another manuscript on a busy publisher's desk. It's all just marketing. Leave that to the marketing department. Be realistic. Give your book the best possible chance you can, and then be a grown up if it's a no. That doesn't mean that you can't cry or be upset or disappointed. But don't go writing terrible reviews on that publisher's books out of spite either.
5. It's important to celebrate the little victories.
Hitting 50 000 words. Finishing something. Submitting something. These are all huge, and you deserve a reward for achieving them. Don't use awards, shortlists, getting published as your only benchmarks for how 'good' you are. Just writing something is a big deal. How many people never finish a novel, or never even start?
6. A disciplined approach is your best friend.
Ever made it to a six day in a row writing streak and realised that writing your book is getting easier? Ever taken a week off and discovered it's really hard to pick up where you left off? Everyone writes differently, but if you make a plan that works for you (half an hour a night maybe) you train your brain to work when it's work time.
7. Buy (or borrow from a library) debut books and shout out about the ones you love.
There are some amazing writers publishing in Australia, and many of the best books I have read this year have been by first time authors. Spread a little goodwill, and let your friends know about new authors you've discovered. Recommend them for your book club; tweet about them; review them on Goodreads. Reading new books in your genre will help you get a sense of what publishers are interested in, will inspire and entertain you, and will give you that warm fuzzy feeling that lets you know you're helping out a fellow writer.
8. Other people's success does not take anything away from you.
It's okay to be disappointed when you're not shortlisted for something. But it's also okay to be happy for other writers when they are. In fact, I recommend it. It's better for your mental health!
I really like that quote, "Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie."(Attribution unknown.) I think that applies here in a similar sort of way. There will be other opportunities! And remember, we're a community. When one of us succeeds, we all do.
9. Publishing has trends but if you try to write to one, you'll probably miss it.
Trends in publishing move fast. Remember vampire novels? Literary rewrites with zombies in them? Write the book you'd most like to read first and foremost. Who knows, maybe your book will be the one that starts the next trend. If you manage to, well done! Again, this sort of thing is best left to marketing types to figure out later. They're the experts. Let them do their thing when the time comes and focus on writing a book that you would be super excited to read if you weren't its author.
10. The only way to ever truly be out of the running is to take yourself out of it.
You might not get this book published, or the next one, or the one after that, but as long as you keep writing books, you are still in with a chance. You have options. You can self publish. You can write something else. You can rewrite your book for the eleven-hundredth time. The only difference between writers who eventually get published and writers who don't is that the writers who don't stop trying.
If 2018 has been a trying year for you as a writer, you're not alone. I hope that good things are around the corner for you-- for us all. Keep your head high, and keep doing what you love.