Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Too-Pratical Maybe-Blunt Advice To Writers

Writing is a tough business. And there's a lot of advice out there and inspirational stuff. Sometimes, I just want to give the advice that maybe isn't so romantic but has gotten me through the rough spots. So I'm doing that today. Take it for what you will—the advice of a slightly-jaded, midlist author.

In no particular order:

If You're Writing Something "Different," Brace Yourself For A Long Haul
Publishers say they are looking for unique, fresh, new, etc. And I think maybe in their minds they genuinely do want that…as long as they can also be sure it's marketable and will sell and isn't too big of a risk. You might be thinking, "Well, that's a bit of a Catch-22—unique and fresh is usually unpredictable and risky."

Well yes, there in lies the problem. Not to say nothing unique and fresh gets through, but you might not be selling that book in 2 days, you know? And the more you deviate from "commercial" the harder it will be to find a place for your book, even if you're a great writer.

Write What You Love, Sure, But Don't Expect That Will Equate To Sales
I am a big proponent of being passionate about what you're writing. I have to love my work because I spend so much time with it. Feeling that excitement over a project is irreplaceable. A treasure.

Just…try to tear that idea away from the one where you will make bank on those ideas you love. Maybe you will, but lots of people write what they love and they write it well and those books fall into the nether of obscurity. All the time. And, well, that's okay. It's okay if your amazing book isn't a bestseller. Join The Club Of 99.9% Of Authors Not On The Bestseller List. It's fine here. Not the end of the world by any measure.

Hard Work Doesn't Always Pay Off
This was one of the most difficult concepts for me to accept about being a writer. In non-creative occupations, it's a pretty simple thing—work your ass off, see results. In a creative pursuit, you could work yourself into the ground and never see results. Hell, you could be an amazing writer and never sell to the Big 5. Because you as a writer, writing what you love, are writing something "too different." This happens all the time.

This is why I have other hobbies where my work actually pays off in a logical manner. I exercise, and I get strong. I cook, and there's a good meal to eat. It keeps me sane, because writing is sometimes like exercising and cooking but without getting stronger or being able to eat.

Make Writer Friends—They Will Understand You
Being a writer is something not all people understand. We're weird people. We live in our heads a lot. People who don't do that can have a hard time empathizing with all the things a writer deals with. Having friends who are also writers saves me. They get me. It's fabulous.

Keep Your Day Job. Nay, Learn To Love Your Day Job.
OR have a spouse with a day job who loves you very much. Because writing, if you do make money at it, probably won't pay all your bills. And if you get there, it will take a long time (I'm in year 8 of pursuing publication, in year 3 of making some money, certainly nowhere near a viable amount). Even if you are lucky enough to get that "dream deal," there are no guarantees you will earn out or even sell again at that level. Always have a back up plan. Be frugal.

Sometimes You Have To Cut Your Losses
I've grown to kind of dislike the "Never Give Up" advice. Sometimes you gotta give up on something to move forward. Maybe not on writing as a whole, but on a story idea that is not strong enough to hold its own. Or on a novel that's been on sub two years. Or on that first novel you ever wrote that has seen 200 rejections. Moving on can open up a new world. I've done it a lot. Never regretted it. If you find yourself pining over something from the past, you can always go back, too.

Your Book Is Your Baby. To Your Publisher, It's A Product.
Publishers need to make money on the books they buy, plain and simple. Of course they have to like what they buy, but the bottom line is…there's a bottom line. No matter how much your editor loves you or your book, if you aren't selling, well, things will get sad. It will maybe make you feel worthless, which isn't true but it will be hard to feel otherwise. It's the reality of putting a price on your creativity.

Live Somewhere Cheap
We've heard this one plenty of times, and it's very sound advice. I'm pretty poor in Utah as a writer, but I'd be downright destitute as a writer in, say, California. So live somewhere that will let your meager dollars go further.

Luck Is A Thing
It really is. Of course there is also skill involved, but most professional writers are already very good at what they do. It's very difficult for anyone to tap into what will resonate with the market, to predict what people will buy in droves and what they will ignore. It's a total crap shoot. Everyone wants it not to be one, but accepting this is very important.

Keep Your Options Open
Publishing is an ever-changing beast. Trends go in and out like waves. Editors hop houses all over. Agents leave the business. More than ever, stuff in publishing is changing at a rapid pace. As a writer, it's important to be flexible, adaptable, and to keep an open mind. Look at all the avenues to publication as possible to you, depending on what a particular novel requires.

Learn All The Things You Possibly Can
Writers always strive to improve. I think it's an amazingly admirable quality we possess. There is never a "point of arrival." We are all perpetual students of the writing craft, and taking every opportunity to learn is never a waste of time. Never rest on your laurels, because all the writers around you are working to get better.

Take Your (And Others') Mental Health Seriously
Mental illness is a Big Deal in the writing community. Recent studies out of Sweden showed that writers have up to a 50% higher chance of suicide than non-writer people. That's…scary, guys. Depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, and more have been shown to be more common among creative types, and as far as I can see within my own writing circles this is true. I know a lot of writers who struggle with mental health—myself included.

So if you are planning to make this a career, learn about mental health issues. If not for yourself, for all the other writers you may meet who face these every day. Be sensitive and respectful to it, because chances are you will talk with multiple people daily who have these conditions.

Eyes On Your Own Paper. Reviews Included.
The worst thing about the internet is that you can see what all the other writers are doing and getting and where they are going and who loves them. Envy is a real thing. There was a recent study in Business Insider that named writing the #2 most competitive job. It creates a stressful, smile-in-public-but-growl-in-private type work environment. The more you can focus on your own stuff and block out the rest, the better.

Have Fun
I may be a jaded, practical type writer nowadays, but I still believe in the merits of having fun with your work. Because c'mon, writing for a job—if you can manage to make it a job—is pretty awesome. I started writing because I had FUN doing it. Sure, sometimes I really, really don't have fun, but if I can get out of my own self-doubt cycle I really do love what I write. Of course I do, otherwise I wouldn't spend all that time with it in the first place. Let go and let yourself have fun. Even when you're editing.

Be Proud Of What You Do At Every Stage
When reviews start coming out, when you see all the amazing stories others create, it can be very easy to get self-conscious and to maybe decide our stories aren't worthy of being out there. We can forget that we wrote a story we loved to the best of our ability—and that is a serious accomplishment. Since I'm writing my 17th novel, I often forget how big of a deal it is to do all this. I start to think what I do is commonplace.

But it isn't. There really aren't that many people in the world who can write a novel. And there aren't that many who end up editing and publishing that novel. Sometimes when you get into the writing community it feels like EVERYONE in the whole world writes, but they don't. So be proud of yourself. Hell, chances are there will be a lot of people trying to tear you down out there—don't spend your time tearing yourself apart on the inside, too.



54 comments:

  1. Fantastic honest post. Why in the world did I become a writer again? Haha.

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    1. Haha, right? Because we didn't know. That's kinda the beauty of being a greenie. I miss that sometimes! Ignorance is totally bliss;)

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  2. This is so helpful, and much needed. Thank you Natalie.

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  3. Natalie, I always love your frank posts. As a still aspiring author (with a day job!) posts like this are sometimes a bit daunting. But I appreciate the shot of realism. And ultimately, if posts like this are enough to turn me away from writing, then maybe I'm not writing for the right reasons.

    By the way, I had a friend from Australia tell me how much she enjoyed Transparent, so even if your books aren't making beaucoup bucks, they're making people happy. :)

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    1. Aw, thanks! And that is the real dream—someone else enjoying your story. It never gets old to hear someone did, even if it's not millions:)

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  4. The "hard work doesn't always pay off" one really struck home with me. Well, and all of it really. Being a writer IS daunting. But a worthy pursuit too. Thank you for sharing this with us!

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  5. Great post! Thanks for sharing this!

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  6. As a newly published writer I agree with every single word. Everyone that wants to be a writer should read this, just so they'd know what they're getting themselves into. ;-)

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  7. This sentence: Sometimes when you get into the writing community it feels like EVERYONE in the whole world writes, but they don't.

    I needed this sentence. I feel like that's such a true statement. I feel like that. And then immediately feel like, "If everyone else writes, why should I?" Thanks for being a constant source of honestly AND encouragement!

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  8. You're such a smart cookie! ... haha... cookie... But definitely good things to keep in mind!

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  9. I love this. Thank you! I'm one of those crazies who chooses to write "something different". It's what's right for me, but alas, it is indeed a long haul. It always helps knowing I'm not alone (hooray for writer-friends!), and this post helps, too. :)

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  10. This is so great! I love the reality and I'm glad you didn't hold anything back. Thanks :)

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  11. "writing is sometimes like exercising and cooking but without getting stronger or being able to eat."
    :-D
    Oh, wow. So true!

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  12. Oh, man. THANK YOU for this, Natalie. It resonates on every level, and it was beautifully said.

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  13. This is probably some of the best writing advice I've read for aaaaages! BRILLIANT.

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  14. The mental health one is HUGE. And I think it gets even worse when you write full-time---at least for me.

    Great, honest post, as always! :-)

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  15. I kept thinking of that Emily Dickinson poem while reading your post
    If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.
    Maybe you won't be loved and praised by millions and readers. But to me, success means entertaining one seventh grader in study hall. Success means making one reader laugh and another cry. The books that have made the biggest impact on me weren't bestsellers.

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  16. Excellent tips, Natalie, particularly about mental health in writers.

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  17. You're just too awesome for words. Thanks for another great [honest] post, Natalie!

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  18. Dude. You nailed it. And also, I MISS all my writer friends for the same reasons you mentioned. Can't wait for the next time we can all get together. Hugs!

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  19. Wow, Natalie, a fantastic post. So,so, true, on all points. Thanks!

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  20. Ah, Natalie...you little genius you. This is brilliant. You are brilliant. :)

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  21. This is fantastic! And painfully accurate.

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  22. This is amazing and inspiring and I'm going to print it out and tape it on my wall.
    Or, y'know, I would if I could afford to buy more printer ink. :X

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  23. It's like you're inside my head. *hugs this post*

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  24. Great post Natalie! You said it all just right. ;)

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  25. WONDERFUL post. Thank you for putting this out there! <3

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  26. Thanks for the support. Great timing to read these points. Thanks bunches!!

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  27. This realism motivated me. You are not only an excellent novel writer, you're an amazing blogger!

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  28. This realism motivated me. You are not only an excellent novel writer, you're an amazing blogger!

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  29. Hi, Natalie. I came to your blog today via a link on Facebook from a young-adult fiction writer friend. I'm in Mozambique and only started writing a blog just as I joined the Peace Corps. People tell me I should write because I tell such crazy real-life stories. Who knows, but that's why I came to read your advice. That said, my "day job" for a while has been bilingual registered nursing. It is another field where you can have amazingly fulfilling moments or moments that feel amazingly frustrating and discouraging. I suppose I just wanted to thank you for your truth telling and to let you and others know that writers are not alone in feeling they give so much of who they are and often receive little in return. We do what we do because it is who we are - don't we? - and what we are compelled to do. Keep on, sister!

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  30. Thanks, good post. I see more and more cautions/reminders of this sort.

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  31. this is a fantastic article, and I have also learned great phrases like 'crap shoot'! Straight to the nitty-gritty. I particularly liked live somewhere cheap. I live in Scotland, but could always move to one of the remote islands! Fantastic!

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  32. I can totally relate to this on so many levels. Thank you so much for sharing and being humble and honest enough to admit your shortcomings. I have to say it was extremely refreshing to read this.

    My advice to every writer is, don't give up. Keep writing. Get better. Keep your fresh ideas flowing and keep your closest fans close to you. They'll lift you up when you feel like a complete loser and remind you of your awesomeness.

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  33. Learn All The Things You Possibly Can
    Writers always strive to improve. I think it's an amazingly admirable quality we possess. There is never a "point of arrival."
    LOVE this and so true. If a writer gives up on making each book, each sentence, better than the last then it's time to throw in the towel. Great article.

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  34. I want to marry this post. And possibly you, though my husband might have a problem with that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  35. Great post, and since I've been trying for the Big 5 since 2003 I've pretty much learned most of that on my own. Luckily I have a day job I love, or we'd be at The Road Home trying to find an Internet connection for my dilapidated laptop.

    Thanks!
    PS Very nice to meet another Utah writer.

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  37. Writing something that's not "different" is equally challenging. If you're writing in a genre that's more commercial/marketable, you're having to compete with lots more people who are writing the same things. So really, you're in for the long haul no matter what you're writing. Just thought I'd all that in. Great advice, otherwise.

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  39. Natalie, I want to hug you. This is a gift to all of us writers. We feel like BFFs... She gets us!

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  40. Great article, Natalie! The bit I loved best was about agents not wanting something ALL THAT new... my experience with them is that it's all, read it all, loved the way you write - now can you turn it into a different book so we can sell it????

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  41. Sadly, it's true that hard works doesn't always pay off. But...it puts you in the right position for a possible payoff. The old coaching mantra, "Success is where opportunity meets preparation," may apply here. You can't control opportunities, but you can be prepared if they arise. Like you said, keep working at your craft and keep writing--that's your preparation.

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  44. Thanks for this Natalie! Even being traditionally published, I feel like a writing imposter. Like one day my editor will do the face palm thing when reading one of my manuscripts and say "What was I thinking when I bought her stuff?" Seems like I can never get enough validation. :) At least I am not alone.

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  45. I am new to the writing world as well, and wrapping my head around expectations vs reality in the writing profession has been a struggle as I decide what to do with my first novel. Thanks for the words of wisdom!

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