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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So You Think You Can Be a Novelist? - Part Five

So you think you can be a novelist? Really? Hmmm . . . you might want to ask yourself these questions before you commit:

  • Are you a frequent reader?
  • Have you written anything else?
  • Are you an avid and daily learner?
  • Do you have a writing support network?
  • Have you published anything?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you might want to think again.

Part three addressed "Do you have a writing support network?" Today we'll address:

Have you published anything?

This one is pretty darn simple. Have you taken some of those other pieces you've written - read "Have you written anything else" - and submitted them to appropriate publications?

Take those articles, poems, short stories, or meditations you've written, and get them out there. Submit, submit, submit. How will you ever know if you're good enough to write the big things if you don't get your smaller pieces out there.

If you need to know where to start, read my recent post "How Much Should I Get Paid."

In the beginning of my writing journey - back when I thought I could write that novel brilliantly because my "talent" was raw and unhampered by rules and academics and the rigid structure of proper grammar and style - I just wanted to be a novelist. I figured the best way to learn to write a novel was to just sit down and write the thing - why waste my time with articles or short stories when they weren't my end goal.

But I eventually got tired of the facade of indifference, you know that line most of us beginning novelists use: "Sure, I'm writing a novel, but I'll probably never do anything with it. I'm just enjoying the process of writing." Of course in the back of our minds were thinking I can't wait to step onto the world stage with this mega-best-selling, overnight-success story. I'll show them what raw talent is all about. Move aside J.K. Rowling - there's a new kid on the block. Ch-ching! Cha-ching!

That facade of indifference hit me about the same time I joined this writers' group and realized my novel just wasn't all that great. My facade was a safety net. If I seemed indifferent and I failed, it was no big deal.

But at some point my writing hobby became something much more serious to me, and I wanted to be able to have the confidence to say Yes, I am a writer, and yes I want to be successful because I have a message to share. And in order to do that, I had to learn how to write right. I shared in part two of this series that I had to take a few steps back and start small and build.

That's what submitting and publishing is all about. Build your confidence and experience with the small pieces, and your chance at success with the big stuff is much greater.

All this said, publishing is still difficult to accomplish - even the small pieces. You might submit twenty times and receive nineteen rejections. Especially in the beginning. But the more you submit, the more familiar you will become with your markets. I am at the point now where I am just starting to hit a rhythm. I'm starting to discover where my writing fits, and I'm receiving fewer rejections than I did in the beginning.

I'm still focusing on bigger projects. I've spent the last four months working with a writing partner on a screenplay (link to my personal blog below to read more about this process). We will have the final draft completed by mid May. Freelance has not slowed down my ability to focus on the bigger projects - it has enhanced my chance to be successful at the bigger projects.

And even if we never sell our screenplay, it doesn't really matter, because I enjoyed the process of writing it. Ouch! Okay, that facade of indifference thing really doesn't work for me anymore. Truth: I dream of production companies getting into bidding wars over that screenplay. Reality: I expect rejection (a writer has a difficult time in this business if they don't), though I will persist.

So, persist in your efforts to publish.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. Remember - read, learn, write, seek support, publish; read, learn, write, seek support, publish; read, learn, write, seek support, publish. That's how it works. No short cuts, wise writer friends. No short cuts.

By the way, if you happen to be an exception - a successful author (meaning you've quit your day job) who never published anything prior to your first novel, my readers and I would love to hear from you.

Post by: LWC Director, Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.


Cece Dockins said...

This is my biggest problem. I have a hard time deciding when I'm ready to submit. How do you know when something you've written is ready for publication? When I read something I've written,I see only flaws. Thanks.

Shauna said...

Well written, Karen. I'm interested to see your reply to Cece because I'm in the same boat she is!

Living Writer's Collective said...

I think it goes back to the fact that we are our worst critic. At some point you just have to take a big deep breath, stop picking at it, and say, "Okay, it's good enough." Because "good enough" to us is often nearly brilliant to others. I've had things published that I've read after the fact and wanted to kick myself because I missed something. I hate that feeling, but I learn from it and move on.

I have this problem more on the front end. I have trouble writing stories sometimes because I'll think of an idea and decide it's not good enough. I'm still trying to figure out how to let a story play out on paper instead of over analyzing it and making it work in my head first. I have a story I'm playing with right now that I can't seem to get started on because all the pieces aren't fitting together in my head. I know the best way to fix that is to just write, but sometimes it's hard to move past that. And I already have this one outlined - it's the minor pieces I can't seem to maneuver.

Back to the original point - get yourself a great critique buddy or two or a few. I know you have a brilliant critique buddy, Cece (LOL! Not really - I'm one of Cece's critique buddies). Seriously, critique buddies are the best for helping us not only fix our errors, but helping us see the beauty in what we have written and helping us know when it's ready.

Shauna - I don't know if you are part of a writers' group, but they can be invaluable if you join the right group. Make sure they have a strong emphasis in critique and education. These are great places to find critique partners.