I’ve been writing “full time” since November 2011. I teach online classes and write marketing copy to make ends meet. When I’m not busy making enough money to live, I write. (And rewrite, and revise, and edit, blah blah blah.)
Over the course of this journey, with my first book coming out in August, I’ve discovered a few things I wish I could have told myself years ago. Not even just when I left my job in 2011 to go freelance–but back in 2010 when I wrote the first draft of my “grown up” novel. Back in high school when I decided I wanted to write for life. Back in middle school when I cranked out stupid amounts of fan fiction (not even kidding–500,000 words in total). People liked my stuff and I thought I was set.
What I wish I could have told myself back then?
1. It’s going to be really hard.
Everything about publishing is hard. Writing a draft is hard. Getting feedback (and learning to really listen to it) is hard. Finding an agent is hard. Wooing a publisher is hard. Going to conferences and meeting people and putting yourself out there is hard.
Letting real people read your work is hard.
Getting feedback that is truly critical? Really hard. And sometimes genuinely painful.
2. Your ego is going to be crushed–over and over again.
The first requirement for being a writer is to not be fragile. One of my writer friends was telling me the other day about a pitch session she had with an agent–where the agent basically told her, “This book is unpublishable.”
Well, instead of crying and giving up, she took it as a challenge. A challenge to get that book published anyway. Instead of weakening her, it gave her strength.
You have to have that inside of you to be a writer. People will criticize you. Probably because your work needs work–it always does, especially the newer you are to it.
3. You will have to learn how to learn.
I went to a panel of young adult authors last night, and one of them said probably the best piece of advice for a young writer that I have ever heard: Go to college. Get a degree in whatever you want. The point is that you learn how to think critically; you learn how to learn.
Because you won’t start out your writing journey as an amazing writer. Nobody does. It takes a lot of practice, and it takes a lot of dedication. You have to be able to learn from mistakes, to learn from criticism, to learn from other writers and blog posts and books and even yourself.
4. You may not succeed right away, and maybe not for a very long time.
Sometimes your first manuscript won’t get you an agent. Or your second. Or your third. Maybe it’s not the right idea at the right time. Maybe you haven’t mastered execution yet, even if the idea is great. Maybe your writing style still needs finesse and work.
Push through it. Write that next manuscript. Practice, practice, practice. My first MS got rejected like crazy. I set it aside and wrote another one. And another one. I had learned so much by that third MS that when I came back and pulled my first one off the shelf, I was shocked at how bad it was, and how much I could improve it.
5. You have to actually write.
Don’t just talk about writing. Actually sit in front of the computer/notepad/typewriter and do it. If I could go back in time and tell myself anything, it would be to never criticize a first draft. To just let it be born as it is, and come back and refine it later (or rewrite it completely, which is something I do, agh). Because if you let yourself review and critique every single word?
You’ll never get anything down on paper.
Again: practice, practice, practice. Just writing those crappy first drafts will teach you so much about writing better ones. About writing better second drafts. And third drafts. And learning how to set something aside when you have done everything you can–this is a skill. I’m serious. It is. Knowing that point when to walk away is a skill you will have to learn and develop over time.
Oh, and that dedication part.
The worst part about writing is everything you will have to give up in order to do it. I’ve stayed home on Saturday nights writing when my friends are out having fun. I’ve spent entire days writing while my boyfriend sits in a corner, ignored. I’ve let my house get messy and dirty and skipped meals.
Because that’s what it takes if you want to succeed and make your dream come true. Work hard. Give up some things.
It’s difficult, I know; you’ll learn during this process whether you really want to be a writer or not. You might even be one of those sick people like me who loves it. Writing is its own reward. If you manage to push through all the dreary stuff and see your book on the shelf–well, there can be a lot of other rewards out there for you, too.
If I were to tell my younger self anything, it would be this: being a writer takes dedication, commitment, and genuine passion. And staying home a lot.