Monday, November 22, 2010
Cathy West's Advice For Writers
Since announcing that I am, at long last, stepping over into Published Land, I've been asked two questions with alarming frequency.
The first is, of course, "When is the book coming out?" My answer: "You will know when I know."
The second is, "How long did it take?" Or "How did you do it?"
Okay, that's three questions.
But the last two are both how questions, and kind of interrelated, so let's discuss the how.
One thing I say often, mostly when I'm muttering to myself over having started the tenth revision on a manuscript, is that I wish I had known then what I know now.
* If you want to be a writer you must must MUST be willing to learn. *
But, you say, my mother, cousins and aunties all read my book and loved it! They cried.
Yeah, bully for you. You're going to be crying in a few months when you get your first rejection.
Harsh? Maybe, but don't take my word for it. Go ahead and send out that query letter with an unpolished manuscript and see what happens. Unless of course you're a literary genius (In which case, I hate you), I can pretty much guarantee that you're setting yourself up for a good old-fashioned pity party.
But how do you know this? I'm glad you asked.
I know this because I did it. Several times over. I knew my writing was good. The stories were amazing, honest. I cried while I wrote them.
Did I read one single book on craft apart from Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers? No. I did not.
Did I belong to a critique group, online or otherwise? No, I did not.
Did I know what passive writing, deep POV or head-hopping were? NO. I did not.
See a pattern here?
Listen, you don't just wake up one day and decide to be a brain surgeon, pluck some poor guy off the street and do a frontal lobe lobotomy on him. Well, you could try, but methinks it would end badly for both of you. No, you go to university. Then you go to medical school. Then you do your internship, then a fellowship. And a hundred years later, you're a brain surgeon.
So it is with writing.
It is one thing to want to be a writer. It is a wonderful thing. A beautiful dream. But one that takes time, energy, fortitude and a certain amount of humility. If you seriously intend to make that dream a reality you must be willing to make the investment.
If you know without a doubt that you are willing to follow that dream, whatever the cost, wherever it takes you, great.
Here's some free advice for you. Take it. You'll be glad you did.
1. No pain, no gain. Find a writers group near you and join. Immediately. Then enroll in a critique group. Immediately.
If you have never, ever let anyone read your work because you're embarrassed or it's not good enough, get over it. If you want to be a writer you must be willing to subject yourself to criticism. Yes, sometimes it will hurt. You will bleed. But you will learn.
I belong to two. American Christian Fiction Writers - they have zones all over the US. Likewise with Romance Writers of America. If you belong to one or the other or both, you're well on your way to rubbing shoulders with those who have paved the way and are more than willing to help, teach and advise. Take full advantage of this. In the nicest, politest way possible of course.
2. Read to Learn. Do you know what genre you write in? Do you know what genre is? Arm yourself with a library of how-to books on writing. There are literally dozens to choose from. Do a search on Amazon and see for yourself. I recommend Anne Lammot, Dwight Swain, James Scott Bell and Donald Maas, just for starters.
3. Read for pleasure. If you're a writer, this is a no brainer. You love to read. Do. I often find it very difficult to read while I'm writing, but I force myself. There is no better way to learn your craft than to read published books. Whatever those authors are doing, it's working. I tend to read in my genre, but I think if you can step outside the box and read a bit of everything, you'll be ahead of the game. Okay. a warning here. As you grow as a writer, you will quickly develop a pain in the rear thing called The Internal Editor. It's that little voice inside your head that starts pitching a fit when you're in the middle of that bestseller and heads are hopping all over town, with the wases and the just as and the thens and you just can't stand it anymore because this junk is published and your brilliant novel has just been rejected again. For the tenth time.
I get this.
However, said author with the head-hopping issues is #1 on the NYT Best Seller list and is making a bajillion dollars a year churning out the same stuff. You are not. Get over it.
The biggest trap for a writer is to start comparing yourself to somebody else. I have done this too many times. I'll say, "Oh, I just love her stuff. I want to write like her." Uh. Good for me, but I'm not her. I'm me. I have learned to be satisfied with that. I will write like myself, thank you very much.
4. Go to writers conferences. Seriously. I know it is a lot of money. I know it's scary, especially if you're new at this and you don't know anyone. But it is so worth it. If you are serious about becoming a published author - find the money. Decide which conference you want to attend (do the research), start saving, find your babysitters or dogsitters or whatever, and just do it. You won't regret it. There is nothing like sitting in a room with several hundred other people who don't think you're weird. They're weird too. Go be weird together. Be writers.
5. Support System. You might say this does not apply to you. Your spouse is amazing, fully supportive in whatever you do. Your friends love you, they think it's cool that you're doing this writing thing, and your family is always asking when that book is coming out.
Awesome. However--once you have been at this for oh, five or ten years, and you're still not published, they might not be so supportive. Now I'm not saying they're going to call you an idiot behind your back or anything, but you know... This is a long, hard road. You may be one of the fortunate few who lands that agent and publishing contract within a year or two, and if so, great. Chances are, it'll take a lot longer than that. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who can support you along the way, no matter what. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary occupation. Well, you know. As solitary as it can get with five or six people talking to you inside your head, sometimes all at once.
There will be times when you'll want to give up. You will want to rant and wail when you receive a no that you were a hundred percent sure was going to be a yes. It's a tough gig. Family and friends are great, but sometimes they just don't 'get it' like another writer will.
6. Believe in yourself. You must believe you can do this. If you don't, why should anyone else? Find your faith, spit polish it every day and smile at yourself. You can do this. It will not be easy, but if you want it, you must be willing to go after it.
Thanks, Cathy. I hope each of you reading this will check out Cathy's blog and website. And join me in congratulating her on the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Oh, by the way, Cathy. It doesn't get any easier from here on out. Just thought I'd cheer you up a bit.