If you’re reading this, it means you were blessed and cursed in the same way I was. You were born with a writer’s heart and a dreamer’s soul and with that deadly combination, you’ve decided to write a book. It’s a daring choice, one that will lead you down a road with many twists, turns, and potholes the size of craters – but in the end, it’s a rewarding choice that will also leave you with a sense of joy and fulfillment.
I’m writing this letter to you with the words I wish I could have read when I wrote my first book. There are so many thoughts going through your head when you make this decision – usually involving the characters who somehow sprouted roots in your brain overnight – that it’s easy to overlook some things. I’m here to tell you what I wish someone had told me.
First of all, you can do this. You can do this. This is your mantra – repeat it, write it, love it, live it, repeat it again. No matter what you face, no matter what the obstacle, just remember that you can and you will do this if you continue forward. There are going to be things that happen that you didn’t expect, but push through anyway. Your first run with writer’s block will just short of cripple you, but keep going. You’ll run into snags along the way in your plot, your characters, your writing style, and definitely in your grammar, but keep that pen to paper. You’re in this now, so don’t give up.
People aren’t going to support you. There, I said it – I’ll be the one. When you write a book, you expect your family and friends to go ballistic with joy and pride – I mean you wrote a freaking BOOK, for heaven’s sake! But, the cold hard truth is that most likely you will have a handful of amazing family members and friends who will support you every step of the way and the people you thought would be there for you most won’t even show up to the party. I learned this first-hand, and it was perhaps the toughest lesson I learned as a writer. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t expect support – because you absolutely should. But, I want you to be prepared for the let down. It’s easier to prepare yourself now than to be crushed later. If your family/friends aren’t asking how the book is going ,what it’s about, when it comes out, if they don’t buy it for $2.99 when you put it up on Amazon, if they give you suspicious looks when you say you’re writing a book – just be ready. Let it roll off your shoulder and focus on the end goal. I promise that, with time, more support than you could ever imagine will come – and sometimes from the places and people you least expect.
It’s going to take money to write your book. Not just for an editor, a formatter, a cover artist and the basics, but also for promotions, ordering copies, arranging book signings, etc. Right now, before you even start, make a spreadsheet and keep track of EVERYTHING you spend money on. This will be essential not only for you to know, but for when taxes come around. You will have to claim your royalties and you can file as a small business, so be sure you get your ducks in a row. I didn’t know this starting out and God, how I wish I did. I’m all in line now, but I’m hoping this will help you before you get started.
Sometimes you’re going to need to walk away and my best advice is to do it – but not for too long. If you’re like me and still working your big-girl job while also writing, you’ll find out soon enough how stressful it is and tired you’ll become. Push yourself, you can do more than you think, but also know your limit. If you need a break, take one – but not for too long. Trust me when I say it is much harder to get back into the swing of things if you take a long break. My advice would be don’t go more than a week without writing something, even if it’s only 500 words.
Kiss your television routine goodbye. When you choose to be a writer, you choose to give up the simple pleasures you used to enjoy. Not altogether, of course, but there will be less time for TV, social outings, and yes, even reading (gasp!). Don’t completely deprive yourself, but realize that priorities will need to shift when you decide to write.
Find author groups. On Facebook, on Goodreads, through Writer’s Digest – wherever you can. You will need support and the more places you have to go get it, the better. I just recently started joining author groups and all I can think is “WHERE were these people when I needed them?!” Don’t be afraid to reach out to other authors but DO be mindful that they are writers, too, and thus very busy. Don’t ask them too many questions, don’t ask them to read or beta your book, and never EVER ask for free promotion. They worked damn hard to get where they are and you’ll leave a bad taste in their mouth if you ask to abuse their success.
On that same note, find an amazing group of beta readers and keep them by your side. Let them read as you write, sending them a few chapters at a time, so they can help catch the snags early. Reward them, cherish them, and listen to what they say. No, you don’t always have to do what they suggest, but if a theme emerges – if they all see something that you just don’t agree with – take a step back and try to read your manuscript like a reader and not like an author. Know when to take their advice and when to just tuck it under your pillow for safe keeping.
Go to book signings, attend workshops, research, and learn – always, always learn. Writing is a craft and it’s always changing. Reading is great research, but so is just living. Travel, do things you’ve never done before, people-watch like a mother fucker – learn.
Figure out who you are and build your social presence. Don’t try to be like someone else online – be yourself. Make a Facebook page and a Twitter account, at least – maybe Instagram and Pinterest, too. Consider a website if you’re going to be serious about writing and plan on continuing for a long time (if not forever). Be cohesive. Be respectful. Be NICE to your readers, other authors, and other aspiring writers like yourself. These days, social presence can sell you books or it can get you on someone’s “DO NOT READ” list. Be careful and be smart.
Believe in yourself, especially when others won’t. Know that the story in your head is worth telling and you’re the best person for the job. Don’t compare yourself to others, love your writing style, embrace your differences and forge ahead with reckless abandon. Be fearless.
You are in for one hell of a ride, my friend, but you can and you will survive. Buckle up, hold your head high, and drive on.
And when all else fails…