I was recently introduced to TheLadders.com Career Project who were curious about the best advice I could give to new writers or those standing on the brink, wondering if it’s worth the dive. If this is you, here’s my take on things.
The regular advice: Don’t quit your day-job.
My take: They are right.
Don’t quit your day-job,
but make it work for you.
It’s been a little over eight months since I quit teaching to complete Settle Down Now, and the only thing I’m missing is my earnings. I love the writing. I’m getting the hang of marketing my way and I’m learning to be less introverted. But I do need money to live, and so do you. You can’t depend on your book earning you a living, not until your regular priced book is being downloaded in the hundreds almost everyday.
So what did I mean by ‘making your day job work for you’?
Working as a teacher improved my grammar and exposed me to current topics I would never have given a second glance otherwise. I’d always loved research (so crucial to most aspects of writing), so prepping for classes taught me how to find information and material quickly and efficiently; as well as how to work with the materials at hand.
Standing in front of students, ranging in age from three to thirty-three with varying degrees of comprehension, taught me public speaking; how to be mindful of my audience, and how to pitch my information while thinking on my feet; all of which helps me write faster.
Working as a DTP Designer has proven invaluable in designing my own covers and promo material, as well as in formatting and sending material for print.
So what kind of job am I looking for now?
Good question. I’m still taking stock, but you can be sure it will grow my current skills and expose me to some aspect which will help me be a better writer/communicator/publisher.
The regular advice: Write everyday.
Complete that story.
My take on that: In an ideal world, that may be possible, but I don’t live in an ideal world.
While I don’t have my own kids, I do have other commitments to family, as well as restrictions on electricity (loadshedding in South Africa) which makes for erratic schedules. And I still need to earn a living. So I try not to feel guilty about not writing everyday.
So how do I return to a story when I might not get back to working on it for months at a time?
I use what I think of as an emotional and tone prompt. For me, that’s a soundtrack. For you, it may be a photo or two, a physical object or a special place…anything really.
For me, having a soundtrack for Settle Down Now proved invaluable in finishing the story after ten months of guiltily looking at its incomplete status on my Smashwords dashboard. I go more into how the soundtrack evoked characters and places in this post. Many writers use this method like Chantelle Atkins and Dylan Hearn, so I highly recommend it to you if you love music. If you don’t, experiment till you find your own unique prompter.
The regular advice: You have to do things this way. Have a plan and follow it. You must market it this way to make loads of money.
My take: Everyone is unique. So is your writing. And so is your book and the people who will be your readers.
It took me a long time to realize that there was nothing wrong in the way I approached my writing. I write in what I think of as an organic way. Rigid plans, outlines and long expositions on characters preferences didn’t work for me and only ate into the time I had to write. So I just wrote, and found that my story flowed better. It’s why I can’t write to the typical romance book structure. I tried to when I started No Distance To Run, in the hopes of entering it into a short story competition. I severely disliked the main alpha male; so I killed him off, and the next thing I knew, I had my first novel–even if it was a shortish one.
And what about marketing?
It’s been a bewildering few months, being exposed to all the marketing gurus out there. They all promise the same result if you only follow their secret plan. Once you’ve given them your email, the secret seems to be their product which reiterates stuff you could learn in a free marketing course on MOOC, or stuff you might have already tried. I still click on a few of their blogs, but I’m more wary of signing up for their newsletters for the same-o-same-o, which doesn’t seem to work for me anyway. So I have to reinvent my own wheel in someways–which is educational. What could have been someone else’s mistake, could be my biggest breakthrough. Only time will tell.
What I have realized is that the most important things in self-publishing are: my books, and my readers; not the number of followers I have on Facebook or my blog, or my marketing plan.
The regular advice: Have you work critiqued.
My take on it: For sure,
but be true to your story.
I only joined a critique group in January. Already, I’ve noticed that I’m a better editor and more demanding of my writing–and for my readers. I’d rather not be the writer of that piece which nobody wants to critique because it’s just so…
One of the best things I’ve learned from critiques is reader expectations. You created your story. You project your story in a certain style and voice which produces reader expectation. Failing to meet that expectation is failing to retain your readers’ interest and trust in your storytelling. Result: you lose that reader.
Good critiques always point out your strong and weak points in writing and storytelling–invaluable knowledge in your growth as a writer.
The regular advice: Writing takes time.
You’d better be in it for the long haul.
My take on it: Absolutely.
Being a fly-by-night writer is a lose-lose situation for everyone, especially your loyal readers.
So, writing takes commitment.
Writing takes time.
Writing demands sacrifices you may never have considered, but mostly in time.
And writing seldom makes you an overnight millionaire.
Take the plunge when you’re ready. It’s better than dipping your toe in to see if you can stand the temperature. Then it’s sink or swim, according to what you put into your writing career.
But always, always be true to yourself.
There’s nothing wrong in floating around till you get your true bearings.