I recently passed my 10-year anniversary of Writing In Earnest. I began the novel that became my first full manuscript after I evacuated to my in-laws’ house to escape Hurricane Ike, which hit the Texas Gulf Coast in September 2008. When I returned home, I committed to writing one full hour each day, which quickly turned into two to four hours of writing until, finally, I had a complete book.
It’s been a long road since then.
The road included seven manuscripts and multiple short stories; pitches, submissions, and rejections; finaling in various contests, including RWA’s Golden Heart; classes, conferences, and craft books; landing my dream agent; more submissions and rejections; co-writing three novellas; self-publishing that trilogy; and much, much more.
Although every writing journey has unique aspects, a 10-year anniversary demands that I share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
A great story idea and a wonderful cast of characters, a perfectly structured plot, well-crafted scenes, etc. equal a Big Fat Zero if you don’t finish the book. And I don’t mean the first draft, though that’s very important.
To me, a finished book is one that’s ready to go to your beta readers or critique partner or be submitted to an agent/editor or even published. Dig deep, write, edit, and finish the book.
At first, I wrote for me—just to see if I could write a whole novel. Then I wanted people to read it. And now I want to also make money so I can pay my bills and keep writing. As my goals have changed, I've needed to shift which aspects of writing I'm focusing on.
If you’re a hobbyist in the writing world or crafting a single family memoir, some of the intense write-or-die advice doesn’t really apply to you. But if you need to eat on the money you make writing, you might focus less on the sweeping epic you dream of writing and more on rapid release shorter works.
It all depends. Be clear about why you’re writing so you know which advice to take and which to take with a grain of salt.
Too many writers think they already know how to write, since they read a lot. Funny, because I never once thought that visiting my massage therapist once a month qualified me to get a therapy table, charge customers, and start rubbing backs. Substitute your own analogy, and you understand what I'm saying.
There are authors, good authors, and great authors. Do everything you can, within your resource limitations, to become a great author. If you write fantastic books, readers will keep buying what you write.
However, don’t focus so much on crafting words and phrases that you lose sight of being a wonderful storyteller. Our brains are wired for story (see Lisa Cron), and that’s what people ultimately want. It’s why novels that aren’t all that well-told still sell when a great story underlies the less-than-spectacular prose.
Of course, putting together a wonderful story and well-crafted prose makes for a standout combination. Don't forget: Story beats prose.
We say it all the time on Writers in the Storm, and we promote it by bringing writers together for conversation, but it’s important to be in community. Not only will you feel a sense of belonging and experience encouragement, you learn from other authors. I’ve learned as much from conversations with other writers as I have from classes, conferences, and craft books.
Join a chapter in your genre, connect online, and/or form your own group. But find a writing community.
This is one of the hardest things to do at first! You’ve spent hours and hours and hours on your novel, and now you’re going to share it with a beta reader, a critique partner or group, contest judges, an agent or editor, or your own family member.
What if they hate it? What if they red-pen it everywhere? What if they just don’t get you?
It’s tough, but if you want readers who pay, you have to be willing to start with readers who don’t pay who will give you honest feedback.
That said, not everyone who critiques your pages has the same quality of feedback. Be choosy about who you send to, consider their viewpoint, and then make your own decisions. At the end of the day, it’s your book.
You need to be very, very open to critique, but also willing to stand your ground when your story’s integrity is at risk.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking: But I don’t want to be an entrepreneur, I just want to be a writer!
Sorry to break it to you, but I fought this for far too long. I’m saving you the years of grief I experienced, resisting the inevitable. If you’re writing in the 21st century, you’re a business.
You can be self-published or traditionally published, agented or unagented, and still you are a small business responsible for your own career, marketing, and finances. Learn what you can about running your business well.
Writing advice based on a particular writer’s process abounds. Write every single day. Write first thing in the morning. Plot first, then write. Don’t plot, just write. And on and on and on.
Reality check: Successful authors run the gamut on how they actually manage to go from story idea to book-on-shelf.
Go read about various authors’ processes and try things out, but don’t feel like any one particular approach is the be-all-end-all. The only thing they all have in common is they finish books (see Point #1).
As I write this post, I’m in Knoxville, Tennessee, a destination that took over 13 driving hours to reach. My journey involved some great roads and scenery and some not so great moments where I wanted to pull to the side of the road and give up.
Most journeys are like that, with ups and downs. So is writing. I’ve learned that I will have super-highs and dispiriting lows, but neither represents the whole journey. Don’t get too caught up in the mountaintops or the valleys. Most of the way is a steady drive, and you’ll get where you want by focusing on the destination.
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What have you learned in your writing journey?
Julie Glover usually writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. But she recently branched out to co-author the Muse Island Series with Kris Faryn, which begins with Mark of the Gods, under the pen name Jules Lynn. You can visit the series website here, follow the Facebook page here, or head to her Jules Lynn website to learn more.
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Too true, Julie. As usual, I can't say it anywhere near as well as you did. Write on, Girlfriend!
I wonder though....if we knew what would happen before we started, would we have?
There's two sides to that question, Laura! Is there a choice for most of us? No, not really. And would we have chosen the writing life if we had a choice? Most would say "no." The writing life is a pain in the ass.
I"m not saying I wouldn't, but I wouldn't have plunged head-on in....wait, yes I would. It's what I DO.
Well, personality-wise, I'm one of those who always wants to know what's what going in. But maybe I wouldn't have dived in quite so easily. Good question!
Great summary of lessons learned the hard way, Julie!
To answer Laura's question above, if I'd known what would (and wouldn't happen before I started, would I still commit the time, money and mental resources to writing? Well, I still am writing, so I'm going to say yes. At some level, even if you see it as a business, you have to write for the love of it.
True thing, Jeanne.
I LOVE Fab30! Done a bunch of them! Enjoy, and suck up the info, Jay and Jenny.
Great point, Jeanne! Even thinking of it as a business, you need to love writing. 🙂
Great points. I've learned A LOT. Lots of craft - like commas are my friends, but learn how to use them. That if you love reading, that doesn't make you a writer and becoming a writer can actually take away the joy of reading because you look at things differently and lose the bliss of ignorance is bliss on writing rules. You're so right about sharing your work to get feedback and improve, but you have to use discernment as not everything everyone tells you is right or right for your story. It is a journey - typically a long one, and we don't always know how long someone has been writing or learning craft. It happens faster for some than others, but don't compare or beat yourself up if it takes you longer. Just keep writing and improving and clinging to that dream.
Thanks, Tracy! This comment is almost as good as the post. 🙂 You are both 100% right.
Julie, I don't know where the time has gone. But then, I never intended to publish any of my fiction. Even though it was "only for me," I wanted to make it the best I could, so I read craft books, took classes, found critique partners. Amazing the difference between then and now!
🙂 🙂 🙂
I love that you decided to put yourself out there! It's risky, but worth the effort.
I enjoyed reading these 10 lessons learned. I am now in my 25th year of writing for publication. I say it that way because before 1994 and my first finished and published romantic suspense, I had always written. Journals which I first called diaries, short stories, a neighborhood newspaper, poems, songs. So I could never not write. And I never will stop. I ave learned many lessons along the way, too.
25th year? Wow, great for you! I bet you have much more wisdom than I do. Thanks for reading!
Great post, Julie! The balancing act between 'Learn Your Craft' and 'Story Beats Prose' is a tough one, isn't it? I love the challenge of making the writing beautiful, but if the underlying story isn't solid, it's just putting icing on an air pocket. Thanks for the look back!
"Icing on an air pocket"--what a great analogy! Thanks, Rebecca.
Hi Julie. A writer in the storm. Your inciting incident. Now I get the name of this blog.
I wrote the first draft of my novel with a minimum daily goal of 300 words a day. 10 minutes. Most days I wrote more - but I never missed my goal. Sometimes I had to write in bed at the end of the day. 10 minutes. No problem. Just pen and paper. I wrote in scenes. A wonderful way to draft. Fresh. Front of mind. Fun. I love to wake up thinking about my characters.
I’m doing Margie’s Fab30 course right now. Deep edits will do that too.
Yep, that is totally part of the name, Jay. I'm doing Fab30 right now too - badly. I had a conference to put on last weekend and it sucked away my Fab30. I've got to suck it up and go catch up with everyone. I can't do this. *gulp*
Oh, I actually had nothing to do with the naming of this blog. Laura, Fae, and Jenny are founders of the blog and have been through the storms of writing. I only joined the WITS team a couple of years ago. Happy coincidence about my hurricane story, I suppose!
Julie, you are so right in everything you say, especially that writing is a journey. And I appreciate that you do not shy away from the paradoxes of our craft -- "put your work in others' hands" and "don't listen to everybody who critiques your work." Both are true! Congratulations on ten years and thanks for sharing this.
[…] 10 Things Learned from 10 Years of Writing […]
Great summation, Julie! Things I've learned over the years as well. One might wish to come to these realizations earlier, but I guess that's what it means to pay your dues!
I love this post, Julie! I've been writing since 2008, and I've had a lot of ups and downs along the way. It's been a wild journey of finding the genre I'm most passionate about, learning about my own unique creative process, and mastering the craft. Every one of these points resonates with me. Finding a community is vital, as is finding a process that works for you. Thanks for sharing, and congrats on a decade in the writing life! 🙂
know who's is in your corner giving you real advice and know who's just criticizing to be mean.
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