My brother once said, “I can’t wait to make it to the top - it’s crowded down here at the bottom.” How true is that, particularly with the number of writers around. You can’t squeeze into a lift, stand in a bathroom queue or go to a coffee shop, without a ‘writer’ being in your midst. Think I’m being facetious? Okay, go look up how many motivational writing blogs there are. Bloody thousands, mate. Thousands. How to write, what to write, when to write, writing prompts, etc and so forth.
It’s all about how to go from being someone who wants to write, to a writer (again, what defines a ‘writer’ depends on the post, sometimes it’s publication, sometimes it’s being able to hold a pen against a Moleskine journal). One thing’s for sure - there are a helluva lot of aspiring writers out there. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because there are less motivational posts about how to be a shit-hot investment banker.
However, what these blogs seem to say precious little about, is being a published author. I think I know why. Getting out of that crowd and onto that first publishing ladder rung takes as long as it would to read all of those blog posts - forever. Once you’re on that ladder, you realise that you have in fact taken the first step. The first ruddy step. Now all the motivational posts have upped and vanished like farts in the wind, only to be replaced by the need for caffeine-based stimulants. Shit has now got real. That means still writing and pitching, but also marketing and sales, and guest posting, and standing in front of crowds of people practising your microphone skills. It also means publishers who fold, who have no idea what they’re doing, and who don't pay out royalties. Hey, Britney warned us, you want a Bugatti, you better work.
Unless your name is Nora Roberts or Gena Showalter or The Ward (and a couple others), you’re still at the bottom. Sure, you’re slightly further ahead than the bottom bottom. But make no mistake, you’re still out there hustling. And you’ve got to keep your product moving, so you best be writing too.
So where are the motivational posts? The cute memes about how ‘you got this’? The inspirational quotes for when you get a whole bunch of notes back from an editor and a deadline that obliterates any chance of work/life balance? I can scroll up and down on my Facebook feed, and find sweet bugger all. Are such motivations thin on the ground as any sane person would say ‘Eff this’ and start their own online trading system? No, what’s happened is that the motivation has slipped away and in its place are now forums that discuss the benefits of Bookbub versus The Fussy Librarian, traditional PR versus blog tours, or the value of Google versus Facebook ads. Sexy it is not. Memeworthy, even less so. Bait and switch at its very best.
It’s the fantasy of writing that’s so alluring. That it somehow transports the writer to some mythical, island paradise of fortune, fame, and never-ending features in women’s magazines. Yes, maybe, for some. But hey, remember, it’s crowded at the bottom.
Journey of a writer
The ROSA Annual Conference is coming up in September. If you’re a romance writer, you should be there. Why? Because it covers so many of the aspects of the writer’s journey, including craft, marketing, and talks from heavyweights such as Mary-Jo Putney.
All writers know this journey. Sure it varies here and there, but overall, there’s a certain commonality.
Here’s what mine looks like:
Step 1: Write, write, write, gargle copious amounts of coffee, write some more, have an attack of self-doubt, carry on writing, read something crap someone else wrote, hell-I-can-do-way-better-than-that, write like a maniac, finish novel, party, party, print it out and stroke it lovingly, leave it in a coffee shop (which they then throw out), make another copy, send it out, rejection, rejection, rejection, more rejection.
Step 2: Head back to neglected love life, more rejection, read something brilliant, have pity party that involves red wine and the entire bag of Quality Street that you normally only devour at Christmas, read about writing courses.
Step 3: Realise you know nothing about the craft of writing. Nothing. Shell out what feels like your entire life-savings to attend said writing course. Start writing next novel, write, write, write, attend another course, organiser waxes lyrical about your writing, feel invincible, hammer out rest of the next novel, this time will be different, yep, even more rejection, rejection, rejection.
Step 4: Write, write, write, try out saying you’re a writer at parties, no-one cares unless you’re JK Rowling or that Game of Thrones guy, write, write, write, reject, reject, reject.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1-4
Step 6: Minor success. Instead of getting rejections that run along the lines of “don’t ever send us this sad-arsed tripe again, stick to the day job corporate drone”, you start to get things like “I love your voice, I’d be happy to see anything else you’ve written,” or “such a great hero - he’s hot.”
Step 7: Discover a writing mentor who writes scripts for Hollywood. Actual Hollywood. Structure takes on a whole new meaning. Write like maniac, write, write, write, revisions requested by publisher. Revisions? Revisions! Progress, yay.
Step 8: Repeat steps 1-4, this time with more trips to the Lindt store.
In fact, the write-reject pattern starts to become the soothing backdrop of your life. You do get warned - every writer gets rejected. Which makes you want to torch someone to death with a ghd when you hear of someone just whipping up their crime drama between the school runs, and then just happening to bump into a book editor at one of those tiresome little get-togethers where Word of Mouth should have been the caterers but weren’t, and gosh, what do you know, the editor just lurved the book idea, and well, you know the rest, you can read it as the women’s hobby-careers covered by Woman & Home. Invariably this person will never write another word.
Step 9: Success. You win a writing competition. Yeah! You’re the recipient of a publishing contract. Woo. Hoo.
There’s a popular misconception that this is where things get easy. You can kick back and quaff champagne and quit the day job. Ha! So not the case.
Step 10: Realise from other published writers, that this is when you start refining your craft in a big way, and begin forging out a career as a writer. This is when publishing houses start considering your previous successes as part-and-parcel of their potential offer - I kid you not.
Step 11: Repeat steps 1-10 ad infinitum, except with more wariness of the industry - not all agents and publishers are legit, sad to say.
That’s it. No-one has to tell you to get off your expanding butt to pay homage to the word count goddess. Stories will keep appearing from the ether, characters will start with their jabber-jabbering, and ideas will knock a-knock on your consciousness.
Where was I? Oh yes, write, write, write…