Regardless of what you write, no two writers have exactly the same journey (whether it is to publication or just to produce work they value for their own pleasure).
There are, of course, many elements in common, not least of which is the fact every writer goes through highs and lows as they try to make progress. We all have to work out how to deal with these. Yes, even the highs, because while they are wonderful, life as a whole is not one long continuous good news chain so why should the writing life be any different?
So what are the highs and lows of the writing life most writers can expect to experience?
The highs are when you have something accepted for publication, whether it is a letter in the papers, a book or a short story has won or been shortlisted for a competition. Those are terrific moments. Treasure the way they make you feel as it is encouraging to recall them when things are not going so well. They are also useful reminders you can write and when the low times hit, as they will, you need reminders like that.
The highs also include those wonderful times when you have lots of ideas, you get the time to write them out, and you just feel as if you are on a writing “roll”. Treasure those times too. What can be frustrating is when you have the ideas but nowhere near as much time as you’d like to flesh those ideas out.
Handy hint here:get those ideas down somewhere in sketch form, work on them as and when you can. Use those pockets of small amounts of time to make notes. You can use all that later. Those pockets of time build up. So will your notes. When you can then put a decent amount of time aside, all this prep work will come into its own and you will be away writing happily. It really does work. I do this frequently.
Another high is discovering a new form of writing you really love doing. That, of course, for me was discovering flash fiction.
The highs include catching up with writing friends at conferences. I’m looking forward to going to Winchester (June) and Swanwick (August) again. I had the great pleasure of meeting up with one friend in Winchester recently and she remarked it was odd we don’t see each other all year and then have one week when we see each other all the time! Mind you, that is one of the joys of Swanwick for me.
One of my bookshelves is filling up beautifully by books my friends have written and it is a real joy to see them there. I learned a long time ago writers are not in competition with each other. The battle is to get your work out there at all.
I can’t write in someone else’s voice when all is said and done. I can only write in my own. I was in the Waterloo Festival anthology last year To Be…To Become, which is also the theme of the ebook. The winning entries all had to write to the same theme. Not one of us took the same approach with the topic. Each voice was different. The book works because of it. (The link takes you to Amazon but it does show a wonderful cover image for this ebook).
The lows are when work is rejected, or you seem to be waiting forever to hear whether a piece or a book has been accepted or not. It is Murphy’s Law in action you get to the point where you think “no news is good news” (and it can be in publishing) only for the rejection to then hit your inbox!
As for self-publishing, the lows must be when you are trying to get everything done that has to be done, you get your book out there and then hear someone at a book event say they don’t “do” self publishing. It happens. There’s an awful lot of misunderstanding and snobbery about self publishing even now, which I hope will go the way of the Ark. Yes, shoved on top of a mountain and left there!
Done properly, self publishing is every bit as valid as traditional publishing. People forget wonderful writers such as Mark Twain and Jane Austen were self publishing too. The minefields to be wary of are the charlatans who are always out there keen to part the writer from their money.
Where to Go for Professional Advice
I’d recommend ALLI, the Alliance of Independent Authors, for checking out author services, so you can know you’re going the right route.
Also check out the Society of Authors. Never be afraid to ask for advice but go to the professional bodies. The Society of Authors produces a series of guides which are free to members but which don’t cost much for non-members and potentially these could save you a great deal more than that.
Self Doubt and the Imposter Syndrome
Every writer is afflicted with self doubt at times and the “imposter syndrome”. This translates into the “who am I to think I can write?” scenario and usually creeps in at those times when you don’t appear to be achieving much and everyone else is. Note that last bit is not necessarily true. It’s your perspective here!
This is something every writer has to keep fighting against and it isn’t always easy when rejections seem to be winging their way to you. If it’s any comfort, one thing most creative types have in common is a sense of insecurity.
Marketing can be like Marmite – you love it or loathe it!
The other issue facing all writers is marketing! How much do you do, am I doing it “right”, and, overcoming nerves to put yourself out there. Signing events are wonderful and usually good fun but every writer knows there’s no guarantee anyone is going to turn up yet alone buy your wonderful creation. Yes, it is nerve wracking and why I feel the writing “game” actually demands a tough skin and a decent amount of stamina to be able to take the highs and lows in their stride as they hit you.
So if you have author friends and want to support them, do go to their book events to wave the flag. It means we have at least one friendly face to talk to!
If you get the chance to hold a writing event, do so. See it as a chance to not just sell books but to engage with people who might look out for your next book. See it as a chance to show what your writing is all about. See it as a chance to encourage reading in general. You will learn from each and every event what worked well and what didn’t. To get experience you have to have some first!
Editing and Directions
As with so much in life, there are no shortcuts. To have the joys of being published, you do have to have the hard slog of writing and editing but I would argue those should be fun. Writing is the obvious creative fun bit but my own attitude to editing changed for the better on realising it would make the difference between being published or not. Therefore, good editing was my friend. I must admit the line by line editing can be a hard slog but it is worth it to end up with a product you are proud of, whether you are traditionally or self published.
Another low can be working out which direction you should take your writing, both in terms of what you produce, and in how you get it out there. There is so much more choice now. The advent of Print on Demand has made self publishing a real option.
Take your time to work out what you want. Then look for those companies and services that are bona fide and check them out. As for traditional publishing, work out who you want to approach with your novel. Look at how your book would fit into their list. Ensure you follow their submission requirements. The good news is there are publishers who will take unagented works but accept all of this takes time, determination, and patience.
The other area where readers can really help writers is with reviews on Amazon and Goodreads in particular. People do see these. The great thing is the review doesn’t have to be a long one. A one-liner which says why you liked or loathed the book “counts”. I use customer reviews on a wide range of products to gauge whether or not something is likely to be for me. This very much applies to books. Also Amazon sit up and take notice when an author attracts 50 reviews. So do consider this.
Social media is both a blessing and a curse. It is lovely being able to share good publishing news and have people congratulate you on that, but do avoid the nay-sayers and those who delight in being negative. Don’t react to it. Best to let it go. I’m afraid it does come with the territory, unfortunately.
So the writing life then is a bit of a rollercoast in terms of how it affects you. The secret then is to accept this from the start and go into it with eyes wide open. Good luck!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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