So it looks like I can pop here once every month - can we please go for that? If I have more worthy content, I will definitely post.
But yeah - a few days ago on a Goodreads group I'm in, someone asked what advice we'd give a newbie author. I wrote a few lines...and then this issue kept working at me throughout the week and it wouldn't let up, so I thought why not put this together in a post and put it out here. I hope some, if not all, of it can be of some help to a writer out there. Maybe a newbie will find it useful; maybe an established author can find a nugget of truth somewhere in there... Either way, here goes!
Write. Then write more.
And then write some more.
There really is nothing more to it than this. You have to be consistently writing, especially when you are starting out. Writing is a muscle, albeit a figurative one, but you have to flex and work it regularly to hone it into its best shape. Through writing, you will discover more about yourself as a writer.
Just finish the story!
You won't believe the number of writers I have met over my career who have remained stuck on polishing those first 3 chapters of the same manuscript over and over again! There are people I met when I started writing, in crit loops. We'd lose touch, then meet again maybe a year down the line (same group or new group), and when asked, would tell me that they're still with the same story I had critted for them when we'd first met - something just wasn't "right" with it and they were fixing that.
And in the meantime, they never finished a story, didn't even move to another one! How can you shop something that's never finished? How do you publish a story...if it hasn't been written? You might be writing, yes, but are you a writer?
Finish a story, even if it sucks! Because we all learn from our mistakes, and this also applies to our writing. I've made so many mistakes over my career, scraped out so many first chapters, that I intrinsically know now what works for me and with me, so I don't fall in those traps any longer. Write it, even if it's crap! Finish a full manuscript then call yourself a writer!
Write to discover!
You'll never have the thrill of starting out except when you're starting out, if that's makes sense. You're right there at the edge of this new world - aka your world as a writer; no two writers' worlds are similar, let alone identical! - where there is so much to discover. What do you like writing? What is your forte? Does 1st person POV come naturally to you, or do you immerse yourself into a character better in 3rd person? Do sweeping descriptions come to you as if inspired by magic? Or do your stories completely lack setting and you find you need to force yourself to add this in?
By writing to discover all this, you will be finding yourself as a writer.
I started out writing omniscient, then found I gravitated more to 3rd person Deep POV. Still, I attempted a novel in 1st person - epic fail; I didn't even get past the first 5 pages, so I know I cannot do 1st person even to save my life, LOL. Went back to omniscient, found I was always falling back into 3rd person. Clinched the deal for me - my writing comes to me in 3rd person, and I don't have to fight it anymore.
Find your ocean
Test out writing in a few genres. You don't know yet what is going to come naturally for you (and you need to be writing something that comes organically to you. It's too much of an effort otherwise and totally not worth it if you value your sanity).
I love reading chick-lit, but see my epic fail at 1st person above - means I cannot write chick lit again to save my life. I tried high fantasy - nope, not for me. Historicals, let's not even go there because I just don't have the history and etiquette and knowledge chops to cut it there. What does that leave me? Well, the contemporary realm...and dabbling in that ocean showed me I could make satisfactory ponds out of small-town romance, cultural romance, espionage/romantic suspense, and even Urban Fantasy. I found my big body of water then made it smaller by creating ponds out of my ocean (ahem, clear as mud?)
Do NOT write for the market!
Especially if this is our first book/you're just starting out writing. That's only setting yourself up to fail. Of course, it might be that vampire+were+zombie apocalypse erotica is the hottest commodity being exchanged right now, and lo and behold, this is something you can actually write.
Then that craze goes away...and it's back to roguish dukes or motorcycle bad boy heroes. Where does that leave you? Start again for that new trend? Isn't that undue stress on you?
Find what works for you (maybe it's extremely Alpha heroes), then spin your stories from that angle. And then adapt to the market if you really wish to go that route...
Be consistent when you're starting out
Find one genre and stick to it. Do NOT spread yourself thin over many different genres that don't even have a hint of crossover to them because then, you'll be working at building an audience over many different genres while you could've been focusing on one and then moved on to another.
I'm guilty of this. When I started writing, I had a pen name for cultural romance, and a pen name for mainstream/non-cultural romance, and then I considered getting a pen name for the heftier espionage stories. Why did I need pen names for each? Because they were all so different that it didn't make sense to regroup them under a single name. Different tone, different voice, different pace. So I was basically being 3 people at the same time - recipe for spreading yourself thin? You bet! I also achieved nothing of building a readership at the time.
Then I kept on writing, refining those 'older' debut books, and time and practice and writing allowed me to see a common thread in all my work - it's family, whether the protagonists are from Desi families in far-flung countries, socialites in London, or even assassins who don't bat an eye when taking out a target. Time and practice and my own eyes opening showed me how to regroup them under my banner. My readers know they will always find the warmth and tangible ties and threads of relationships in my work never mind the genre, and I tend to believe that is what they are coming for when they're coming for my stories. That's "me" as an author for them, what my name suggests and delivers. But yeah, the many years lost in the meantime? I'm never gonna get them back. Don't make the same mistake I did.
Don't pause for publishing until you've found your voice, your special 'tone', that element that always seems to make it into all your stories.
Like I said above, mine is family, and basically, relationships. I've had books published in the past, the contracts running out and me getting the rights back. Said books then get revamped because I've found out who I am as an author in the meantime, and then sent back into the world again. Time lost? Yes. Readers lost? Oh, yeah! Me having been stupid? You bet. If I'd waited to the point where I knew what 'me as an author' meant, I would've sent those stories out in their second, 'better' shape out there into the world (and by better, I mean more 'me', the 'me' my readers seem to appreciate in my writings.)
Chase publishing only when you've found who you are as an author.
This will give you the advantage of knowing how you want to promote yourself out there, how you wish to portray yourself in social media and in the open for your fans to see. You will be chasing squirrels if you're spread thin over genres, like I mentioned above. Establish yourself in something first before jumping/switching/easing into something else. For example, my espionage books when I first wrote them (and sent them out! Long story with defunct e-publishers involved, before I self-published as 'me' a few years later) had very little in common whether in tone, pace, or conflict to my cultural romances. I was doing those two concurrently... Can you say 'reader confusion' and 'author ambiguity' at the time? Yes! Was that favourable to me? Not at all!
When you know yourself as a writer, then start publishing. BUT build yourself a backlist here before starting serious promo, especially the paid kind.
Let yourself be discovered for a while, and focus on just writing and putting more books out (and not on winning readership, making sales, and yeah, making money, too)
One thing readers hate is a flash in the pan...and this is what you'll look like if you've gone out all guns blazing with your first book then struggle to write the next and end up not publishing anything for months, maybe even more than a year.
Then think about this - you have a few books out. Sales might be okay (or they might be dismal! Having many books doesn't mean you'll be rolling in the moolah!). You've found your footing as a writer, your persona as the author; you know how to approach the world as Author-Name-Name. Say you now go for a paid promo. And the promo bears fruit, meaning you get a lot of sales. Readers discover you - and lo and behold, there are other books from you so they can binge right away if they've totally dug your story they got through the promo.
See how this works to your advantage? Now imagine you've put out your very first book. You wrote just the one - you haven't tried any other genre, you haven't seen if you can still hold the line in this same genre, to be honest...and that first book explodes in sales! Great... Uhm, not so much. Because readers now love you, so they want more. And there's no backlist to go to. So you have to bring out this next book. But what if you're stressed, blocked? What if Book2 doesn't come to you as easily as Book1? What if readers are now clamouring for you to give them the next book asap? What if you're taking too much time? They'll move to someone else...and when you do bring the next book out, you have to start anew - get new readers, and the older ones? They've probably already washed their hands of you, so don't count on them giving you a penny. They might even be blackballing you in the reading community, going like 'I wouldn't lose my time on this one coz he/she takes ages to deliver, if at all.' See where this is leading you?
If you're going for series, plan them well...and write a few before you even do anything with the idea alone!
This leads a bit from the above. You start a series; readers dig it. When is the next book coming out? You're writing it, you say. Then life happens - tragedy, sickness, even happiness like a wedding or a new baby, or you switch day jobs, or have to get a new job with more responsibility, or your day to day life changes for the 'worse' and you no longer have as much time and energy to write. You're stressed, then you block on the ms - the characters are no longer talking to you. Worse, they're giving you the cold shoulder. When, and how, are you going to get that next book out???
But what if you already have Books 1-4 written? Readers clamouring for the next book? Tell them it will be out in so-many-weeks/months. Set the book up for pre-order already, so your readers see you mean business.
Now say Book2 will come out in 3 months, Book3 in 6 months, Book4 in 9 months - you need to write Book5, so you technically have 11 months to finish it (because Book5 will come out in 12 months following this schedule). 11 months is very much cutting it too close, but like we all know, life happens, and you have yourself a breather. Say you commit to writing a book over 3 months. You'll be done with Book5 by the time Book3 is coming out; Book6 when Book4 is releasing, and so on. See how that's so much less stressful for you? And how it's a win-win with your readers, too?
Find your pace.
You can set out X-number of hours a day to write. Or in a week. You can write every single day. You can plan for 1 chapter a week.
Except, it doesn't always work like that for everyone. I used to plan - for everything. Be it writing, studying, projects. I wouldn't be able to bring myself to do it for 2/3rds of the time...then with the deadline looming, watch me power through the whole thing! I have studied for university modules just 2 weeks prior to the exam (and yes, passed the paper. Thank God!) I have let dust bunnies gather all over my house for weeks...then one day, enough is enough and I will clean the flat top to bottom and every nook and cranny. I'm not the 'slow and steady' kind; I'm all about sudden bursts and flares. And same goes with my writing.
I used to falter with writing because of this, losing determination and tempted more than once to throw a story aside because I was stalling too much with it. Then one year, dunno what crazy tick bit me and I signed up for NaNoWriMo - where you commit to writing 50K of a story in a single month, in November. Bursts and flares, remember? I did just that - wrote and wrote and wrote. Result? A 78K story after 25 days (give or take weekends in there). How was that possible? Because Nano bursts were what worked for me, with my temperament. I know now I can never be slow and steady with a story; I need to power through start to finish in one go and be done with it. Has that made me more productive? You bet! Do I sometimes go for months without writing a single word? Yes, I do. But in the end, I do get my books and my writing out there when the time comes, because this method worked for me.
How will you know what works for you if you don't try, if you don't experiment?
I'm not gonna go into the debate of publisher/agent v/s self-publishing - you'll have to find what works for you and what you're ready to set up for (publishers handle all costs, but you have very little control over your book. If the editor working on your story is the kind that feels they need to rewrite every line of your book to meet a certain style, then you're gonna have to accept that axe - it might no longer look like 'you' any more V/S self-publishing - you can't just slap a book out and publish it. It needs a cover, an editor, someone to beta-read it for holes/issues, a proofreader too, maybe, someone to format. Yes, you can do all of that yourself - though not edit! You need 'other' eyes on there to see the stuff you will definitely miss! I'm an author and an editor, and I still need another pair of eyes on my work as there might be some words I've overused, echoes I have missed, something not sitting as right as it should.
But yeah - invest in yourself as an author.
You'll be thankful for that later on.
Or you might not even see how that is helping you, since everything is rolling like clockwork - and this, my lovely, is what you're after. This feeling that everything is working out smoothly. If you prep well, you'll get that smooth road. Trust me when I say many of us 'established' authors today have been through very bumpy rides throughout the years, through trial and error that could've been easily spared if we'd pushed half a brain cell towards it. Or is that what's actually called gaining experience...? Gain from our experience and don't make the same mistakes we did.
And then, finally, keep on writing!
Practice does make as close to perfect as possible, and you'll also begin to write faster, notice what your pitfalls are (I used to stall and drop mss in the middle previously because I was making my heroines too good/Mary Sue types. So yeah, I hit many walls until I realized this). I cranked out a 100K story over 9 months when I first started writing. Today, close to 12 years later, 100K is a month's work if I'm diligent about it. How/why? Because I know how I write, where my strengths lie, what works or not for me as an author and also when/how I'm devising a character and a plot. All this acquired through trial and error, practice, writing.
Then it all keeps adding on to this - write, write more, then write some more. As an author, you'll always need that 'next' book, and that's what it boils down to!
I hope this had been of some help at all (and not muddled things through more for ye all, LOL).
I'd love to know what tips and advice you'd feel like sharing. Comment and let me know!
From Mauritius with love,