I’m not a patient man. I’m pretty sure that the future me who is a successful published author is one day going to write a letter from the future to myself in the past to give myself some advice. But I can’t wait that long. And so I’m going to try to imagine what advice I might try to give myself in ten years or so when I’ve finally figured it all out and am making a living doing what I love. So here goes…
Here I am, taking a break after having sent the last manuscript for the last novel in my latest series to my editor (Andrea is really great! You’re going to love working with her, but hold your ground on main character descriptions. Less is more!). I was thinking back on how things were ten years ago and how I never thought I’d ever actually make it. So here’s a little advice from me to you.
- You’ll make it. Hang in there. Don’t give up. On the other hand, it won’t be what you expected, either. I’ve made it, but I never really entirely feel like it’s real. I keep falling into that “I’ll be a real writer when…” trap that everyone warned me about. You know, I’ll be a real writer when I publish a novel. I’ll be a real writer when I publish a second novel. I’ll be a real novel when I hit the NYT Best Sellers list. I’ll be a writer when a publisher picks up my first novel for a completely different series. Etc. It goes on and on, and it never really stops. Just relax and enjoy it more. But don’t give up.
- Don’t try to implement too much advice at once. I remember where you’re at now–you’ve been listening to all sorts of advice on what to do and not to do, and you’re trying to work it all in at once. Stop it. It’s making your writing feel forced and unnatural. It’s killing your voice. Back it off and just pick a few honest-to-gosh weaknesses to shore up and focus on that for the current novel. Then add in a few more things. Don’t try to leap over five years of practice in a single novel. It’s killing your writing and draining all the fun out of something you love.
- Write what you love to read, but don’t be afraid to take a few deliberate steps to make your work more accessible. Go ahead and write those “average Joe gets in over his head and rises to the occasion” novels, but don’t forget that Average Joe could be a Josephine, a Jojo, a Jing Pao, a Joachim, or a Jose. Or he could have those people as friends. Don’t homogenize your world unnecessarily.
- When writing other worlds be sure to take the time to make it truly different. And then kick it up another level. You don’t have to be Brandon Sanderson, but take the time to really think things through. It takes more thought and more prep than you think it does. Learn to take your time with the prep.
- Work on making your characters more different from one another. I know, “how do I do that?!” Practice. And people-watch. That’s all I can say. Even friends who get along well are still different, and still say things differently, even when they’re agreeing. Practice it. It’s one of the biggest things holding you back.
- Study other authors’ writing. Remember how you try so hard not to get carried away with description, backstory, asides, etc, only to catch your favorite writers doing exactly that? If they’re not getting carried away, neither are you. Relax, and go with it. You can always trim it back later. Andrea will be good at telling you when you’re getting carried away.
- Find some interim Andreas. Work on building up your alpha and beta reader groups. See if you can’t get a peer group going. You need that feedback. It’ll help. Trust me on this. You can’t stay a “Lone Wolf Writer” forever.
- Always build in deep symbolism. Your readers will love that. Just kidding. Don’t keep inserting Easter eggs into your scenes. It’s pretentious, and even if certain people do like it, you won’t respect yourself in the morning. And seriously, that thing you’ve got going on with blueberries as a symbol of death? Drop it. No one gets it. It doesn’t work. Kill that darling!
- Read lots. But don’t compare. Study what those writers do, but don’t try to be them.
- Step outside your comfort zone from time to time. Remember that YA Paranormal Romance you started writing on a lark? It was terrible, but admit it. It was a lot of fun to write! And without that you never would have stumbled onto writing LDS Romance (and yes, a pen name is a good idea). And no, you won’t get pigeon-holed when you go back to fantasy (but the pen name is still a good idea!).
- Keep writing. Don’t overdo it, either. Find that balance. You won’t have your kids much longer. It’s good that you’re showing them it’s okay to pursue your dreams, but if you’re tempted to spend less time on them and more time on writing, don’t. Just keep fitting it in when you can. You’ll get there.
That’s probably enough for now. I won’t tell you which novel will finally get you published, as that’d freak you out so bad you’d never write it. But I suspect you can tell from the above that it’s quite likely the last one you would expect. So I guess that’s point #12: don’t assume. Put your work out there. Get rejected. Get used to sending everything out regardless of whether you think anyone will like it. And then be prepared to be floored at what finally sells. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
Good luck, and best wishes! It’ll be worth it!