I was at a book signing the other day, and a person asked me a question that caused me to have to think a little before blurting out an answer. The question was, “What should every new writer know?” My answer at the time seemed to satisfy the person asking but after giving it a little more thought I decided that my reply was at best adequate and at worst incomplete. Now thanks to the Mystery Thriller Week I have been given another opportunity to adequately express what I have no come to call My Advice for New Writers that Every New Writer Should Know Before Deciding to Become a Writer. I think you can tell from my title that the thought process has grown from my initial response at the book signing. Also, if you have decided to become a writer no matter what anyone tells you, I would read this anyway. At best, you may avert some pain. At worst, you might even enjoy it. So, with that introduction let’s get into it.
1. If you want to become a writer, the most important thing you must do is write. Yes, as hard as that is to believe a writer must write. My suggestion is a writer should write every single day. Not that a bunch of words needs development every day, but a writer should write something every day. The reason for this is very simple. An established writing routine can be the key to finished work. Writing once or twice a week fosters frustration and inefficient production. Where things were left last time and where we are going this time saps the writer’s time and energy.
2. If you want to become a writer, there needs to be an established way to measure success on a regular basis. Waiting for the end game of being published does not motivate. Writing is a solitary act, and since a writer works alone, the writer must be able to recognize a good day from mediocre. As a result, I always recommend writers think regarding output and establish concrete production goals. My goal is one thousand words a day. No matter what I’m doing for a day, I don’t start any activity until I’ve written one –thousand words. There is no magic in a thousand other than in ninety days I can have a first draft of a novel. A page goal is also good. I do caution writers that once the goal is achieved that should mark the end of the writing day. Most say, “The hell with that if I’m on a roll then I’ll write all I want.” I’m in it for the long haul, so I say after three books published and five written, “Once I hit a thousand, I move on to something else.”
3. If you want to become a writer, remember what Ernest Hemmingway said, “The first draft is shit.” The idea is to finish the first draft and then worry about making it a Pulitzer Prize winner during the editing phase. Too many new writers think they must craft beautiful work the first time around. Believe me; it just doesn’t happen. I believe about thirty percent of everything I write isn’t worth reading. This percentage doesn’t bother me at all, and I don’t over rotate on the words as I write them. The important part is getting them down and then finishing whatever it is that was intended. A writer who pauses to edit and correct the work courts the prospect of never finishing the manuscript. I do know some writers who edit as they go along, but I do not recommend it especially for new authors.
4. If you want to become a writer, do not show family, friends, neighbors, or your bartender your work until complete. I know, I know. Everyone wants to be a part of a critic circle to keep themselves on track with the story and characters. Yeah, critical groups are fine for your short stories, poems, and whatnot. For your manuscript critique groups and especially your family represent an opportunity for you to get discouraged and quit the piece you on which you are working. The only time to show your work is once you finish the first draft. Then you can show it to an editor, beta readers or the postal delivery person for all you should care. Before though keep it to yourself. I’ll give you an example. Say you have a partially completed manuscript that your spouse has been reading as you write it. So far they love it and think you have a New York Times bestseller. All of a sudden you need to write in sex, murder, torture, fight, seduction, terror, bomb (pick one) scene. Your spouse reads what you have written and then asks the penetrating question, “Where did you learn about this?” That manuscript is now deader than a doornail. You will find it tough to continue with the same confidence that you had in the beginning. A high level of confidence is one of the few tools that a writer has that can die immediately. The death of confidence is very true if the source of criticism is loved ones.
5. If you want to become a writer, finish your manuscript before you start querying agents and publishers. Never think that an agent or publisher is going accept you before you finish your manuscript. Maybe Stephen King could send a query letter to an agent and get representation even without a manuscript. You can’t. Also, there is no more of a demoralizing process than querying agents and publishers. If your document isn’t complete, you may make an unfortunate and inaccurate assumption that your work is not okay. If that happens, you will never finish the manuscript. (Notice my main point is to finish the manuscript)
6. If you want to become a writer, you must understand the realities of today’s publishing world and be ready to accept them.
Reality 1. Readers have no idea who you are. You need to market yourself and your books. You need to understand social media, marketing, selling, and general good business practices. Today’s publishers no longer have the resources to offer large advances and giant promotional budgets for new book launches. So even if you are represented by an agent and with a traditional publisher, you need to understand how to market your book.
Reality 2. Agents and publishers will not offer contracts to self-published authors unless there is evidence that you can sell a lot of books. So, if you absolutely must have an agent, don’t publish until you get one. If you must be published by a traditional publisher, do not publish until you have a contract with one.
Reality 3. Most published authors make less than one-hundred dollars a year. If you believe you will be making tons of money writing, then also understand the odds are slim and plan accordingly.
Reality 4. If you are not writing because you love it, you are not writing for the right reasons, and you are setting yourself up for a lot of pain.
Reality 5. You will get a negative reaction to your work. All readers are not created equal, and some won’t get what you are trying to say. You need to be able to handle negative opinions with grace and dignity. I always believe that if someone doesn’t like my work, then my work is not for them. I never try to make an accommodation in my writing to forestall another negative reaction. I imagine if I received a lot of negative reactions that would be a different matter. The reality is, there will be a negative reaction to your work. How you handle those reactions marks the difference between a professional and a hack.