When I took a year off school and moved across the country to Charleston, South Carolina to write the first draft of Waiting at Hayden’s ten years ago, I knew very little about writing a book; all I did know was that I needed to get my story idea down on paper.
I think that’s the case for most writers—and to be honest, it’s sort of wonderful to only know that and nothing more. If you’re in the early stages of writing a book, the words are flowing, and you’re feeling that “writers high,” feel free to stop reading this blog post. Milk that phase of your writing life because it’s wonderful and it will get you through the first draft—maybe even the first two.
But if you’ve been working for a while and feel stuck, these things I learned over the last year really helped me move forward and get Waiting at Hayden’s out there. I hope they help you too!
Stop referring to yourself as an “aspiring” writer: I spoke a bit about this in my blog post on career advice that no one else will tell you. Be as selective with the words you use to describe yourself and your writing career as you are with the words you use to describe your characters. You become what you speak about. When I started to refer to myself as an author instead of an aspiring author and believed that was true, things really changed for me.
You will find a way to publish your book so stop thinking about giving up: As writers we tend to naturally question everything—which is great when it comes to telling stories, but not so great when it comes to examining our career choice. Sometimes I look back at all the hours I debated giving up and the months I wondered if maybe I would just never figure out how to write Waiting at Hayden’s well. But I did figure it out—the way you do with something you just don’t quit at. If you’re here reading this, you will too.
Your Beta Readers Are Right: After each draft of Waiting at Hayden’s, I gave my book to ten or twelve beta readers to review it. And I left each of my meetings with those readers in tears, because they always had so many critiques. (And of course, every time, I thought I was handing them a great novel!) After a few days I always got what they were saying though and I pride myself on making almost all of the changes. The tenth time I’d written the book everyone unanimously loved the story. That was when I knew it was done and time to publish.
Readers are not known for being nice. They are known for being critical. So if your beta readers don’t almost unanimously love your story, odds are high others won’t either. Listen to them, as challenging as that is! They can often see what you can’t. They are experiencing the story, after all. You are writing it.
Learn everything you can from others and then toss what doesn’t work for YOU: I went to countless writing classes, seminars, groups, schools, etc. over the course of the last ten years and many of them were helpful. But there is a point in every writer’s life where you start to figure out what makes YOU tick, YOU work, YOU create, and that’s equally important knowledge. I think of the way I navigate through the world—it’s so different than the way most of my friends navigate through it, and different than how my family does too. The same is probably the case for you. Pay attention to what’s personally helpful and toss the rest.
You will be rejected more than you thought possible and that’s “normal.” I remember reading about how much writers are rejected and thinking, that probably only pertains to writers who haven’t done their homework or written a good book. Well, I have! (I laugh at myself now for this.) Partly because every single writer I’ve spoken to thinks they fall into this category. I don’t think we all have overinflated egos, I just think we all really love our stories and believe they are great, which is so important because we have to be our biggest advocates. But no matter how good your writing is it will be rejected, often several times a day, and it is so SO normal. Normalizing this doesn’t make rejection not hurt, but it helps a little.
My Writing Essentials
Connect with people now: Life is about connection! I had no idea how much until this year! As authors it can be so tempting to fantasize about hauling up in your room and writing away for months on end. Or getting off work and writing every night, making no time for your social life. But you’re going to wish you were out there connecting when it comes time for you to sell your story, market it, and share it with the world. Though writing is a solitary activity, publishing is a huge group effort and the more connections you make now, the easier that process will be. Start a blog, connect with book bloggers (they are wonderful and will be real advocates for you in the future!). Plus, life is meant to be lived, not just reflected on. As writers we sometimes forget this because we love imaginary worlds. The real world, however, can be pretty great too.
If you’re looking for more one-on-one writing advice or coaching, this year I am one of several authors part of Read More Co’s author apprentice program. I’d love to answer more questions and help you with your writing process or journey to publication. You can find more details here.