Lessons I've learnt that will save you time and stress!
The end of quarter one is almost upon us and around this time, I do a review of my goals. I have various metrics such as number of words I've written or edited, how many books sold, how many new ideas I brainstormed and so on but it really got me thinking about what I wish I knew when I first started writing books.
My debut novel, The Good Mother, was published in September 2017 and since then I've been writing novels pretty much non-stop. It's safe to say that since then, I've learnt a lot about writing and the publishing industry! So I'm sharing 12 things I wish I knew when I started writing books along with 12 take-aways that may help you learn the lessons earlier than I did!
And if you're just getting started as a writer, don't forget to download my FREE guide, 5 Ways To Unleash Your Inner Author to help kick-start your author journey.
1) The art of writing is subjective
I graduated with a degree in Linguistics and English Language - I liked that there were rules and patterns in putting elements of the language together so it was difficult to accept that the best-selling books aren’t always the best written. I will always advise aspiring authors to have a solid understanding of language before writing a book but ultimately it’s important to remember that a book’s popularity will always lie with the readers.
Take-away: When it comes to your own manuscript, people will always have an opinion; make sure there’s a general consensus before making any changes you’re not comfortable with.
2) It takes time to develop your authorial voice
There are no short-cuts to developing your own voice and at first, you may find that your style is influenced by the authors you read. This is natural. However, remember the more you write, the more comfortable you will become with your own voice but it’s not something that can be rushed.
Take-away: Read widely and don’t be afraid to experiment with your own writing. Your authorial voice is what will make you stand out.
3) Your first draft is usually rubbish
Once I accepted this and let go of perfection, I found it so much easier to write and as a result my writing sessions were more effective and productive. As the quote by Terry Pratchett states: ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.'
Take-away: Limit the time you spend editing and focus on getting the words down on paper first. There will be time for editing and polishing later.
4) Take your time
I’ve had to learn this lesson several times over and my instinct is still to get the book written quickly, purely for a sense of achievement. Yet, every time I set myself unrealistic deadlines, I’ve had to do major rewrites - painful and time-consuming!
Take-away: Enjoy the journey of creativity rather than just focusing on the destination.
5) Write what you know
With my debut novel, The Good Mother, I did this instinctively and I always recommend to my writing students to write what they know simply because writing a book is hard enough and it’s easier. I broke this rule with my second novel and as a result, the words didn’t flow as easily.
Take-away: If it’s your first book, don’t be afraid to harness your own experiences to put the emotion into your writing.
6) Talent is not enough
Like any craft, you can always improve and there’s always something new to learn. When I first started out, I thought my talent would see me through but what I should have done is set aside regular time to build upon my existing knowledge.
Take-away: Set aside an hour a week to learn more about writing, whether that’s a free class on YouTube, completing writing prompts, or learning from other authors.
7) Consistency is critical
I’ve written full-time, part-time, and as a sideline, but I’ve learnt that consistency leads to a completed manuscript. I found that it’s harder to get back into the story if I let too much time go by between sessions.
Take-away: Experiment what works best for you in terms of your writing schedule but I would advise short, daily blocks rather than a long intensive session every few weeks.
8) Writing a book as a hobby is different to writing full-time
I’ll tell you a secret; when I moved to writing full-time (which was my dream), I didn’t enjoy it at all. I missed people, meetings, conversation, and the general buzz of an office environment. Luckily, I’ve found a way to combine the two but when your dream becomes the regular 9 - 5, it can take the shine off it!
Take-away: Experiencing the real-world inspires the creativity needed for writing.
9) Writing the second book is harder
I wrote a debut novel that won an award and went on to be a best-seller so I expected that writing my second book would be so much easier to write because I knew what I was doing. It’s fair to say the universe laughed in my face and I found it very difficult because the pressure was on; I had a tight publisher deadline and spent most of the time worrying I was a one-trick pony!
Take-away: Get into a positive state of mind before starting a new manuscript.
10) Discipline is your best friend
The art of discipline is still something I’m working on but it is the one thing that will help you write those final blissful words, The End. Motivation is fickle and when I didn’t feel motivated, I fell into the trap of believing that writing wasn’t my true calling; that if I wasn’t enamored by the work every day, it wasn’t meant to be. The reality is that some days you don’t feel like writing but it’s important to do it anyway.
Take-away: Focus on developing discipline. One technique is to tell yourself you’ll just do five minutes worth of writing; usually it’s enough to keep going.
11) Creativity needs to be nurtured
Our creativity is constantly under threat from our phones, busy lifestyles, and the numerous distractions in our lives. To write a book takes huge amounts of creativity and this well needs to be refilled regularly. Some authors do this by walking in nature, yoga, morning pages, meditation, or travel. By replenishing in this way, you’re less likely to experience burn out.
Take-away: Find a regular practice that works for you and commit to it.
12) You need a little luck
The publishing world, like many industries, is unpredictable. It’s also a business, which is easy to forget when you’ve spent months bleeding onto the page. Literary agents and publishers are not just looking for good writing but also a book that suits the current market and will sell. When you’re pitching your work and struggling to get interest, it's worth remembering that there are various factors at play and timing is everything.
Take-away: Don't write to market or get become immersed in industry trends - focus on the only element you can control which is writing the best book you can.
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