My publishing journey: Ten things I believe about writing

I guess I’m getting to the stage where people look at my writing career and think, “That person must know what she’s doing”, because I am starting to get messages from people who are keen to talk to me about publishing.

I am reluctant to disillusion them. I do not like to explain that I know bupkis about publishing. To me it is a mysterious opaque world, the landscape of which is only occasionally illuminated by emails from my agent and editors, and tipsy conversations with other writers.

However, it seems a little ungracious to send people away with “Google Absolute Write, good luck”. So since this blog could do with some actual regular content, I thought I would do a series of blog posts — not on how to do it (“it” being “get a book deal”), but how I did it. It’s not only going to be about selling my novel, though: since it is a journey, I’ll talk about what’s happened since I first prevailed upon someone to give me money for my fiction.

I plan to do posts on:

  • Selling short stories
  • How I published a short story collection
  • Signing with a literary agent
  • How I figured out how to write a novel
  • Going on submission
  • Selling the novel

But also:

  • Self-publishing
  • Conventions and festivals
  • Social media and networking
  • Other stuff!

My focus will not be advice. There is sufficient writing/publishing advice on the Internet to equal even the cat photos and pornography. It’ll be what I did and why it worked for me (or why it didn’t). But the big thing to remember about writing is that there are a lot of different ways to do it; there are lots of different paths to publication; and you only have to do what works for you, which might be different from what works for other people.

Which leads quite nicely into the meat of this post! Here are

Ten things I believe about writing

A sort of mission statement

(This is not advice. It is stuff I tell myself. It might SOUND like advice, but all the “you”s in this post are really me.)

1) There are different ways to be a writer, most of which are equally valid.

You don’t have to be traditionally published. You don’t have to be published in print. You don’t have to be published at all. You don’t have to write original fiction. You don’t have to write novels. You don’t have to write fiction. You don’t have to write every day.

You probably do have to write from time to time in order to be a writer. But there are a lot of different ways to be a writer, and you don’t have to do any of the other things to deserve the term.

2) The writing is the most important thing.

Publishing is basically irrelevant. The problem is that it is where the attention and money comes from so your brain is very liable to get fixated on it. However, this principle is important to believe even if you want desperately to get published, because being a writer can be depressing in lots of ways (constant rejection, nobody wants to read your stories, pay to effort ratio is low, writing is hard). So if you don’t find writing fun or fulfilling — something worth doing for its own sake — then things are likely to get sticky at some point.

I want to have success in publishing my fiction, but I live in fear of letting the vagaries of publishing rob me of my writing. I am scared of anything that will steal my writing from me. Except Twitter and staring at shoes on the Internet, those are apparently allowed to steal my writing time.

3) Every voice is needed. Only you can write your stories.

Especially for people who have been told that their voice does not matter or is not as interesting as others’, I think it can be easy to get discouraged and feel that there is no need to add your voice to the cacophony, because who cares? But the world needs your voice. No one else can replace you.

4) Feel the jealousy. Let it go.

At some point you will feel upset at another writer’s success. It is not a rational feeling, because another writer’s success is not actually taking away from any success you might have, books not being interchangeable widgets. But it happens. Don’t worry too much about it, but don’t let it take up valuable brainspace that could be filled with dragons and banter and rocketships instead.

5) Do the hard stuff.

You don’t have to publish or be a professional writer, but if you want to be a professional then it helps to act like one. I don’t mean replying to emails promptly and refraining from insulting agents (though do answer your emails and don’t insult agents), but doing things when you don’t want to do them. I do things for my day job all the time that I don’t really want to do, but that are part of my job and enable me to keep doing the parts I enjoy.

Sometimes writing will not be fun. It probably won’t be anything more than a hobby if that’s where you stop (though it is OK if you like it as a hobby, obvs).

6) Seek balance.

You shouldn’t hang all of your self-identity and self-worth on writing. It’s bad for yourself, but also it’s bad for your writing. People get tied into knots over things they can’t control — a book doing badly, a story that won’t sell — and sometimes that stops them from writing. That is bad. Make sure you have lots of eggs in different baskets so even if the writing goes, you’ll still be a person with a full, happy life.

7) Take the work seriously, but not yourself.

The work deserves the best of you. But people who go around talking about what tortured artistic souls they are and how unusual and interesting being a Writer makes them are annoying. So don’t do that. Think less about yourself and more about your work.

8) There are no shortcuts.

Sometimes when people ask me for advice about writing or publishing I wonder if they think I have a special secret — like, a password I can give them that will open the doors to a world they want to enter.

I don’t. I have privileges without which I would not be where I am today (a good education, loving family, support with household chores, healthy finances). But to sell the novel, I wrote a book, reworked it, queried agents, reworked the book some more, and submitted it to publishers. That’s pretty much what most people who sell books to publishers do. It involves a lot of hard work and rejection, but there aren’t really any shortcuts.

9) Support others.

I don’t mean this in a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” sort of way. This is different from networking. It is good for you, as an artist, to be generous — to rejoice in the success of others — to love others’ work more than your own — to give what you can to other people. It will make you happier. It will deepen your connections with other people. It is probably even good for your writing, I don’t know. But it’s valuable in itself.

10) Fill the well.

Read interesting books. Look at pictures. Listen to music. Watch interesting films. Have good conversations. Watch people and listen to them. Do something new once in a while. Give your brain something to chew on so when you sit down to write, you have something to say.

 

So that’s what I try to remind myself of when I am at any risk of forgetting! The next post will be more of an actual story about how I started. Please look forward to it!

4 thoughts on “My publishing journey: Ten things I believe about writing

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  3. Pingback: My publishing journey: Writing with a day job, part 1 — why I don’t write full-time | Zen Cho

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