So You Wanna Write a Book: What Writers and Editors Don’t Tell You
You probably have great ideas for a book. Maybe one of these ideas keeps popping up in your brain over and over again. It’s calling to you, begging you to release it from its prison and find its way to the outside world. But do you have the patience to foster it? Do you have the motivation to take care of it and not let it meander aimlessly? And last but not least…do you have the strength to let go of it when the time is right and allow it the freedom you feel it deserves? If so, read on.
I’m not writing this to deter you from living your dream. And I’m not trying to tell you to keep your day job or prepare for rejection. Other people will gladly step in and do that. I love reading and I know a lot of unknown writers have amazing books they’re keeping to themselves because of the prevalent fear of being told they should give up.
So I am going to share what I’ve learned over the years regarding writing for publication. I promise, it’s not going to send you running to toss your stories into the fireplace. If anything, it’s a way to prepare you for the journey of a lifetime.
Manuscripts don’t need to be perfect
I know, I know. You’ve been told that you’ll be rejected if a comma is out of place on the first page. Or that if the first paragraph doesn’t grab an editor, it becomes part of the slush pile. I assure you, this is not always the case. Oh sure, your manuscript might come across the desk of a grumpy, exhausted editor who is tired of seeing the word “you’re” spelled incorrectly, And if the first paragraph of a story is too rambling and difficult to get through, then no one is going to want to read on to see if it gets better. But more than likely, if the premise of the story is interesting and you’ve written a catchy synopsis or tag line, it’s going to be read. And it might even be accepted for publication. Because a story can be edited for improvement, but a well-thought out idea that’s written in an active voice with interesting characters comes from difficult-to-find talent. So you’re take-away from this? Yes, proofread your chapters for spelling and grammar errors, but don’t obsess over it. And yes, make sure your writing is tight and strong, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect. The most important piece of your work is the story and the characters that drive it. The heart of the piece is voice. I will explain more about voice in another post.
Rules can be broken
Remember when your fourth grade teacher chastised you for not including a subject and a predicate in each sentence? Remember when writing run-on sentences was considered an infraction right up there with leaving your dirty dishes in the sink? These are some of the writing rules we’ve all grown up following. After all, we wanted to receive good grades on our term papers. But here’s the thing: in stories and books you can get away with fragmented and run-on sentences. It’s true. And many other writing “rules” have been broken over the years with varying success. Don’t believe me? Just read one of the Harry Potter books. They filled with -ly adverbs. And yet, as writers we’re taught -ly adverbs = lazy writing. Oh yeah? So how come J.K. Rowling made millions with her books? After all, the pages are speckled with “lazy writing,” and yet, millions of readers can’t put these books down! Now, I don’t suggest you use -ly adverbs as a regular mode of description. But this is just an example of how rules are merely guidelines. (Yes, you can start a sentence with an “and” or “but.”)
Writing is hard work
Yes. Very much so. You’ll find courses that promise you can write a book in 30 days. Or advertisements that showcase successful writers who make writing a book seem easy. The truth? It’s work. Hard, brain-draining work. And if you’ve been blessed with an amazing imagination, you might find yourself doing more daydreaming about your book than writing it. But try sitting at a computer for eight hours a day coming up with new material and see how fast your motivation deteriorates. So, when you’re preparing to finally write that book, be ready for the frustration that comes with it. For the moments when you come to a pivotal part in your novel and don’t know what to write next. Be ready for the lure of the Internet, with its social media and articles upon articles about writing that eventually morph into interesting facts that pull you away from your writing goals. It might take you a year to finish writing your novel. Two years. Ten years. But perseverance is the key, and when you write that final sentence, the one that makes you cry with both relief and sorrow at watching your “baby” become fully grown, you will feel a sense of indescribable accomplishment.
You probably won’t make a lot of money
Most authors I know have day jobs so they can have all the necessities like food and shelter. One author told me he made $5,000 from his writing last year. I actually found that pretty impressive. The truth is that unless you are well known and have an amazing platform that easily attracts readers, you probably won’t become rich. Writing (especially fiction writing) is more about creating than about providing for a financially-strong future. I’ve heard so many people say that they want to write a book to make extra money. If you’re looking at having a second income to help support your coffee addiction, you might have better luck with a part-time gig at Tim Horton’s. Does that mean you shouldn’t even bother to try? Absolutely not! Because art should never be about money. It should be about freedom of expression. The need to create. And even if you never make one cent off your work, you’ve done a great service to your mind and heart. Which, in my opinion, has the most value.
These are just a few things I’ve gleaned over the twenty-plus years of writing I’ve done. See, that wasn’t so terrible, was it? The most important point I want to make is that you need to keep your audience in mind, but you really need to write for you. At the end of the day, it’s not about who is the most successful. It’s about who is the happiest.