I just typed The End on my 51st book written since mid-2011, titled A Girl Apart. Very different from my prior work. I rather like it. We’ll see what the world thinks soon enough.
As I close out the year, outlining and starting my 52nd book, it occurs to me that I haven’t blogged a whole lot over the last couple of months, so I’ll make up for lost time and share a few things I’ve learned during my little publishing journey, although there is much I don’t know.
My thoughts and advice to aspiring authors follow in no particular order:
- Determine who you are and why you’re doing whatever you’re doing, and do it with purpose and passion. Ensure your identity pervades your work, and don’t flinch from who you are or attempt to second guess its imprint on your writing. Maybe it will make it unsellable, or result in genius, or somewhere in between, but at least it will be a true reflection of you in your work, and that’s what will set it apart. Readers don’t buy books, they buy stories by voices that resonate with them. The more distinct your voice, the more likely your signal stands out from the rest of the noise.
- Every time you sit down to write, find the passion in why you’re doing so, and imbue your words with that fire. If you can’t find passion today, fake it.
- Much of the time you might not have much, or any, enthusiasm – things might seem indistinct, or pointless, or meandering. Trust that you will find your story’s compass on rewrite. Don’t use the lack of it as an excuse not to write, if writing is what you want to do. Write through the phase, and believe that you will get it right in the end. You don’t have to rain brilliance upon the page on first draft. Consider it laying foundations upon which you’ll build your temple later, and free yourself to suck ass on first draft. Most of us do. It’s part of the process. Like a sculptor staring at the stone, your job is to find the statue within it – but your first try at trying to get the rough shape right is unlikely to wow anyone.
- Write stories you would want to read, not stories you think some random hypothetical audience might want to.
- Be true to yourself, but be willing to compromise when qualified criticism is offered. It’s possible you’re wrong. Listen to sage counsel, but in the end, it’s your work, and you have to take responsibility for making it as good as you can.
- You’re on the planet for a finite amount of time. Anyone who’s known someone diagnosed with a fatal illness will tell you that it changes them – the idea that they have unlimited runway collapses, and they’re left with their mortality being a known quantity rather than an abstract. Don’t wait until you are diagnosed. Recognized we all have the same disease – a limited life expectancy – and make your time count as though you’ll never get any more of it, because you won’t. So if you’re going to write, or sing, or dance, or pound nails with a hammer, or any of a million other possible things, do it for real, because going through life phoning it in is a lousy way to go about it.
- Discover the joy in testing your boundaries, like a toddler discovering the world for the first time. In that sense of wonder and exploration lies magic.
- You are not automatically interesting or relevant. That too will take a lot of work. It’s up to you to convince the world. Better put on another pot of coffee.
- Belief that you are capable of absolutely anything you commit 110% to achieving is paramount. If you are unwilling or unable to commit that much, find something to which you can and pursue that instead.
- Push yourself. Set out to prove something to yourself every day. Clock’s ticking, and this is your big chance for a personal best.
- Don’t pursue sales. Court readers. Be the author who delivers what nobody else can, or otherwise, what’s the point? To try to make a few bucks at a longshot endeavor at which the odds say you’ll fail? Why bother if that’s the motivation? Money and acclaim may or may not come, but in the meantime, there’s only the now. Make your now awesome, even if it takes everyone else forever to catch on to how awesome your now is. Throw your life’s party, don’t be a spectator at everyone else’s.
- Don’t kid yourself that you’re better than you are. You might be decent, or even pretty good, and you will probably get better with time if you try. But it won’t happen because you feel like it should. You will pay for every improvement with sweat and tears. That’s part of the job. Think of it as cutting onions if you like. Although I hate cutting onions, so I eat out a lot.
- Nothing is easy except mediocrity, and even that can be kind of tough. So don’t expect or settle for easy. Easy happens occasionally, but mostly it’s hard work that wins races. And even a marathon is a race.
- Work to live, don’t live to work. Your worth isn’t what you do, it’s how you do it and how you view yourself, the experiences you collect and the impact you have on those whose lives you touch. Nobody remembers who the richest man was 200 years ago, or who the most famous author was, or the name of most popular musician, unless they’re planning to compete on Jeopardy. We all think we live in an exceptional time, and this is the big show, and all else was preamble. Wrong. This is only our show, and we are tomorrow’s preamble, so lighten up and have fun with whatever you’re doing, and if nothing else, try to be nice, unless you’re a dick, in which case be honest about it.
- Master your craft, or at least try. You likely never will. That’s part of the challenge. Revel in it, don’t hate that the goalposts always seem to move just a little farther away. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
- When you think your story is as good as it can possibly be, sit down, take a deep breath, and demand that it be better. Ask yourself how, tear it apart, and force greatness from anything that is even slightly questionable. Your job isn’t to fill up space with words. It’s to choose words that compel your readers to stay up all night to read. Best of luck with that.
I’m not sure how much of this ramble will help anyone aspiring to be a working author, but after a few million books sold and some amazing windfalls, some astounding paydays and some whipsaw changes in the biz which continue unabated, what I can offer is that being an author is a fantastic career if you can handle the giddy highs and crushing lows, and power through it all, with near constant adversity making you stronger. Write stuff you can be proud of, and enjoy doing so, and then type The End, and go on to the next one.
The rest is up to the universe, luck, and retail marketing/promotions. And Amazon’s algos, of course.
Happy holidays, and make 2017 your breakthrough year. Make it, don’t hope for it.
How you do that is up to you.
And as always, go buy my crap.