Have you got what it takes to become a writer?
For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a desire to write. But when it came to careers advice the job of 'writer' was nowhere on the list of possible careers for the future.
A burning desire in my thirties that would not go away was the reason I found myself in print with my first book Soul Purpose: Self-affirming rituals, meditations and creative exercises to revive your spirit. But even then no one explained to me what it took to become a writer and back in 1998 I endured a painful and very bumpy initiation into the writing life.
So here are five tips that will help you have a smoother ride into the writing life.
Keep a Journal or Notebook
Whatever your subject matter, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction keep a regular journal or notebook. Journals are a great way to siphon of your emotions and feelings that could get in the way of your confidence and competence as a writer. I use my journal, which I write in almost everyday to have regular inner dialogues and conversations with myself, to process and unravel feelings and emotions I experience which maybe in danger of sabotaging my efforts if left unacknowledged. Your journal is a safe place to moan, rant or complain giving a healthy space to process and deepen your self- awareness.
But I don’t just write about my feelings in my journal. My paper journal is both journal for personal expression and a notebook where I capture observations, copy down quotes and references and plunge into writing freehand when ideas and sentences appear in my mind.
My journal come notebook is a space where I organize ideas for articles, blog posts, e-books and other writing and online projects. I’m never without my journal, as I know ideas free flow throughout the day 24/7. I did make a group laugh the other day when I told them I don’t carry clutch bags when out socially as they don’t fit small books or notebooks well.
Slow Writing Is Okay
Be prepared for the long haul when it comes to writing a book. Our hectic society sends the message that speed is the everyday norm. It can be so easy to think that because everyone around you seems to be writing a book that you need to get one out there as quickly as possible. For some (a small minority) that is a possibility. But the reality is that for most people writing a book can take a year and even longer. Consider that Barbara Kingsolver author of the Poison Wood Bible spent thirty years waiting for the wisdom to write that book.
I encourage you not to be put off by the time it takes to get a book into circulation. Many of those authors who seem to have written books overnight will have had years of writing practice behind them with plenty of time for their writing to harvest.
So think quality not quantity. Every pregnancy normally runs full cycle of nine months and we can think of writing books and carrying them to full term in much the same way.
Don’t Think Best Seller, Think Practice.
I’ve published four books to date and the highest advance I received was for my first book, Soul Purpose back in 1998. After that the advance for my next two books was less than half of the advance of my first book. But money has not been the driving force behind my desire to write and publish. Communicating and connecting is my motivation. Most writers don’t make money directly from published books but from off shoots and services on the back of a book’s publication.
So I know I’m in it for the long haul. Of course it would be great to have a book that does do really well financially and I do hope to be in that position someday but in the meantime I know I have to keep on with the practice of getting my words out there.
Best selling children’s author Jacqueline Wilson has written over 40 books including crime novels before the breakthrough success of Tracey Beaker. Heather Sellers author of novels and the non-fiction books, Page-by-Page and Chapter-by-Chapter had her first book rejected by ninety agents and fourteen publishers. Writers definitely need staying power. So instead of focusing on the money and sales, my focus everyday is to become a better writer. I love reading and I read heaps more than I write. Reading also influences and contributes to the development of my writing.
I regularly write for free and post articles and features on line. It's a great way of generating content and staying in the flow with writing practice. It’s also a way of consciously building both a body of work and your writing platform. The two complement each other. No body of work, no author or writing platform. No writing platform and you significantly limit the reach your body of work has to reach a wider audience.
Establish A Writing Platform
Most publishers nowadays look for evidence of writers who have an author or writer’s platform. The author platform is a combination of your body of work and getting that body of work on line, published and shared through social media. Publishers are looking to see the range of your reach, connection and the numbers of people who follow you in your area of expertise.
But don’t let this put you off. The publishing industry has changed significantly and you now have the world at your fingertips and within your control as a writer, which means you have a wider reach than your publisher is ever capable of reaching for you (mainly because they’ll be occupied elsewhere focused on their best selling authors).
It’s a good idea to decide on the social media platforms you will work with and commit to building a presence on a minimum of at least two platforms.
I chose to build my presence and platforms on LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging. So I developed a routine of regularly posting on LinkedIn and twitter and posting articles on my blog. It didn’t take long before people started to find me and many of those people were international and have led to a number of online collaborations and partnerships.
Again forget scale of numbers of followers and think in terms of building and attracting your right tribe. You want to attract people and membership sites who are interested in what you have to write and say. Better to have a small following that are engaged than a huge following who are followers in name only.
Take a look at my Twitter feed @jackeeholder whilst my numbers are averaging just fewer than 2,000 for both followers and the number of people I follow, the notifications page is very active, showing that my followers engage with what I post and share.
Step Away From Your Writing
This is probably the approach that has helped me the most to really improve the quality and craft of my writing. I’m in the habit now of stepping away from early drafts of my writing. I let the writing sit and come back to it at a later time or date. Sometimes the time away will be a couple of hours, other times it's a couple of days, weeks or even months. The act of stepping away from the work means I return to it much more discerning and compassionate than when I simply push myself to rush through to the end without hitting pause.
Becoming a writer takes patience, determination and bundles of staying power. It all equates to what best selling author Steven Pressfield describes as, “Doing The Work.” Personally the greatest reward for me is in the doing. I love the journey of the unfolding of an idea into a rough draft, into a revised and polished piece that gets transformed when it’s published in a public space.