So, you wanna be a writer?

21 Feb

Some practical advice that doesn’t mention adverbs…

Beginner writers are often bombarded with advice—some helpful, some not so helpful. The best advice I can give is to take all advice with a grain of salt. A lot of writers repeat “rules” they have heard elsewhere without providing any background, which leads to a kind of “writers’ Chinese Whispers” when conventions have been taken out of content or are incorrect. So, aside from being particular about whose advice you subscribe to, the most practical advice I can give to beginning writers, without delving into grammatical discourse, is:

Read. Read, read, and then read some more. Read books in your genre that you love, and then read books that you really didn’t like. Figure out why. What was it about the books you loved that resonated with you as a reader? What about the books you didn’t enjoy made you to struggle to finish them. What made certain books bestsellers? Did the bestsellers have a unique or intriguing premise? Did they have amazing, realistic characters? Did they have an original authorial voice? Beautiful prose? A twist ending? A love triangle? Did they appeal to an otherwise untapped audience? Maybe they had all of these things. Make a list of writing pros and cons that apply to you as a reader and pin it up in your writing space.

Learn. Some authors insist that reading books about writing or attending writing conventions or festivals is a waste of time and money. Such writers insist that doing so will cramp your burgeoning writing style. I vehemently disagree. Everything I have learned about writing, editing, and marketing, I learned from others (and by subsequent trial and error while following those teachings). I learned from teachers, from mentors, from books and style manuals, from analysing manuscripts, from proofreading following other editors’ mark-ups, and from attending conferences and conventions to network with successful authors and publishing industry professionals.

The idea that good writers are born and not made is pure nonsense. Sure, some people have a natural affinity for writing. Some have a natural sense of rhythm. Some authors seem to have unlimited original ideas. Some have a way of thinking that produces incredible metaphor or simile. But just like dancing or painting, or any other activity, writers can improve with practice and with lifelong learning.

Invest. Another truly rubbish piece of advice for beginner writers is: “All money should flow toward the writer.” I know this was designed to prevent writers from being scammed by unscrupulous service providers, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If you’re serious about writing and you want to make a business out of your writing, you’ll need some capital. You need to invest in yourself as a writer, which might mean buying programs like Scrivener or Write or Die or Antisocial to keep you writing rather than procrastinating. It might mean reading books by successful writers. If you’re a self-published author, you’ll want to invest not only in knowledge (by way of conventions or books about writing) but also in editing, cover design, advertising, promotion, and publicity.

As always, be careful about which businesses you choose to spend your money with. Ask for referrals, check service providers out thoroughly, and ensure they have a good reputation for being ethical and delivering on what they promise. There are a lot of scammers out there who target writers, so make sure your investment will be a sound one. When writing is your profession, or you run a small business, you can claim these investments as tax deductions. Like any business, don’t expect to start turning a profit immediately. Expect to inject some capital into your business for the first year at least. 

Grow. By grow I mean continue to live your life. Most writers draw inspiration from the world around them, so don’t forget to stop and sit in a café people-watching on occasion. Growing also means accepting change. As you change, your writing voice may change and the things you want to write about might change. Be flexible in your approach to writing. Try new things.

So far, I’ve self-published Cage Life, a book of short stories; Growth, a book of poetry; two children’s picture books, Hey, Little Sister and Pancakes on Sunday; and now Cruxim—a paranormal romance. Yet I have a non-fiction background with more than 25 titles under my belt, and I have literary fiction, young adult novels, and romance novels all half-finished on my hard-drive. Why? Because I write what I feel like writing.

So you’ve always written romance, but you get a feeling you’d be good at writing for young adults—give it a shot (even if you do it under a pen name in case it doesn’t work). You’re not getting any traction with your book and you’re worried it is the cover, change it up and see. Be flexible when it comes to price, too. If you want to self-publish, try it. If you want to query publishers, go for it. You can do both. There is no one single path to success. Growth and change are positives for writers, and being flexible will help you survive in a publishing world that is highly variable at present.

Harden up. Yep, that’s my final piece of practical advice for writers. Drink a cup of concrete—figuratively, that is. No matter what you write, or how you write it, there will be some people who just don’t “get” your work. It doesn’t matter if you have three hundred five-star reviews; those three one-stars are the ones that will play on your mind.

“Why did they hate ‘me’?” you ask (because we writers have a habit of making it personal). When you put your work out there, you invite criticism, constructive or otherwise. To stay happy, you’ll need to develop skin thicker than a rhinoceros’s (even if you secretly whine and moan about bad reviews in private).

I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn from criticism where you can, because you most certainly should. If your critics are saying your book was full of errors, by all means, sort it out. If they’re insisting there are plot loopholes, you might want to stitch those shut. But resign yourself to the fact that no matter what you do, sometimes “haters gonna hate.” Don’t let negative feedback undermine your need to keep on writing, keep on learning, keep on growing, and keep on developing the carapace you’re going to need if you want to write for a living. 


Posted by on February 21, 2013 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “So, you wanna be a writer?

  1. Belinda Pollard (@Belinda_Pollard)

    February 21, 2013 at 11:51 am

    A great summary of important points, Karin. And very timely — for me at least! I read a blog post the other day that made my hair stand on end. It had a long list of things writers are Forbidden to do. Naughty little writer that I am, I wanted to race off to my ms and add every single one of those forbidden things. 😉 Actually, come to think of it, most of them were already in it. 😀

    Read widely, study the craft of writing, engage brain, and make intelligent decisions about what does and doesn’t work for your goals and style. That’s what I reckon.

    • Karin Cox

      March 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks Belinda. Today, it feels like engaging brain is almost an impossibility. Up late! But yes, a lot of it is common sense, I think.

  2. Barbie Stephen

    February 27, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Wonderful article, Karin. I especially needed to hear the ‘drink a cup of concrete’ advice. I tend to be easily stung by criticism. I’m trying my best to overcome that – there are always going to be Doubters and even Haters out there who feel it’s there business to admonish your work or style, it takes some hardening up to not let them get to you. Writing is an intimate process that becomes (if you show it to anyone) a public spectacle. But it’s the joy you find in that process that makes it all worth while. I know I feel red-hot and bulletproof after a session at the computer, when I think I’ve written really well. I just got published for the first time and already I’ve found out that it’s not the praise of others that you write for, it’s the rush you get when you’ve written something that’s ‘golden’.

    • Karin Cox

      March 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks, Barbie. You’re a freshly minted author, and that is okay. You’ll develop a curmudgeonly author attitude to criticism with time. And you’re right that the joy is why we write, the acclaim (or criticism) should come second to that.


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