So many writers have the same dream: To get published. To get on the shelves. To get paid for what you love to do.
I’ll be honest, this was my dream until a reality check last year. I thought maybe … just maybe I would defy all odds and make it to the best-sellers list on my first or second novel. There’s nothing wrong with having that dream. But, I realized there’s something wrong with banking on it.
There are many paths to success. You may have seen this image before:
I realized there are other ways to live as a writer. You may sell to a smaller, independent publisher and receive royalty checks that add a few extra dollars to your account. You may make it big-time and sell to a big-six publisher, and still only make a few extra dollars. You may self-publish and flop, or you may become the next sweeping sensation (Amanda Hocking, E.L. James.) But the thing is, none of that may happen, and you have to go back to the beginning. Why am I writing? Why do I do this?
There’s something I learned about my writing. I am already getting paid. My heart is happy, and my soul is fulfilled when I create stories, lyrical sentences, voices so different than my own. I take a vacation into every story world I create, and I don’t even have to board a plane or check my bags. I connect to new perspectives, and I learn about cultural differences. I am educated about the world around me, so that I might create my own new world.
I am paid.
Contentment is something money can’t buy. We might have all the fine things in the world, but the free things are the rarest. Accepting your life, exactly where and when it is, is priceless. I would love to keep dreaming; I would love to see my book on a bookshelf. But that isn’t the point at which I will call myself successful.
Every time I pick up a pen, or open my laptop, I have already won.
– Dani Nicole
Illustration from risarodil.tumblr.com.
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I read the finale to a trilogy last week, and it left my poor little heart in pieces. How could this happen, I wondered. I mean, how could the author do this to me?
That’s when I realized that only a brilliant author can shatter my heart, and I’m okay with it.
I like to think becoming an author is a high calling, but more than that, making your audience feel something is an even higher calling. Think of your favorite stories, whether in print or film. They made you laugh. Cry. Smile. They motivated and inspired.
They made you feel.
That’s the point of stories, though, isn’t it? We wish to travel to a new existence and feel what it’s like to live as someone else. To handle their trials as they handle them. To feel the effects of life and death and sadness and joy. The repercussions of their mistakes and the celebrations of their victories. We want to live another way, if only for a few hours, a few weeks.
Stories are their own magic. You might have heard that before. But creating such magic is not for weak-hearted word wizards. Making people feel what you do when you write a story takes time, research and discipline as you grow your talent. But when you get there, when you make a reader cry because their favorite – and your favorite – character is in a situation he or she can’t get out of, the very fact that your story has so much magic will validate every word you typed, erased, threw away, rewrote, and obsessed over.
Don’t give up on the craft.
Don’t give up on the magic.
– Dani Nicole
My usual beta reader, Aslan.
Most people think writers just pop out books and they are immediate best sellers. I would say most of those people aren’t writers, but that’s not really true. Every time I pick up a pen there’s some optimism there that maybe I will just write a really awesome first draft. Maybe I will be the next YA prodigy.
But the reality is, there’s an entire process to creating a great piece of literature. Here are some foolproof steps to get your book ready to pitch:
- Write the damn book.
It’s pretty difficult to keep writing a scene that seems out of place, keep giving an underdeveloped character dialogue, or keep using a setting that’s overly cliché. But the key to success on the first draft is to simply write and don’t look back. If you get through a scene and want something else for it, add that something else on top of it. Don’t go back and edit. Not till the end. Not till step two.
- Read your book and try not to cry.
The fetal position will help with this step. Put your book on Kindle or Nook and read it as quickly as you read the last Harry Potter book. Don’t take too long. Just get through it so you can get a big-picture idea of what you’re working with. During this read-through, you will simultaneously feel like a god and like the most untalented person ever. That’s okay. That’s normal. Chocolate helps.
- Fix your shit.
Ernest Hemingway says, “The first draft of everything is shit.” Well, cheers to you Hemingway, because you’re right. Your good parts will need to be better, your plot lines will need to be tied neater, and your characters will need more character. This is the part where you start to mold your clay into a shape. When you’re done with this draft, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re writing.
- Happy trees.
Now it’s time to go Bob Ross on your landscape. Fill in the holes, enhance the beauty, and bring out what makes your book unique. This is the time for embellishments, last minute wishes, small repairs, and validation that you’re a good writer after all. Do this in as many drafts as you need, until you can’t figure out what else to fix.
- Let real people read it.
Your cat is probably tired of hearing your plot problems by now, so give it over to trusted beta readers. Let them read your book all the way through and accept their criticism with civility. Keep in mind that only you know how to write the book you’re writing, but beta readers can help you pinpoint what is unclear and what doesn’t work.
Now it’s time to get your book polished until it damn near sparkles. Read it and read it again. When you get to the point that you can’t find any way to improve it, then congratulations! It’s time to query.
What are your steps to crafting a novel (or painting, song, etc.)? Leave a comment below.