It’s early Thursday morning and there are less than thirty days until Spring arrives. And with Spring comes Spring cleaning, gardening, house repair and any number of things that you have to do because they aren’t going to get done if you don’t. I’m always at my most productive during the winter months. Here in Saskatchewan we experience the kind of extreme cold during the winter that makes you stay the hell indoors. This winter we experienced the coldest December in one hundred years with daytime highs reaching -30 Celsius for most of the month. January started off insanely cold and warmed up for two weeks – then it got stupid cold again. February has been pretty much as cold as December was. And it’s dark. The sun doesn’t come up until nearly nine in the morning – you go to work in the dark and you come home in the dark for half the winter out here on the prairie.
So when it’s too cold to even think about venturing outdoors. When the dark makes you stand in front of a lamp to remind you of what light looks like, well, for me at least – that’s when I’m writing my ass off. I experiment with ideas that pop into my head. I write paragraphs and even whole “idea chapters” as I like to call them – just to see if there’s anything there. That’s my litmus test for generating a sense of excitement about what I’m doing. All of my books started out like that – “idea chapters” that went on to becoming a completed manuscript.
I’ll admit that it’s easier now to write than it was ten years ago. Partly because I’ve become a better writer, but mostly because I managed to get published, find an agent, and get published again … twice. Before I had an agent – before I had a publishing credit, I was like every other writer out there with dreams of getting a book deal. I questioned the quality of my writing. I questioned whether I actually had the chops to make a go of it. Because finding a publisher or landing a literary agent was and still is so unbelievably hard to do. Now it’s not so hard because I’ve got an agent and I can fire off an email with a sample chapter to get her feedback. The email usually goes like this:
Good morning, Jenny – just wanted to get your thoughts on this. It might suck.
How cool is that? I can fire off a quick email to one of those gatekeepers we keep hearing about and she’ll tell me what she thinks about what I’ve written. (And she isn’t getting paid for her insight. My agent’s pay comes when we sell a project so I never, ever, ever, ever take this fact for granted. She’s personally and professionally invested in my success because she’s got a mortgage and kids to put through school.)
It’s so much harder for an unpublished writer to get that kind of feedback – actually, it’s impossible. My agent works IN the industry. Unpublished writers don’t have industry professionals to get a no-holds-barred opinion. Lately there’s been a hell of a lot of “self-publishing is the wave of the future gatekeepers are evil bla bla bla” stuff on the web. I’m just not confident enough of a writer to go it alone. My agent’s feedback, the readers my agency hires to read my stuff – that’s industry feedback and it’s based on the idea that whatever I am writing, it’s gotta sell on top of being a good story. This reality keeps me focused on becoming a better author and reinforces the very idea that I might actually, you know, not suck at penning novels.
Why do I write? Because it makes me feel good about me. I know … that’s probably pretty selfish, but it’s the truth. I write because I want to succeed both professionally and financially as an author. Those little successes I’ve achieved so far aren’t little at all when you think about it. Getting published is hard freaking work. Finding an agent is hard freaking work and I wouldn’t trade where I am now for anything.
I’ve encountered a lot of people who are right now where I was ten years ago. I have a little writer’s meetup here in Saskatoon. We get together monthly over coffee and the reason I started it up was to help unpublished writers by pushing them to get that damned project written. To cut the distractions in their life into little manageable bits and to focus on a game plan for their project. And I ask them, each month … why are you writing? Why do you want to get published? I want them to answer that question with complete honesty because that honest answer is what you cling to when the going gets tough.
I know a lot of bloggers who want to get published. They have wonderful book blogs and fabulous social media skills. Occasionally they will seek my input into something they are writing which I am always happy to offer – not that I’m some kind of literary whiz kid … I’m not. My agent kicks my ass all the time for stupid author mistakes. But I’m way ahead of those blogger/authors on my book journey and I guess some people actually look up to me in that regard. And I tell those blogger/authors: less blogging, less social media … more writing. If you want to get published, you gotta focus on what the end game is going to be and you need to minimize anything that is a distraction to your work.
You have to banish that little voice in the back of your head – the one that says you suck on an epic scale. You have to visualize what getting “the call” looks like. (Mine happened in a Tim Horton’s parking lot at 3 AM because London is seven hours ahead of us.) You have to visualize what it means to be published and you need to have an honest assessment of what your priorities are in the here and now.
Yep, you might not get an agent or get a book deal. Hell, I might never sell another book to a publisher, but I keep pushing on and so should you if you have dreams of being a published author. Sure, you could self-publish. If you can make a go of it and you’re confident enough in your work to put it out to the universe on Kindle Direct Publishing, I say go for it. For me, I’m still not that sure of myself. I need that gatekeeper feedback. I need a good editor. I need the support that I get from those industry professionals who’ve invested so much of their time in my success.
And I owe them all. I owe them big time. I owe them a best seller for having believed in me enough to take a chance on my work.
Why am I writing? Because I want to get to the next step in my journey. Why are you writing and what is your end game in all of this? If you can answer that question. If you can visualize success, even small success, then you might be able to dig into the project you’ve been struggling with and get the damned thing written.
Just keep writing. Make it your central focus. Believe that you can do it even though the odds are stacked against you. And if you meet with some success, for crying out loud, keep on writing.