10 Things I’ve Learned So Far
As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve been very much enjoying the Jericho Writers Summer Festival of Writing. It’s been a really good programme of speakers and workshops so far, and I have definitely learned at lot. I’ve filled up almost two notebooks with notes, inspiring quotes, and great advice. And while I’ve been watching, there have been a few themes that have really stuck with me, so I wanted to write a quick round-up of some of my favourite lessons in the June sessions and everyone loves a list, so I’m going to share 10 things I’ve learned so far.
So, here goes…
1. There really is no one way to become an author (or write a book)
This is something I’ve always known intellectually, and have even written about before. But when you hear sooo many stories from different authors and the path that they followed to get where they are, it really hits home just how unique writing is as a career. Some of the authors were almost instant successes, but most had lots of hits and misses before getting their lucky break. And while some stories are similar, no two are ever the same, and for me that has been incredibly reassuring. Odds are I won’t be part of the ‘instant success’ crowd, but when I hear how it took some authors 12 years to get their big break, it reminds me that with any creative pursuit, often, persistence is key. As long as I keep trying, improving and learning, then I can be quietly confident that at some point my dream of becoming an author will, one day, become true.
2. Most authors also have other sources of income
I have to admit to being surprised at how many of the authors who’ve spoken at the festival have openly spoken about their multiple streams of income. Most also work as editors, speakers, or have online courses. Few actually write fiction as their full time career, and some even said that after trying it, they decided that it wasn’t for them and went back to a ‘day job’. Now, often this is a financial decision – as we’ve discussed before, making a decent living through writing and selling books is not easy, so having another job absolutely makes sense. But I was also inspired to hear how many authors also have other jobs just because they love what they do, or because they like to social aspect it brings. For me, this second reason struck a chord, because as someone who works from home in my day job, I have witnessed first-hand how isolating it can be. And that’s working as part of a team! If I was just writing for a living, I know there’s a good chance I’d never see anyone besides my boyfriend and two cats. So should I ever be in the fortunate position where I’m earning income from my fiction books, I think I’d probably still have another job, just so I didn’t become a total recluse. Plus, it can’t be denied that any extra money is always nice, so if there are other ways for me to get an income doing things I like then it seems folly to decline.
3. People in the publishing industry are really lovely
This one was such a revelation to me, and honestly I don’t know why. I suppose in my mind people in the publishing world – agents, editors etc. – have such power over an author’s success, and to me power often equals meanness. But having seen webinars hosted by a wide range of agents, editors and other publishing experts, I now realise that on the whole everyone wants the same thing – to get the very best books into the hands of readers. And what they all said time and time again is that publishing a book is really a team effort, everyone needs to work together, and work well together to get the best product on the shelves. I was also encouraged when several agents and editors said that authors shouldn’t be intimidated by publishing professionals – submitting your book is not a job interview, you’re not being judged (well, not in the same way at least), and reaching out to agents and editors is really about finding a good partnership. It doesn’t mean everything will be rainbows and puppies if I ever did choose to submit my book to an agent, but it does make the prospect somewhat less intimidating I think.
4. Everyone’s got a different opinion
I know that at some point I’m going to read back through my notes from the festival and just laugh at how many contrary points I made. ‘Show, don’t tell’ vs. ‘sometimes it’s OK to tell and not show’ or ‘no agent would take a book that’s already published in ebook form’ vs. ‘yes I’d absolutely accept a manuscript published in ebook’. What I’ve deciphered from these opposing views is that because there’s no one way to do this writing thing, no one is every ‘right’. Just because someone claims to be an expert, or has decades of experience doesn’t mean that you should just take their opinion as gospel. I’m certainly glad to get the insight of people who’ve walked this path before me, but it’s also important to critique what you hear, and trust your instincts (another tip I heard a lot during the festival).
5. Writing and selling books is a business
Even though I started writing for fun, the fact is that if I ever want to sell my work, I need to think about it as a business. I wrote about this in a previous post, but it’s something that I keep coming back to. It’s slightly intimidating to think you’d basically be setting up a mini-business, but also quite exciting to embrace that entrepreneurial spirit. And because I’m not betting my house on becoming a bestselling author, I can see it being quite a fun experiment when I get to that point.
6. Success looks very different to what you expect
Just as there’s no one way to actually write a novel, it seems that there’s no one definition of success. Again, I know this on a logical level, but to see it demonstrated so clearly in the stories of the authors at the festival, really helped bring it home. One author writes full time and makes a decent living from it. Another writes full time and barely makes minimum wage. Both consider themselves a successful author, and I just love that there’s no read yardstick in this industry to compare yourself against. Success is literally whatever you want it to be – how incredibly liberating!
7. Vomit drafts are a great start
My personal approach to writing basically involves writing a stream of consciousness that vaguely resembles a story, and then one day going back and tidying it up (not that I’ve managed this yet). So many of my other writer friends do lots of plotting and planning before putting pen to paper, so I used to be really anxious about my approach. But, alas, I am not alone. The vomit draft, as it’s affectionately called, is actually a very common method for getting a story down, and boy was that a relief to me. So, of you’re like me and have no idea what you’re actually going to write from one day to the next, it turns out that just writing something and anything is actually a pretty good start (thank goodness!).
8. It’s OK if not everything works out
Sometimes you will be working on a story that just doesn’t work. And I’m slowly learning that it’s OK if that’s the case. As I wrote in a previous post, learning to let go of stories that aren’t working is a good thing to do. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not going to kill you. And every mis-start, or ‘failure’ is an opportunity to follow another, better path.
9. Write the story you want to write
One of the best things about being in the early stages of becoming an author is that you really do have the freedom to write what you want to write. There are no expectations, no audiences to please. Once you’re a famous author, this could well change – suddenly people will be expecting certain genres from you, or the sequel to your debut. Publishers might start becoming more involved in the process and directing your ideas. But even if that happens, the key to a good book is always to write the story you want to write. That is the overwhelming message from all the speakers at the festival so far and it’s something that’s so important to keep in mind, if any of us have any hope of finishing that novel within us and getting it out there – after all you’re not going to put the effort into a story even you don’t care about.
10. Reaching out is a powerful thing
Throughout the festival I’ve done something I rarely do – I’ve been reaching out and connecting with people on social media. Some of these have been speakers at the event, others have been fellow writers that I’ve just stumbled across. But what I’ve loved about this is that I’m steadily growing my network and being exposed to new genres, new writers, new ways of writing, and it’s been brilliant. And I am really starting to enjoy being an active part of the #writerscommunity!
Right, that’s probably enough from me, over to you – have you been ‘attending’ the Jericho Writers Summer Festival of Writing? What are your key takeaways so far? Which sessions have you loved or loathed? Get in touch via email or on twitter @Hilly_B_Author and let me know. Let’s learn together.