I have no idea where to start. Seriously.
“Writing” is such a big topic. I could talk about craft — the minutia of plotting strategies, the importance of language, methods of creating characters, and so on. I could talk about process — outlining or not, daily word counts, workshopping strategies, and so on. Then there’s the business — how to get published, how to stay published, what an agent is for and how to get one, what’s the best way to promote your work, and so on. Then there’s all the “meta” topics — what is genre, what separates one genre from another (like what’s the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy?), what are the trends, is it better to write for the market or yourself, and so on.
You see my dilemma. I could talk about writing for hours. Pages and pages of blog posts. So I’m not going to talk about anything practical today. Instead, I’m going to talk about talking to each other about writing.
When people I don’t know find out I’m a writer — not just a writer, but one who’s had books published, that you can find in the local bookstore, and that I pay my bills with my writing — they usually ask a lot of questions. What do you write? Do you pick the covers? How did you get published? Do you get a percentage or what? So you must be like J.K. Rowling, right? (Ha!) These conversations turn into sessions of Publishing 101, as I try to explain the entire industry.
Publishing is opaque and mysterious to people who aren’t involved in it. The average person has no idea how a book gets from the writer’s desk to the bookstore shelf or supermarket rack. A lot of the industry is counter-intuitive to how it maybe ought to work. When I tell people that royalty checks only come twice a year — if you’re lucky enough to be earning royalties, that is — they’re usually shocked. Imagine getting a paycheck just twice a year! And don’t even try to explain the returns system to someone who works in another area of retail.)
That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important that writers talk about their jobs, to clear away some of the opacity and dispel some of the myths (like the one where we all get paid like J.K. Rowling). But there’s another reason, and that’s the emotional support.
When I was a freshman in college, I wrote a fan letter to my very favorite author, Robin McKinley. Wonderfully, she wrote back, a gracious and chatty note talking about her upcoming book (Deerskin at the time) and such. This letter was a light from the heavens for me. It was a eureka moment. I thought: “Wow, she’s a real person. My favorite writer is a real person. And I’m a real person. So maybe I can be a writer, too!” I needed every little bit of encouragement I could get, and that was a big one. Other real people have struggled and gotten published — I could, too. The bookstore became a temple of hope: thousands of people have written books and gotten published. Why not me ?
This — working as a professional author, and working to become a professional author — is a tough road. You spend most of your time alone, just you, the keyboard, and a finicky Muse. When you emerge from your writing cave, it often involves butting heads with an industry that’s more concerned with the bottom line than with your cherished, hard-fought novels. But in these days of the Internet there’s no reason we have to work in isolation. Often, the best way to accomplish a goal — like writing your first novel, finding and hiring an agent, or getting a book publishing — is to get advice from people who’ve already done it.
If you’re wallowing in self-doubt because you don’t know if you can finish that novel, you’re worried that you should be writing outlines but don’t, you just got your ninetieth rejection slip and wonder if you should give it all up — don’t worry. We’ve all been there. You’re not alone. This is normal, and you’re doing okay.
And that — emotional support and validation — may be one of the greatest benefits of writers talking about writing on a blog like this.