In my blog post of November 18, 2011, I shared with you what some other “successful” authors have to say about what it takes to be successful — so now it’s my turn. Again I must reiterate that the term “successful” is highly relative. So let’s just say, I’m going to share with you what I feel is needed to press into this world of fiction writing – to the end that one day you will see your name on a byline. (This post is a little longer than usual, so bear with me.)
Keep in mind that I’ve been in the writing/publishing industry for over 30 years. During that time I taught for a correspondence school, I was part of a local writer’s club, I’ve traveled around the country speaking at writer’s conferences. Additionally, I founded and served as coordinator for a writer’s school here in Tulsa. That means that I have been in contact with veteran writers, wannabe writers, and everything in between. I can safely say, I’ve pretty much heard (and seen) a lot! I’ve heard the crying, weeping, moaning, complaining as well as the shouts of joy that all writers experience.
How desperately do you want it?
Many times during my career it would have been so easy to quit. Just throw in the towel and quit. But I had (have) a desperate need to write novels. I can’t (won’t) get loose from it. I have a choice in this matter and I long ago made the decision to stay the course. My motto from early on was this: “I didn’t get in to get out. I got in to stay.” For better or for worse, I am a novelist.
I have a letter which I framed and it hangs on my office wall. It is dated November 8, 1983. It is from Cloverdale Press, Inc. in NYC. The first paragraph reads:
“I’m delighted to inform you that Harlequin Books has accepted your proposal FIELDS OF SWEET CONTENT, as one of the first two books to be test-marketed for their new Eternal Romance line. A contract will be sent to your agent very soon, and I will detail the terms for you next week.”
That contract never materialized. Nothing ever came of it. I was going to be one of the first “Christian” authors for Harlequin and it fell through. It was like a punch in the gut. I then had a choice. I could either let that take me to my knees or I could press on. I pressed on. My novel, Fields of Sweet Content, was later published by Barbour, Publishing for their HeartSong line.
This is only one of many experiences of “crash and burn.” I just shook off the dust and kept right on trucking. The world of publishing is a crazy business. I figure if you don’t like the heat; get out of the kitchen!
Never stop writing.
The rule is to “apply the seat of the pants to the chair and stay there.” When I first began writing, I used an electric typewriter. (I bought it used and the backspace did not work.) Next I moved up to a word processor and thought I had ARRIVED! It was glorious. I resisted a computer for a long time. Terrified to take that step. My kids kept encouraging me. Eventually a friend of mine GAVE me a computer. Wow! So that ended my hesitancy! There I was with a real computer. But through all those changes, I just kept writing.
In the mid-eighties a divorce tore my world apart and now I had to make a living to pay the bills. But I just kept writing. I have experienced financial downturns that would make your hair curl. But I just kept writing. Dean Koontz calls this “an iron discipline.” I agree wholeheartedly.
Friends whom I have not seen for a long time ask me if I am now retired. I chuckle. You can’t retire from what you love. I will probably be writing the day I go home to be with Jesus!
One other determination I made early on was to stay healthy and fit. Few people realize how demanding it is to write. It is very hard work! Dean Koontz in his book Best Selling Fiction noted that he’d had many jobs in his life that required physical exertion (like slinging heavy boxes in a warehouse), but none, he noted, compared to the demands of writing. Add to that the fact that writing is extremely sedentary, and you have a recipe for disaster. That is, unless you purposely, and purposefully, determine to take care of yourself.
Personally, I have always been interested in health, nutrition and the whole person. Since my college days, I’ve kept to a stretch-out routine first thing every morning. I add to that morning power walks, and in bad weather I work out on my “rebounder.” (Small trampoline.) I’ve learned how to eat healthy and discipline myself to stay with it. Because of that I have high energy levels which keeps me on top of my game at all times.
Don’t listen to the bad news.
Did you know that when videos were first introduced in the 70s, the “Chicken Littles” of the world said that the book was dead? Did you know that when paperback books went up from seventy-five cents and ninety-five cents to $1.25 and $1.50 there were editors who stated (publicly) that “No one will pay a dollar and a half for a paperback?” It was the end of publishing — they were sure of it.
I was on staff at a writer’s conference in the late 90s when I was first introduced to what they called an E-Reader. They said you could download books and magazines and never need to carry a book again. They said that no one would buy books again, ever. Well, a few years have come and gone and books are still being published. Even the Kindle can’t kill books!
The doomsayers have been alive and well for many years. Who will you believe?
Meanwhile books keep getting written; and purchased by publishing companies; now being published online; and read by millions. So if you are looking for a good excuse to hang up your writing dreams, believe me, you’ll find them in all the bad news. It’s your decision. Listen and be discouraged – or tune it all out and keep on writing!
Ignore well-meaning friends and family.
Believe me when I say, those closest to you will either overplay your talents. (Oooh, honey, I LOVE that story. It’s wonderful! Gush, gush.) Or they will totally discourage you. (Just look at all the books in that bookstore – what makes you think you can compete with all of them?)
You’ll need skin as tough as a rhinos to get past this. Tune it out. Don’t listen. Get alone and listen to the voice crying out in your heart. That is the only voice that matters. They will all be gone one day, and you will still have to live with YOU.
And that’s my take on what it takes to make it in this industry of fiction writing. Hope you can grab onto something here and that it helps in some small way! (Or in a big way – whatever!)