By Margaret Lucke
Being a writer is one thing, and a very good thing too. Many rewards can come from delving into your imagination and bringing forth a good story: insights, exercise for the imagination, the satisfaction of completing a worthwhile project, the delight of connecting with readers.
Making a career as a writer is something else entirely. It requires a commitment to the goal and the self-discipline to carry it out. There are lots of good reasons to write, and building a career is only one of them. Plenty of writers don’t have this need or desire, but in case you do, here are the steps to building a career.
This advice is free, so take it for what it’s worth -- I confess I don't always follow it myself. I leave it to you to decide whether it’s good, bad, or ugly.
1. Write. There's a saying among writers that goes, "I don’t want to write, I want to have written." Who wouldn't like to skip the hard work and go straight to popping open the champagne? But the fact is you can't truly write The End until you’ve written all of the words that come first. You have to put words on the page. Lots of words.
2. Learn the craft. I’ve heard people claim that writing can't be taught; someone has the natural ability or doesn't. Nonsense. Sure, no one can tell you how to produce Great Art, but we can all strive to learn to be better writers. Stories have structure, language has nuance, and readers have expectations. Books, classes, and critique groups can help you understand factors like these. Just don't spend so much time learning that you neglect to actually write.
3. Rewrite. Another writers' saying: "There’s no good writing, there’s only good rewriting." (Justice Louis Brandeis apparently said it first.) A few writers assert that they never rewrite; their first draft is their last. But most of us find our work gets better when we go over it again, and perhaps again, with a focused eye and a sharp red pencil. One secret to good rewriting: knowing when to quit. Don’t use "it’s not perfect yet" as an excuse to keep from finishing or submitting your work.
4. Learn about the industry. Getting published is easier than ever. If traditional publishers don’t give you the response you want, you can publish yourself. But getting published well is a different story. The Big Six (soon to become Big the Five with the Penguin–Random House merger), a small publisher, doing it yourself—each route can lead to a successful career. Whichever way you go, bear in mind that you’re an entrepreneur in a rapidly changing industry. No one's quite sure what the rules and best practices are, or what they'll be next year. The more you learn about publishing, the better able you'll be to make good decisions that work for you.
5. Write some more. You can't build a career with one book. As soon as you finish the first one, it's time to start the next. Writing as a career is a numbers game. The more books you have out there, the more you're likely to sell.
6. Meet other writers. Writing can be an isolating occupation. You spend hours alone, with no company except the characters who've taken up residence in your brain. Your family and friends may be supportive, yet clueless when you say things like plot point, or unreliable narrator, or I can’t believe they want these galleys back in three days! Hanging out with other writers lets you talk shop, get support and (if needed) sympathy, share information, and learn from others' experiences. Oh, and make great friends. Organizations like Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America are good places to start.
7. Believe in yourself and your work. That's tough advice to follow when you're deep in the mid-book blues -- that moment we all face when we're convinced our words are the worst drivel ever inflicted on a page, and the entire effort seems pointless and stupid. Don't yield to those thoughts; they're the insidious lies of the inner critic who lurks in every writer’s brain. Trust that what you're doing is worthwhile. Because it is. Be confident that you can write, and write well. Because you can.
May your writing bring you joy and success!