Practical Advice for Beginning Fiction Writers
By Karin Rita Gastreich
Enjoy the journey.
Writing novels takes time. There’s no way to get around this, no magic wand that will spit out a full-length novel in a few weeks. True, we have fun challenges like NaNoWriMo that encourage us to complete 50,000 words inside of a month. But anyone who has participated in NaNoWriMo will tell you the work doesn’t end there. The “completed” novel must be revised, perhaps rewritten, often expanded, and certainly edited before it can truly be finished. For this reason, while it’s important to keep an eye on the prize, you need to enjoy every part of writing a novel, from beginning to middle to end. Don’t stress out if it feels like you’re taking forever to finish. The time you spend with your characters is precious. Believe or not, you’ll miss those characters when you’re done.
Develop a routine that works for you.
Discipline is important in writing, and everyone has a different approach to discipline. Some writers keep journals, others compose on the computer. Some writers force themselves to put out a certain number of words per day, others ignore word counts but dedicate ‘sacred’ writing time as their schedule allows. While it’s good to look at how other writers organize their time, it’s very important that you identify a routine that fits your life style and your creative rhythm. The best way to write is your way to write.
Keep the day job.
The truth of the matter is, it’s very difficult to make a living as a writer. The advent of self-publishing and other industry changes has made earning money off of writing harder than ever. A recent study showed that median income for writers has dropped 30% in the last ten years. While we are all hoping the situation will change, for the time being there’s no sign that the market will become friendlier for those of us who peck away at the keyboard producing stories. Everyone who loves writing should keep writing. But you also need to find something else you love and make it the career that keeps food on the table. Someday, with a lot of hard work and a little luck, you may be able to leave the day job and devote yourself full time to writing. Until then, keep your financial bases covered.
Success comes in many flavors.
Because the vast majority of writers do not make money off their work, it’s important to keep in mind that success does not boil down to income. The highest success you can have as a writer is to craft a wonderful story. With that success comes many rewards. There’s no greater feeling, for example, than having readers tell you how much they enjoyed your novel. I have also found great personal satisfaction in the friends and colleagues I’ve met through writing. Writers are amazing people: talented, giving, empathetic, and supportive. Just being in their company is a privilege, and I’ve found some of my closest friends through writing. There’s also success in balancing your writing with everything else needed to make our lives happy and fulfilling. Everyone has their own personal definition of success. Learn to recognize and appreciate your successes as they come.
Have faith in your journey as a writer.
More than a job, writing is a vocation. If you feel compelled to write, follow that muse wherever it may lead. Some stories we write just for ourselves. Some are meant to be shared with a larger audience. It’s not always up to us to determine which is which. When we put a story on the market, we allow readers to choose whether they want to be part of our journey or not. This is a scary moment, but also, I think, a place where a little bit of faith goes a long way. If the time is ripe for your story to capture the imagination of thousands, then it will happen. If not, that’s okay too. Nothing will change the fact that you are a writer. The most important responsibility you have is to use your gift and keep writing.