It’s National Novel Writing Month in November! I’m revising a novel called Heaven to Betsy this month, so I’m not participating, but I’ve “won” three times and written two other novels using the NaNoWriMo methodology, so I’m a believer.
In celebration of the month, Webucator is asking authors to answer a few questions about their writing careers. Here are my responses:
What were your goals when you started writing?
When I first tried to write a novel, I just wanted to start at “once upon a time” and write all the way through to “the end” on an honest-to-goodness complete novel. Truly. That’s all I wanted. I’d been a writer since third grade, reluctantly so at first, compulsively and secretly so for years, and obsessively and enthusiastically in the last decade.
I tried many times before I finally succeeded at the age of 40 with Going for Kona, a book that was not published for eight more years, then with Leaving Annalise, Saving Grace, and Finding Harmony. Yes, life got in the way, but also fear. Fear of failure. If I try too hard and still don’t succeed, will I shrivel up into a ball and die? Will people find out and mock me for failing? Will failure kill my dreams?
None of those things happened. I failed several times, until I got better and better and ultimately started succeeding.
What are your goals now?
Well, things have changed a bit. Now I want to write novels that I enjoy writing and that other people enjoy reading. I want to make people cry and laugh and stay up all night. I want to draw readers into suspense and keep them guessing until the end. I want my novels to reach readers, as many as possible, and I love when they receive validation, whether that be through number of readers, reviews, or awards. Or sales. I’ll take anything. I thirst for feedback. It drives me to write the next book.
What pays the bills now?
I am one of the lucky ones: the sales of my novels pay the bills. It happened pretty quickly for me, but that’s because I have a business partner in my husband Eric, and we both are pretty darn hard working, and relentless. I was able to give up the practice of law by the time I had published my fourth book, independently.
What motivates you to keep writing?
Writing itself is the motivation. As I mentioned, I’ve been a writer since third grade. I didn’t get paid for writing fiction for the first time until I was 42 years old. If writing itself wasn’t the driver, a few million words would never have moved from my brain through my fingers to the “page.”
Yes, things have changed, though. Feedback (positive or constructively negative) motivates me. Encouragement from readers motivates me. Success motivates me. Failure motivates me. The desire to sustain my blessing as a full time career novelist motivates the living hell out of me.
What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?
Write. The practice of writing and the writing of actual words are more important than education about writing. Ultimately, you will seek out the education you need if you are writing ceaselessly, because you will recognize your needs (belatedly and painfully so) and address them. So sit your butt in a chair and write.
Keep your day job as long as possible. A regular paycheck and benefits can do wonders to sustain you through your writing addiction. Writing pays crapola and it doesn’t love you back.
Defer publication dreams. I read very few books by wet-behind-the-ears authors that have the depth and resonance that life experience brings. Emotions are the hardest thing to fake. By all means write it and submit it, but if you’re not getting amazing, unbiased, professional feedback that you’re ready for publication, then you probably aren’t. Keep writing while you keep living. You will get there.
That’s all I’ve got.