I think I'm safe in assuming that other writers have already shared the nuts and bolts of writing with you, so I'm going to focus on two things, the realities of writing and giving some encouragement to those of you who still want to try.
I firmly believe this is the single, most important thing you must have to become a published writer. You can brush up on your English and improve your spelling. You can learn about novel structure by taking classes. But no one can give you that burning desire to write. If you don't have it, quit now and save yourself a lot of misery.
If you believe your toilet seat will be plated with solid gold when you finally publish a book, think again. Countless writers make very little money. Granted, some of us do very well, others even better, but this isn't a profession that guarantees riches.
Don't give them up. You may need the paycheck to pay the electric bill.
Most of us never achieve that status. Even in our hometowns, we may never be recognized. My photo is on the inside back cover of all my books. But who looks at it? And if they did, they still probably wouldn't recognize me. (Don't spread this around, but I don't crawl out of bed looking like that, and a lot of the time, I look like I just crawled out of bed.) Trust me. When I stagger to the grocery store after a marathon day of writing, wearing my sweats and a T-shirt that reads, "I'm Menopausal and Carrying a Gun," they would call the guys in white jackets if I held up one of my books and said, "See? That's me!"
Lady, does your husband know you're loose?
Forget it. People ask, "So how much do you pay to get your books published?" Or they turn up their noses and say, "I don't read those books." Ormy personal favoritethey inform me that they plan to write a book someday when they find the time. Oh, and I mustn't forget the folks who say, "So, tell me, Catherine, do you do personal research before you write the sex scenes?" A waggle of the eyebrows follows, with an oily, "Ha, ha, ha."
There's a joker in every crowd. To that last question, I once replied, "Absolutely. I also kill someone once a year to make sure I get the murder scenes right."
Very few people understand how much effort goes into a book. After you have become inured to the slices at your confidence and believe no one can really get to you anymore, someone near and dear will ask the question that most romance writers despise. "So when are you going to write a real book?"
If You're Still With Me
Okay, so you really, really want to be a published writer. I understand. I've been there. The yearning can be a physical ache. If you've got that, you're on your way, and if you stick with it, your dream may one day come true.
The first step of your journey is to write, and not just a few pages. I've seen some incredibly talented writers over the course of my career that never got beyond the first chapter. You have to know if you've got what it takes to write an entire book. I knew a beginner writer who sold a book on the strength of a synopsis and sample chapters. They paid her an advance, and then she couldn't deliver the work. She'd probably spent her advance money. Can you imagine the financial mess she faced when she realized she couldn't finish the project? That isn't to mention her emotional anguish.
While you're writing your story, grab every book you can find on writing. Join writer's groups. Find a critique group. Attend writing conferences. Read. Listen. Learn. Study your target market. Is this really what you want to write? A word of caution, here. When you read other people's work, be careful that you don't subconsciously start changing your style. Develop your own voice.
If you find a critique group and you repeatedly feel bruised and battered after a session, perhaps you should consider a change. Criticism should be thoughtful, constructive, and kind. Search until you find fellow writers who can guide you without drawing blood. In return, remember to be gentle with others. Writers are often very sensitive about their work.
Believe In Yourself
When I was writing Comanche Moon, my first historical, an editor told me that I should probably wait a few years before I tackled that kind of project. I was crushed. Looking back on it, I am so glad now that I found the courage to keep writing. What if I had taken that editor's words to heart? None of my historicals would have been written. Later when I decided I wanted to try a contemporary again, I encountered resistance because I had established myself as a historical writer. I started Forever After, my editor loved it, and I went on to write the book. I've written several contemporaries now.
If you take a hard hit to your confidence, surround yourself with friends who have read and believe in your work. If you have no support group, find one. If you know of a writing workshop and can possibly attend, do so. Sometimes it helps to hear that a published writer has been through the same trials that you are experiencing. She may give advice to help you weather the stormor it may just make you feel better, knowing that she was once in your shoes.
Don't Become A Trend Chaser
"Big books are popular." "Suspense is all the rage." "Civil War books are making a comeback." "Indian romances are passé." "No more cowboys; readers are sick of them." "Don't do Hollywood; it's death." "We'd like to see more career-conflict books." "No more secret baby books."
As writers, we have this stuff pelting our poor brains from all sides. Try to stay focused. In a year when you finish your book, will suspense be all the rage? You can't chase the trends. You may finish your book too lateor come in at the tail end, when the fervor is dying down. You're better off to write from your heart. Crawl into your character's skin. Feel what he feels. Know what makes him tick. And write the story the way you burn to write it. When it's finished, chances are that you will have written a wonderful book. Trust me. Editors are always looking for great books, and while they may not be interested in a Civil War novel right now, they may make an exception for one that's fabulous. If not, give it some time and market the work again. Meanwhile, be working on another project. At least you will be writing with originality, and your chances of producing a book that stands out will be much higher because you aren't trying to conform to a shifting market. You will also be gaining valuable experience.
As you're struggling to become published, develop the attitude of a professional. Set deadlines for yourself and keep them. The experience will come in handy later. Think of your writing as a job. Remember that lawyers and doctors and all others with degrees go to school for several years before they start making money. You are no different. You're learning your craft. Keep a tidy desk. (That's a joke, and you should laugh, just in case you didn't know.) Most of us can't find our desk while we're writing a book. More importantly than work area and attire is the thoughts you allow into your brain. "No one will buy this." Erase those words from your mind. Think beyond that first sale, believing it will happen. Hang inspirational notes where you can see them. These can be things you wrote yourself or quotes from published writers. When you get slapped down, try to imagine how your favorite published author would handle it. Your work will be rejected. It's almost guaranteed. Don't let it blow you off course. In my opinion, there's nothing sadder than to see a wonderfully talented writer give up because her work wasn't purchased early on. What a loss to the world that is!
We are all struggling. If you think it becomes easy, just because we're published, you're dreaming. Granted, it becomes easier to sell your work after you have a track record, but it isn't guaranteed, even for veterans. I think we all feel uncertain sometimes. We stare at a blank screen and wonder if we can write. We get writer's block. Parents die. We get sick. Our spouses get sick. Or the phone rings. I love that one. "Thank you, God, an excuse not to work!" I don't care if it's someone who repairs windshields. In procrastination mode, I'm not picky.
Try to keep writing. If you can't, the jury is still out on whether or not you should write, simply to fill up pages. Some writers say the mood has to be right. Others feel you should keep writing and fix it later. I don't know the answers. Find what works for you. Some writers take two years to finish a book, others three months or less. We're all different, and our methods of getting the job done are as varied as our personalities.
I wish you the best. I hope something I've said has given you encouragement. Just remember this. There was a time when I was struggling to become published, and that is true of every published writer on earth. We weren't born under a writer's star. Most of us didn't have connections in publishing. We didn't know a magic formula.
With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, you'll make it. Hold onto the dream.