Critical Factors For New Authors

Many potential authors are talented, literate, and start a project, such as a novel, full of enthusiasm. At first the words are flowing onto the page fluently, reading well, and the book seems to be taking shape quickly. But then, within weeks or months, they are struggling and they don’t know why. The fluency seems to dry up. Writers begin to question their own creative choices. Then stop. They get bogged down in middle (the second act). Often at this point they think their choice of story or topic was wrong, and therefore they would be better to write something else. They find a new idea, get enthusiastic all over again and start writing. But within a few weeks or months, the same thing happens.

For anyone who experiences this, it is important to look at writing as a creative process and understand how it differs from other creative processes, such as painting or writing music.

Writing Differs to Other Creative Processes

Let’s say I am an artist and I decide to paint a picture. I stand in front of my paper or canvas and paint what I see in my imagination. When I do, within days I have something tangible to show. Because when the paint dries it is finished. Whether I hang it in a gallery, or in my garage, I can step back and look at it. I can show it to others and they can see how I have spent my time. It is complete. It has been ‘published.’ I, and others, can judge it. Importantly, it goes out into the world and I can move on to create something else.

Now consider music. It is usually very social. If you write songs, or play a musical instrument, you can perform your music for others, or play your instrument with other musicians. Whether you get together with other musicians and play in your home, or in front of 10,000 people, the creative experience is a shared and social one. Even if you sit at your keyboard or play your guitar, record it, then put it on social media, you are sharing your work and other people can judge and hopefully enjoy it. They can hear exactly what you have done. Also, you usually get some feedback, even if it is only someone clicking ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ on social media.

But the process of writing a long-form work, such as a novel or non-fiction book, does not allow you to demonstrate to someone else what you are doing on a day-to-day basis. Often not for years. Nor it is social. If you intend to write a book-length work you must understand that you will be working for months or years. And when you are working, you will be working alone. Most writers want a quiet space where they are not interrupted and do not need to speak to other people. It is an anti-social creative process.

And there is nothing to show for it. At the end of what might be a very productive day, all the writer has is an intangible Microsoft Word document in the bowels of their laptop, or in ‘the cloud.’ The writer may have a pile of paper with handwritten notes, but usually the writer won’t want anyone to read it because it’s only a draft. It is still an internal process at that point.

So, at the end of each day, there is no artwork to hold up, nor any piece of music to play.

A writer may work years on a project and still fail to attract a publisher. Then they have to start again, working alone for months or years. And still they have nothing to show for the progress.

Writing is a process that breaks many relationships

Consequently, as a creative pursuit, writing is a process that tests, and breaks, many relationships.

I have known writers to try many things to compensate for the solitary and private process involved in pursuing their craft. Some take up a hobby, or have an outside interest that ensures they mix with other people. Others have a craft that allows them to do something with their hands to produce something tangible. For some the distraction from writing can be more destructive, such as drinking. Others spend time on social media talking about what they are writing, as if that in itself is some justification.

But at the outset, new and potential authors who take on a long-from project must understand that it will take months, and often years, of working alone. All for the possibility (at very long odds) of finding a reputable publisher to pick up the manuscript.

Online chat rooms can be a trap for emerging writers
Online chat rooms can be a trap for emerging writers

Traps for Emerging Writers

Because of this, there are many traps that new and emerging writers can fall into.

One of them is online writers’ groups.

If you are struggling with something, do not surround yourself with people who are also struggling. There’s a Jerry Seinfeld joke that goes, “When you see two homeless guys talking, you know that one of them is giving the other one advice.”

Online writers’ chat rooms are populated with unpublished authors giving advice on how to get published. Or explaining their conspiracy theory about how ‘big publishing’ is purposely keeping new authors out. These people all believe they have written the best book anyone has ever written and if it wasn’t for the conspiracy to keep them out, they would be writing bestsellers.

Chat rooms are a waste of time for writers. You will not find support or meaningful engagement to help you learn your craft.

Another trap, into which new and emerging authors fall, is self-publishing via an online, print-on-demand, publishing website. For the reasons given above, writers have a need to be able to hold something tangible in their hand and say, “this is what I did.” So they will pay money to a website that will format their manuscript, design a front cover and promote it online. Then the author buys a few copies for themself, and tells their ‘friends’ on social media to buy a copy (very few of whom will) and in no time they are back in their online chat room calling themself a published author and dispensing advice.

Remember you will pay for the online publisher to set up your book and also pay to have hard copies on some websites. Kindle versions of your book are often free but these reflect the old adage about being worth the paper they are printed on.

Amazon figures put self-published books at around 3,000,000 titles a year, of which less than 100 make a substantial profit. The only people making money are the people running the websites.

Go down the self-publishing road if you really feel the need, but know it is an expensive and inefficient way to avoid working at your craft.

A third trap is to pay for a ‘write a bestselling novel in 7 days’ online course. There are plenty of statistics showing the odds of writing a bestseller are longer than winning most lotteries.

Is self-publishing worth it?
Is self-publishing worth it?

The Critical Factors for New Writers to Know

People think of a great idea for a book and sit down, brimming with enthusiasm and optimism for how well it will be received. (The ‘I-could-be-the-next-JKRowling-Syndrome.’)

But enthusiasm and optimism will only get them a few chapters into it, and then they begin to struggle. If you intend to write a long-form work, plan it knowing that (i) you will be doing it alone, and (ii) you will have nothing to show for your daily work. And the process is going to take months, or more likely years.

Then talk to the people closest to you, to ensure they understand that.

If you can do that and still want to continue, then you will be writing because you want to. Not because you think it is an easy road to fame and fortune.

Once you have accepted that and committed to it, there are fundamentally two ways to approach your writing, depending on the type of book you are writing.

I’ll explain those in the next Writer’s Craft Blog.

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