Every few months I go through a round of querying agents. Currently, I’m submitting queries for my third completed novel. So far, no one’s biting.
How is this helping my writing career?
Every single day I’m bombarded by the race. Who can share the next coolest thing on Twitter? Who has the most impressive pictures of their big new house on Facebook? Who just landed an agent, a movie deal, or 1,000 more followers for their blog? Who was named the sexiest woman in the world? The best CEO of all time?
And it takes so much energy, enthusiasm, and old-fashioned hard work, that most writers can think about nothing else but the finish line until they achieve that glorious goal.
But what happens after the euphoria has worn off? What happens when you’re finished editing and revising and now you want to do something with your book, like put it out there into the world for other people to actually read?
It’s time to take the next step.
The challenge is that, in this modern world, it seems like there are about a bazillion next steps a writer could choose to take.
To make the most effective Next Step, consider the following 3 areas:
Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to go the traditional route with a literary agent?
What social media platform(s) do you want to use and what kind of image do you want new readers to have of you?
What is the next book you’re going write? What’s your next creative project?
When you decide on anything in each of these three areas your choice is going to lead you to more questions, more decisions to be made, and more learning and research to do. But you have to start with the big choices first in order to start building the roadmap of where you want your career to take you.
If you make thoughtful choices in the realms of Publishing, Presence, and Creativity, the three areas will integrate into a dynamic, effective whole that serves you and gives you back tenfold of what you put into it.
Think of it this way: If your writing career is a highly successful human being, this is how it would break down:
Publishing – Body
This is the physical product of your labors. The paper manuscript, or digital Kindle edition, of your book.
And even if it is digital, it’s still a physical manifestation of you as a writer out there in writing space. While you’re writing your first novel, you might tell yourself no one will ever see it but there comes a time when offering it to readers (no matter what form you choose) is the healthiest thing you can do. Just like you wouldn’t keep your body locked up in the house your entire life, your book needs to get out there for a little fresh air and sunshine too.
Choose how you want to publish and then go after it full force. Google “how-to” guides and “how do I?” questions. Research how to write a query letter. Take notes. Then research some more options. Throw everything you have at it until you figure out what it is you need to do to get published.
Presence – Mind
Your presence is going to be the primary way you connect with new readers. People who have never heard of you before will see your Facebook fan page, or your blog, or reader reviews on Amazon, and based on those brief accounts they’ll decide if your writing is a match for their tastes. It’s very similar to when you meet someone new in real life and connect through conversation. If you hold similar views, or even just opinions the other person finds interesting, the likelihood of connection is much greater. If you make thoughtful choices about cultivating your Author Presence, those other great minds that think alike will be drawn to your flame.
You may end up doing a book tour or speaking engagements to build your Presence, but in the meantime, our world is an online world. Research social media for writers and then get out there and play! Choose one or two ways to connect online that you feel comfortable with and start building your Facebook fan page, blog, or whatever it is you want to use to connect with your readers.
Creativity – Soul
It is really awesome that you finished your book…but you can’t take a break from writing. Not for more than a week. The fountain of your creativity has to be exercised on a regular basis to keep up a good, strong flow. Your creativity really is the soul of you. That’s why you’re a writer, an artist. Yes, it’s important to tend to your career and get your ducks lined up in a row, but you must never sacrifice the actual writing. You’re not going to be able to do much of anything without your soul.
It’s okay if you don’t have an idea for your next book yet, write a short story in the meantime. Or some poems. Or try your hand at songwriting. ANYTHING. Just keep writing.
When you finish writing that first book, the next step can seem daunting. That’s because it is. Being a writer isn’t like showing up for a regular job every day. It requires extraordinary amounts of courage, patience, faith, and guts. But at the same time it’s like anything else in life, one step at a time. The key is to make the big decisions first—decide where you want to go and how you want to travel—and then take start taking your journey step by step.
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I went through many years during which writing was my big secret. I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to, and when I did sit down and write, it was so clunky and awkward that I was horribly ashamed of it. The thought of letting anyone else actually read my writing brought on waves of anxiety and fear.
So I didn’t tell anyone I was a writer, and whenever I wrote anything I hid it away.
Consequently, I didn’t get very much writing done.
Writing is one of the most challenging pursuits on this earth. Creating and listening to your characters, putting in the hours of work to get their stories down on paper, the weeks of revision, the months of waiting for feedback—all of it adds up to what feels like superhuman amounts of energy, time, and effort.
But if you were not meant to be a writer, you would never have the urge to do this kind of work in the first place.
Yes, today’s world is full of writers and the publishing industry is undergoing a complete revolution. Yes, it’s terrifying to put your work out there and be judged for it. Yes, you will question and doubt yourself, and you will wonder if you’re going to make it.
Yes to all of the above, and yes, you are still meant to be a writer.
That means that if you don’t write—if you turn away from your gifts as a storyteller—you will always feel like something is missing. You will always dream that your life could have turned out differently. And you will always feel an empty place inside.
The missing piece, the life that includes fulfillment, the sustenance to fill that empty place, these things are all to be found in your writing.
And you know it. If you didn’t, you would not be reading these words right now.
All humans need stories, this is how we learn and grow. Stories connect us with each other, plant seeds of creativity and change, and personalize different perspectives. Without stories, humanity would be cut off from so many valuable opportunities. In order to move forward as a planet, we need stories to show us the way.
Your life purpose as a writer is to pour your heart-and-soul energy into telling stories. It’s an extremely important job. And the beautiful thing is that your stories can be about anything as long as they spring from your own unique, authentic voice. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about slimy green space aliens with dozens of tentacles, or pirates who fall in love with princesses. If you’re writing as honestly as you can about the stories that show up inside your head, then you are doing your job on this planet extraordinarily well.
Your path is not the easiest path out there, and sometimes it won’t be very fun. A lot of other people won’t understand what you are, or why you are, or even the smallest thing about what you’re attempting to do. You’ll experience criticism, and rejection—probably a lot of rejection—and the never-ending worry of self-doubt. But you were called to be a writer because you were born with what it takes. Somewhere inside of you burns the creative desire, the grit and the guts you need, to walk such a challenging path.
Basically, it’s like you’re a warrior and a unicorn and a superhero all wrapped into one, with some bad days where you feel like you’re the ugly little hamster that no one wants to take home from the pet store.
Yeah, it’s that kind of challenging.
But you have it in you. You really do. And we’re in it together. That’s what’s so cool about there being so many other writers out there, and the publishing industry changing every day. You can choose to see these things as competition and proof of scarcity, or you can see them for what they really are—more people on planet earth who are kindred spirits to you, and more chances to find them. And let’s face it, as warrior-unicorn-superhero-hamsters, we always need to meet more of our own kind.
Stay the course. Keep writing. Believe in yourself.
Everything else is just details.
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Writers are different.
Almost all writers know they have a calling, and they know their calling is to write.
If you’re not sure of the difference, how can you tell?
Examine your reasons. And then explore your emotions.
Let’s use one of my fictional characters as an example:
Oliver is a writer by night. He writes dark fantasy novels about his hero, Octavio Sash, and his villain, the sinister Letitia von Campidonni. Oliver is passionate about world-building and battle scenes and he stays up late to get more pages down. By day, he works tech support for a corporate cable company. He sits in a call center and answers repetitive phone calls.
Here are Oliver’s reasons behind his choice to work tech support:
He needs to pay rent
He needs to pay all his other bills
He’s had tech support jobs before and so he already knows how to do it
Here are Oliver’s emotions about working tech support:
Apathy (all the time)
You can see that if Oliver’s reasons and emotions were put on a graph, they would probably chart a steady line with a few tiny bumps here and there.
Now here are Oliver’s reasons behind his choice to write:
When he isn’t writing he feels like something important is missing from his life
He has always loved books and is naturally drawn to writing
Making up stories is something his brain does on its own, he can’t stop from doing it
Here are his emotions about writing:
…and a dozen others that can be summed up in just one word: Happiness.
If Oliver’s reasons and emotions about his writing were put on a graph, the line would go up and up and up.
Sometimes, too, the line would suddenly plunge down. That’s when Oliver falls into doubting himself or runs into seemingly impossible problems in his story. But when the line starts climbing up again, it climbs even higher than before. That’s because Oliver had to push himself beyond his boundaries, he had to grow, to stick with his calling.
A job that is “just a job” very rarely pushes us to grow. But our calling never stops pushing.
We all have bills to pay. I’m not suggesting you give up your day job. What I am suggesting is that you start giving your calling top priority. Your writing is the thing in your life that brings you joy, and excitement, and that delicious feeling of riding the line to the top of the graph. The most important thing you can do is feed it—with your love, your belief, your time and energy.
You will always find something else to do to pay the rent. You will never find another calling. Writing is it for you, you drew those cards. Own it. Start writing as if it’s the most important thing in your life.
Because it is.