5 Things Aspiring Writers Might Be Surprised to Know

Your DreamsI remember when my pulse quickened and my heart thumped at the thought of “making it” as a writer. The first time I gingerly brushed the soft cover of my first book, flicked through its pristine pages, I felt awed. The young girl inside of me, who’d always dreamed of seeing her name on a book, shed a happy tear.

Now that I’ve succeeded in publishing multiple books, with more on the way, I’ve found myself in a reflective mood. Recently, I pondered some of the more surprising things publishing success has taught me — boiling them down to my top five.

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5. Your need to learn will never diminish. Culture shifts, technology advances, headline focuses, and global changes necessitate a writer’s dedication to ongoing education. Solid research and investigation are bedrock pieces in the foundation of any great written work. New information equals fresh content. 

4. Fear will not subside — although fear can change as your writing career progresses. Early on, many aspiring writers fall prey to the paralysis of fear, while professionals know that fear can prove a driving motivator. When you consider the greater loss of missing potential success, the emotion of fear propels you to action. If you fail to try, your failure is guaranteed. 

best thing you don't write3. The writing life is not a solitary endeavor. It takes a team to successfully publish. Critique groups, writing peers, or advance readers help us delve deeper into our subject matter, and pick up on flaws we often miss. Agents, publishers, and editors polish our projects and help promote them to reach a bigger audience. Readers become fans who sometimes become friends — if we are so blessed.

A wise writer intentionally and consistently builds their audience. When much in the world changes, one thing does not: word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing machine.

2. Story, whether written in the entirety of a book, or a short paragraph to example a point, draws readers deeper into your world. Few people appreciate being talked at, while most love being drawn into a good story. Whether they author novels or non-fiction, the skillful writer paints pictures with their words.

1. Human curiosity is king. Write cliff-hangers, page-turners, and chapter-leads to keep your reader wanting more. As you resolve or answer each inquisitive sentence you craft, replace it with another, until ultimately, you tie it all together at the end. A satisfying conclusion after creating ongoing curiosity makes a reader say, “I wish this book hadn’t ended.”

Motivational MantraI’m still working on all of these areas in my own writing, and anticipate the need to keep them in mind until the day I type my very last word. I don’t simply want to write, I want to use my words well.

Most writers I know would agree — we start out writing for ourselves — until we discover the real gift is in writing for others. The dream we live is the dream we share.

“I Want to Write a Book”: Five First Steps For Aspiring Writers

When folks contact me because they want to write a book, especially someone who hasn’t been writing, I’m often pessimistic. I want to be able to encourage them, but I know this:  An agent or publisher needs to see that a communicator is reaching an audience. So what’s a first-time writer to do?

1. WRITE

Write an article. Online magazines usually have writer’s guidelines available at their sites. (Also google-able)

Pitch articles to magazines that are already reaching the audience who will read your book. If you don’t know what publications those are, ask among your friends on social media: “Moms, what blogs do you read?” “Business people, what magazines do you read?”

Your pitch to an editor—explaining what you want to write, how it will serve his/her audience, and why you’re the best person to write it—needs a hook. No editor will respond well to a pitch from you offering to write on “parenting,” but if they might be interested if your hook is, “What I Learned About Parenting During My Time in Prison.” Give your pitch a strong hook.

Having a number of articles that appear in print or online communicates to an agent or publisher that you’re reaching audiences.

2. SPEAK

Drum up speaking gigs. Ask folks you know to help you find venues where you can share the message you’re passionate about. Start by speaking for free to build your resume.

Speaking builds your audience and helps you hone your message.

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3. BUILD

Build a website. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Before you pitch one article or seek one speaking gig, build a simple site to let others know who you are and what you’re about. Include experience and endorsements to give editors, agents, organizers, and publishers confidence that you have something to say and that others want to hear it.

A website legitimizes your credibility as a communicator.

4. GROW

Grow your audience. Beyond building your website, be intentional about your online presence. If blogging feels manageable—and it might not!—consider blogging regularly. Guest post on other writers’ blogs. Post quotes or memes on social mediate that relate to your message. Don’t always be self-promoting, though: share relevant content, from other worthwhile sources, with your followers.

Providing valuable content builds your audience.

5. LEARN

Attend a writer’s conference. Even if you’ve never considered it, the chance to grow in your craft and network with other writers and folks in the publishing industry will serve you well.

 

Bottom line: If you’re not willing to start building with one or more of these building blocks, it’s unlikely that an agent or publisher will consider the book you’re holding in your heart.

The exception, of course, is if you are: the President of the United States, the MVP of the NBA, or someone whose face has graced the cover of People magazine. If you are any of these, disregard this post. The rest of us, though, need to be hustling to build an audience.

Your future agent or publisher will thank you.

Reflect: Which one of these 5 made you balk? How willing/unwilling are you to move forward on any of these? What can you learn from your response?

Crafting a Writing Goal

Book Proposal Image

Words aspiring writers want to hear.

“Send me a proposal on your idea.”

When it happened for me, at a writers conference, I first went off to a private place and cried happy tears. Then reality set in.

I hadn’t written a thing. I only had an abstract idea, a desire to write, and a nudge from God. The publisher didn’t offer any guidance on how to format a book proposal; he simply told me to send one.

When I got home, I got to work. The situation called for a marriage between prayer and practical actions. Shortly after I said, “Amen,” inspiration hit.

I wrote my goal on a piece of lined notebook paper. “I Will Read 100 Books on the Craft and Business of Writing.”

I practiced while I studied. It took me almost two years to accomplish the task, but when I finished the one hundredth book, I was able to look back and see the transformation in my work. Only then did I gather enough courage to submit a few queries for articles. And though there were rejections, there was also success.

Article Queries

After focusing on the craft of writing, I invested in the business of writing. If I wanted to author books, I needed help. I networked with other professionals and listened to their advice. I attended more conferences. I hired an editor to critque my work. And I continued reading beyond my first 100 books.

Michael Hyatt

How to Write a Winning Book Proposal

I wanted to create a stellar proposal. After gleaning the best information, I practiced on my first topic numerous times. By the time I ran across Michael Hyatt’s e-books on Writing a Winning Book Proposal for fiction and non-fiction, I was ready to finalize my project.

It took another year before I harvested any fruit from my labors, but harvest I did. WordServe Literary signed me based on that original topic. The hard work of crafting a writing goal and meeting it helped my agent sell my first book, scheduled for release in 2013.

I’ve now lost count of the number of writing books I’ve read. But there are a few I refer back to time and again:

10. On Writing Well — William Zinsser

9. Story — Robert McKee

8. The Art of War for Writers — James Scott Bell

7. Bird by Bird — Anne Lamott

6. Stein on Writing — Sol Stein

5. Writing Down the Bones — Natalie Goldberg

4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers — Renni Browne & Dave King

3. Finding Your Voice — Les Edgerton

2. Writing for Story — Jon Franklin

1. Screenplay — Syd Field

I’m a lifetime learner. Without the help of many willing to share what they learned through their books, I probably wouldn’t be writing today.

What are your goals, and what are you doing to meet them?