The problem with starting out as a writer is that you will get a great deal of advice – and you won’t have the experience to separate the good from the bad. As a general rule, good advice tends to come from experienced authors; bad advice tends to come from everyone else. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some authors have immensely lucky breaks that cannot (often) be duplicated by everyone else.
One such piece of advice comes from Lorraine Devon Wilke, writing in the Huffington Post. You can read the full article, if you like, but the basic thrust of her argument is that writers should only write one or two books a year.
One – writing is a learned skill and the only way to learn is through doing. I mean it. The average writer needs to write at least one million words before he or she winds up with something readable, let alone publishable. My first few completed manuscripts were, to put it kindly, awful. Yes, there are a handful of writers who produce something publishable on their first try, but that’s very rare. I know I certainly didn’t.
So yes, you need to write and write and write. You have to develop a mindset that keeps in mind that you’re doing a job. That this is your career. That you have to keep writing. You cannot afford to develop an attitude about your work.
Two – if you want to be a fiction writer, you have to write to entertain and then educate, not the other way around. I’ve long lost track of the number of unreadable pieces of ‘message fiction’ I’ve seen in my career. Many pieces of ‘great literature’ that I have read were profoundly un-entertaining.
This is not only true of writing, of course. The movie Thor is a good example of a melding between entertainment and serious thought.
Three – there are limits to how far any given manuscript can be fixed. I’d freely admit, if pressed, that my first book could not, reasonably, be reshaped into something publishable. If I wanted to return to the plot, I’d be better off restarting from scratch.
What that means is that you shouldn’t spend years crafting the perfect manuscript. There’s no such thing! You should write to the best of your ability, then use what you’ve learned to write the next one. Authors have been bogged down for years just trying to weed out the bugs in their first manuscript when, frankly, it was a pointless endeavour.
Four – You have to eat too.
Chuck Gannon, on my Facebook, pointed out that writers have to eat, pay their bills and meet their other expenses. Ok, many authors are supported by their partners; an understanding partner is an important part of being a writer. But if you’re writing for profit, you have to write what sells. Very few writers can afford to think of themselves as great artists and, at the same time, put food on the table.
Five – You need to be noticed.
It’s a simple fact that, the more books you put out, the easier it is to be noticed. People will see your name cropping up a lot more on Amazon, for example. And if you cross the different genres, you will lure more readers into your web. I’m a science-fiction writer, but I’m also a fantasy writer, an alternate history writer, a near-future thriller writer and a young adult writer. (Did I miss any?) I have readers who started in one genre and moved on to my other works. (And I’ve also had readers who say I should stick to one genre because they didn’t like my work in other genres.)
I’m not the only one, of course. How many authors can you name who work in more than one genre?
Larry makes a good point that needs to be repeated. There are authors who come up with a great idea, write out the first manuscript and then spend years shining it up. It does happen; they send it to an agent, who loves it and does an excellent job of convincing a publisher to buy it. It sells like hot cakes. Everyone’s happy … but then the author finds out that the publisher wants a second book, perhaps a third. If the author hasn’t developed good working practices by then, they’re going to be in deep trouble.
The blunt truth is that writing is hard. If you want to make a living off it, you need to take it seriously and learn how to do it properly. You will always be learning. Trust me on this. The last thing you need to do is to limit your output or spend years polishing a manuscript.