One of the top questions I get asked now that my first book is out in the world is, “hEY BUT HOW DID YOU DO IT???”
And to this I say: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Okay I’m juuuust kidding. I do actually have about 13% of a clue what I’m doing. This is a staggering percentage and we are all in awe of it. (Hush. Act in awe.) I’ve basically been writing seriously for 9 years. I’ve been agented for 5 years and had a book published by Hachette UK for, ah….2 months. SO! I have a lot to learn still about being a published author. (I still rather feel like the child with muddy gumboots in a room full of Adult Authors.)
But I did get here. And I did do a lot of things that I truly think helped me get here. YES there’s a bit of luck and timing involved, but also freaking haaaard work. It’s easy just to say: “Oh look!! Cait has a big blog!! Now she has a book deal!! It came so easy for her!!”
Haha. Haaa hahahaha. No. I worked hard for YEARS so let’s see what I was doing, hmm?!
1. I WROTE MILLIONS OF WORDS AND OVER 30+ BOOKS
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know I am a wild writer like this. In 2017 I wrote a million words (including outlines that went over 40K sometimes, and 7 novels…some of which were over 130K). That is a LOT OF WORDS. And truly, I needed them to learn how to write. Some might learn to write a lot faster than I did…but I needed SO much practise. All these horrible gnarly drafts (starting from age 15) got my to where I am = a published author.
Are these 30 drafts something you might read someday???
LMAO. They are not.
“So what was the point of writing them all??? Wouldn’t it have been better to write less books but write them better and work on them harder?”
Look this is a seriously good question. I did edit some and rewrite others. Actually the 16th draft I wrote was what became A Thousand Perfect Notes.
Personally, I needed to write a lot to learn. I wanted to experiment. I wanted to chase that glittery idea that probably wasn’t marketable. I had the time to do this and the energy, so like, why not?! I would NOT be writing how I am today if I didn’t have dozens of “practice novels” in the dust behind me.
Most of these novels are: (A) HORRIBLE because I wrote them when I was, um, smol and deluded, (B) some I’ve actually repurposed bits and pieces into newer novels, (C) they gave me a chance to experiment with so many styles and genres! I learned my favourites and what I didn’t like to write about, and (D) I might still go back to some of them!!
Nothing is wasted. They all taught me.
This doesn’t mean YOU have to write 30 novels before you’re published. The point is: WRITE WRITE WRITE. Don’t just write one book, write more. Don’t except yourself to be excellent now. Practise. If you write and it’s not as good as it was in your head? WRITE SOME MORE.
And heyyyyy = have fun with this, ok?! I have such fond memories of all these books and characters!
2. I LEARNED HOW TO REWRITE AND EDIT
This follows directly on from the last one but seriously: DO NOT JUST WRITE FIRST DRAFTS. You learn almost everything by rewriting and editing. Books aren’t writing, they’re rewriting. So if you’re dreaming of being an author and you’ve never learned to edit??? Goooo, fiend. GO. This is absolutely where you need to apply yourself.
3. I RESEARCHED PUBLISHING ALL. THE. TIME
People often think researching is sitting down for an hour and Googling around. WELL ACTUALLY. It’s something you kind of need to do…all the time. For years. I didn’t learn about agents and book deals and editing and submissions all at once. I learned it over several years with constant reading of author blogs, agent blogs, tweets, youtube vlogs and teaching sessions, articles, facebook groups, etc. etc. I just SUBMERSED myself in it as much as possible.
YES I asked real people questions…but mostly I learned by reading the information available online. There’s a lot. It’s hard to know where to start, but soon you click on one thing that leads to another and another and VOILA. You are gathering information. (You don’t have to do this ALL in one day!! So don’t be overwhelmed!)
PRO TIP: Don’t ask me “how do I get published” if you’ve never never researched for yourself. #siiiiigh (But I am VERY MUCH HERE to answer specific questions if you have them! And providing I can actually help!)
4. I LEARNED TO HUSH MY LITTLE SELF AND LISTEN
This is actually hard because you NEED to learn to listen and take on advice…but you also can’t listen too much. Like sometimes I absolutely freak out (STILL!!) because there’s so much to learn and know and remember and EVERYONE’S ADVICE CONTRADICTS. What can I write?? What can I not write?? Do you want this type of agent? Should you pitch? Query? Hire an editor? Get sensitivity readers? What country should you aim for? Should your debut be a series or standalone? Is your style marketable? If you get anxious about all of this, will you turn into a lizard? DoES ANYONE KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOINGGGGGGG.
Anyway. It’s a trip to figure all that out.
But it’s still important to:
- Listen to what agents tell you (nope you are NOT the exception to a rule)
- Listen to what readers are saying (because they will point out things you didn’t think about, especially regarding content if you’re writing something not directly in your experience)
- Listen to what your writing buddies are saying (and GET SOME if you don’t have any! Seriously you can’t pick up all the problems with your novel yourself. There are always things that get left in your head and don’t make it to paper like they should. FEED BACK IS 100% THE BEST THING. Don’t be scared of it. Don’t hate it.)
- Listen to the trees. Most people say “why would you do that” but seriously you can say it’s important to sit in a forest and listen to the trees but in reality you can just take a nap. You deserve a nap. We all deserve a nap.
5. I READ UNTIL MY EYEBALLS FELL OUT
I can’t even saaaaay how important reading is! These are your BEST TEACHERS. If you ever get stuck with writing (“how the heck do I write an action scene?!”) read back through like 5 or so of your favourite books’ action scenes. ANALYSE them. You can do this for any type of scene! Dialogue. Characterisation. Description. Let books TEACH YOU.
You also need to read so you know (a) what’s overdone or trending or popular or avoided (probably for good reasons!), (b) what’s happening amongst your bookish peers, and (c) because it stops you turning into a goblin who eats children at night.
Also 10/10 you can buy books for “work now”. This is perfect. Nothing can go wrong.