the ten commandments of becoming a published author

Filed under: writing

Well, there were nine, but I’ve been thinking, and I ended up adding one more.

To give a little background: I gave a talk at Wokingham library this weekend, to the creative writing group which they’re forming there. Not all of the writers there wanted to be published, and some of them were published already. But I brought along these commandments (except there were only nine of them, then), to give a structure for my talk, and they ended up sparking some really good discussion, questions and answers within the group.

So I’m posting them here, not because they’re anything new—they really aren’t, and you know this stuff already—but because sometimes restating the obvious is really useful, and might spark off something for you, too.

1. Write.
This really should go without saying, but I do meet so, so many people who say, “I’d like to write, but…” If you want to be a writer, the only “but” that exists is the one you’ve got to force to sit in your chair every day so you can write.

2. Read.
“The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” —Stephen King

3. Get yourself a support network.
The professional organisations I belong to, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Romance Writers of America, undoubtably helped me to get published in so many ways. But so did my local writing group, and the eHarlequin community online, and my very, very dear writing friends. Only fellow writers can understand what it’s like to slave away at something that’s most likely to be rejected. Or to help you shoot down the crows (see 9).

4. Make writing a routine and a priority.
You don’t have to do it every day, but do it professionally. If you wait until inspiration strikes, you’ll never be able to meet a deadline one day when you have one. As far as you can, try to make sure your family knows how seriously you take your writing, and they know how they can support you. If you don’t have enough time in the day to write, you’ll have to give up something, I’m afraid—television, an hour or two of sleep, ironing.

5. Know the market, but don’t let it kill your creativity.
Easier said than done.

6. Finish a project whenever you can.
I think this is so important. Finish your novels. Even if you think they’re crap. Because you will think they’re crap. First drafts are supposed to be crap. It’s okay. Everyone feels this way. We all whine about it all the time. You can make it better. Anyway, you’ll never know unless you finish. And finishing a book changes it in your mind, so you can revise it better. Personally, I like to finish the first crap draft before I do any revision at all, if I can.

7. Revise ruthlessly, but without fear.
You need to do whatever it takes to make your book better, including killing your darlings—you know, all those lines and scenes and characters you love but which don’t really pull their weight. But you can’t be so frightened of failing that you revise the life out of it, or try to take every piece of conflicting critique you’ve received to heart.

8. Learn how to submit. And then do.
When you get a rejection (and you probably will), submit again. You can never get published unless you submit.

9. Prepare to do mighty battle with the crows of doubt.
In whatever way works for you. Me, I whine a lot. And ring up my friends. I have a post-it on my computer saying “You Have Sold 14 Books And Know What You Are Doing” and another that says “Write Crap!” (see 6) When all else fails, there is booze. And Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. Those will always make you feel better.

10. Always go back to Commandment 1.
No matter what. The difference between writers and everyone else is simple: writers write. That’s it.

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