Sometime back in the last century I was floundering around, trying to figure out how to escape from my miserable existence as a cog in the government machine. I knew I wanted to write but didn’t have any idea where to start, how to get a book published, how to finish a manuscript. I knew next to nothing.
If there’ s one word I would use to describe myself back then it would be LOST. Nobody I knew in the world of government finance or statistics had any idea what I was on about when I suggested that maybe I should quit my job and try to write full time. Suggestions like that were met with raised eyebrows and a series of questions that began with, “What about your benefits?” and ended with, “Why don’t you wait until after you retire?”
Nobody took me too seriously. Except me. When I say I wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world, I am not kidding.
If I had the power to go back and talk to that much younger, very idealistic me here are just some of the things that I would like to say.
- Determination and hard work are more important than raw talent. You can get a long way without being the next Shakespeare, but you won’t get anywhere without good old-fashioned pig-headedness and a willingness to work for hours (weeks, months, years) without necessarily making a ton of fast progress. This whole writing thing? It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Start at the top. Reach for the stars. Go after a big agent. Try for a large publisher. You have nothing to lose. But at the same time, plug away from the bottom. The brass ring approach is a long shot, but don’t sell yourself short.
3. Be fearless in your writing. If you have anything worthwhile to say at all, you will wind up offending somebody. And that’s ok. Being a good writer is not a popularity contest. If you play it too safe and try to keep everyone happy, there’s a very real risk you’ll waste a lot of time writing forgettable stuff that really didn’t need to be published in the first place.
4. Spend the money on the occasional workshop or writing conference. The contacts and inspiration are worth their weight in gold. Make the sacrifices needed to take your writing to the next level.
5. This relates to #4. Believe that you can do it and that your efforts are worthwhile. That makes it easier to invest a little in your growth and development as a writer even when your time and resources are minimal.
6. Think outside the box. There are lots of free resources — the library, for starters. Make use of them. If you don’t have a lot (any) cash, trade your time or expertise for what you need.
7. Join a writing group. If you can’t find one that is quite the right blend of serious and loving (it’s a fine balance), then start one. [It’s easier now than ever before to connect with other writers in your community. Back in the day, we had to rely on putting up hand-written notices on corkboards at the local laundromat.]
8. Share freely. Don’t be stingy with what you learn. Not only will your connections with other writers get stronger by sharing what you know, there’s a natural reciprocity that comes of genuine relationships. You reap what you sow… and along the way, you’ll make some lifelong friends.
9. Develop a method for cultivating detachment when it comes to harsh reviews, unhappy readers, jealous peers, and anonymous trolls. Enjoy your process. Do the best work you can. Let the chips fall where they may.
10. Never lose sight of why you want to write in the first place. And, don’t think that you are going to write in order to make a lot of money. Chances are, that isn’t going to happen. Maybe not ever. You need to be ok with that and keep writing anyway!
What would you say to your younger self if you could go back and say hello?
This post originally appeared over on Medium where I’ve been writing quite a bit about writing. I’ve also been pretty busy over on Facebook on Nikki Tate Loves Books (and writing). Come join the conversation over there, too… Want to write some stuff yourself? Download these free writing prompts. Enjoy!