Recently I edited my first novel (written in 2001-3, published in 2004) in preparation to making it an ebook. I was shocked by how quickly I’d forgotten quite how far technology had moved on. Mobile phones were unusual, home computers weren’t common, people talked about “The Net”, characters watched videos rented from rental shops. Amazon was selling books, but no one had ereaders, let alone ebooks, and Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogging and other social media hadn’t been invented.
Times have certainly changed for writers. The advice for an aspiring writer then was plentiful, varied and often contradictory, but it was at least heading in the same direction: get an agent, then get a publisher for novelists. Short story writers and poets had slightly different routes because publication was mainly in specialist literary magazines, often run on a shoestring.
Now we can type The End, and a few hours later have our work available to everyone in the world with an ereader. The number of directions a writer can go in has expanded dramatically.
Hooray! And at the same time, Boo hoo. Writers now have choices which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good, because there are options and alternatives for writers who don’t need to rely on appealing to a select and relatively homogeneous group of people. It’s bad, because having choice makes some writers run about like a headless chicken. Not all the choices out there are good choices for every writer: what’s good for Writer A may be lousy for Writer B.
And there’s so much more information and advice out there, from so many more people. And so many of those people are 100% certain that their way is the only one to follow. If you choose an alternative, you must be foolish/feeble-minded/misinformed/stupid/old-fashioned/a poor writer – take your pick.
People want different things for their lives, have different hopes and dreams, and for all these different people “success” can be measured in many different ways. Want to make a million? There’s no shortage of people out there eager to tell you how. Want to be published by a top-end literary publisher and win the Booker? There’s lots of advice out there on how to do that too.
1. Write from the heart.
2. Edit from the head.
3. Don’t be frightened to take a chainsaw to your work. You can always write more, and it will always be better.
4. Get feedback from people whose opinion and judgement you trust before showing your work to a wider audience, whether that’s an agent, publisher or the entire world via epublishing.
5. Learn how to give and receive feedback.
6. Edit, re-write, edit.
7. Don’t be in a hurry. Put the work “out there” only when you have no niggling worries. Don’t aim for perfect, because there’s no such thing as perfection, but make it as good as you can.
8. Don’t take rejection personally. (The more work you have “out there” the less any one single No will hurt.)
9. Decide what “success” means to you and go for that – don’t be side-tracked by other voices. On the other hand, if success turns up in a different way than you expected, be open to that too.
10. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the whole messy, joyful, difficult, absorbing, frustrating, enchanting process.