So, you want to be a writer? Better toughen up that skin and prepare for a long and tumultuous ride. It can take years to land a respectable publication – unless you’re one of those lucky few who landed literary immortality with the first few strokes of a pen. And the journey is fraught with more cynics and pitfalls than you could even begin to imagine. The trick is to be tenacious, and hang on to that dream until your fingernails bleed and the pessimists find someone else to pick on.
Do you recall the day you realized your destiny was bound to be a life of juggling words and delving into your imagination? Remember how determined you were to succeed? I was undaunted in my pursuit to educate myself about my chosen craft. I studied all the books I could get my hands on about writing, at the library and at the bookstore. I signed up for adult education classes and joined a local writing organization. Nothing could veer me from my path toward publication.
But it didn’t take me long to realize that education wasn’t enough. Even after all my studies I was still a lone thistle, standing in a field of daisies. A writer needs to be out in the world, soaking in the knowledge and experience of other writers. No one can learn the intricacies and secrets of any trade without surrounding themselves with people of like minds. Therefore, I befriended a handful of amateur writers while taking a writing course, along with the instructor – a local newspaper editor with no professional credits to his name – and started a critique group that met once a week at my house.
Although our knowledge and skills were limited, our dedication was unparalleled, and we set about the task of writing with a veracity that would have exhausted any onlooker. We were anxious to learn, desperate to earn a morsel of prestige. We would have followed Ronald McDonald off the top of his golden arch if he so much as insinuated he’d print our name in the byline of any rag.
A critique group is supposed to be a safe place to grow and share – it’s about support, not control. Although suggestions should always be welcomed, no other writer should be so egotistical as to think that his or her opinion is the best and only option.
When you write from the gut, your words, tone, characters, setting and plot belong to you and you alone. We all have our own thoughts and ideas, and without variety we’d all die of boredom. No one else can tell your story, so tell it your own way, with your own style. It won’t be believable in someone else’s words, anyway.
Allowing anyone to play the role of Hitler is always a recipe for disaster. When the eight to ten members of my group started putting too much trust in the opinions of one or two others, everyone started to lose focus. When your ideas are beat out of you every week by your critique group, it becomes difficult to maintain a level of confidence conducive to writing. Unchecked, this kind of unhealthy interaction can lead to the destruction of already-frail egos and new-founded abilities. The last thing anyone wants is to see a writer with exciting potential throw down his or her pen and walk away in tears.
When establishing a critique group, be sure not to mix too many genres or join inexperienced writers with seasoned veterans unless everyone understands the concept of respect and humility. Some writers will always be better than others. And still others will have thicker skin. But too much critiquing can only lead to the demise of the group and the writers.
Another bump in the road to publication is the reality of rejection. It’s going to happen, even if your work is clean and well-written. But it’s important to remember that it’s not an assault on your character. If your work catches a publisher when he’s constipated or an editor when she’s having a bad hair day, you’re doomed. I know a publisher who peruses manuscripts while he sits on the toilet. If you don’t catch his attention in the first line or two, he tosses it in the slush pile.
Though devastating, a rejection isn’t always the final answer. After getting one of those dreaded little form letters, you can always take some time, go through your work, and then resubmit it later. I know a writer who refused to take no for an answer. When his novel got rejected by a whole list of editors, he resubmitted it to the same editors a year later and got three great offers. He didn’t change a word of his original manuscript.
Once you’ve realized your potential and landed your first publication, don’t let pride and excitement distract you from your goals. There’s a lot of competition in the publishing world, and getting picked up is a big accomplishment that requires a lot of hard work. To avoid getting complacent, write every day. Practice your craft. Like any other talent, there’s always room for improvement.
Even so, despite all your hard work, you’re likely to run into some critics along the way. When that nasty review pops up somewhere for the whole world to see, it’ll hurt, and you’ll contemplate a name change or plastic surgery. But sooner or later you’ll learn to let negativity roll off your shoulders. After all, who really cares what some illiterate dork thought about your work? Although everyone has an opinion – and in this country, we’re all free to share them – it’d be a much nicer world if we all went back to a time when it was better not to say anything at all, if you couldn’t say something nice.
A much loved and very famous writer told me about a nasty review she received in her early days. Although it wounded her pride, she’s been laughing all the way to the bank now for over thirty years.
As you continue on your journey toward a life of publication, remember to love yourself, love your work, and strive to be the best writer you can be. Whatever you do, don’t let the naysayers suck the air out of your balloon.
Michele Mirabile loves to juggle words and delve into her imagination. A Veteran of the United States Army and an award-winning writer, her works include travel articles, short stories, and two books. In addition to her horror novel, Dark Side of the Moon, she has authored a non-fiction collection about the experiences of military women titled, Your Mother Wears Combat Boots.
Michele lives in American Fork, Utah, with her devoted husband and their two spoiled cats. She enjoys visiting exotic ports and spending time with family. Her marriage and her beautiful daughter are the greatest accomplishments of her life.
You can read more about Michele on her web page, or e-mail her.
Cursed by passion and an endless fate . . .
On the eve of her twenty-sixth birthday, Breezy Bailey’s life is shattered by the murder of her best friend, and the realization that she, herself, is a monster, a freak of nature who changes form in moonlight. As the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter, she is a she-wolf, a great white wolf whose destiny is the pursuit and destruction of the dark ones. But Breezy doesn’t want the gift of eternal life or a pedigree that dates back to medieval times. She only wants a second chance with the man she loves. But can love really conquer all? And can she survive her new-found destiny long enough to find out?
Read more about Michele and her newest book, Dark Side of the Moon, at Amazon.