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Things I wish I'd known before starting to write.

Discussion in 'Café Life' started by Paul Whybrow, Mar 14, 2017.

  1. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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    I returned to creative writing in 2013. The last few years have been joyful, as a direct result of producing short stories, novellas, novels, poetry and song lyrics.

    All the same, there are a few things that I wish I'd known before I put fingers to keyboard.

    1) No one wants to read my writing. Steven Pressfield crudely summed this up as No one wants to read your shit! http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2009/10/writing-wednesdays-2-the-most-important-writing-lession-i-ever-learned/

    I smile wryly when I think back to my naive optimism in uploading a dozen short stories and novellas to Smashwords, hoping to make a little money in time for Christmas, 2013.

    Whatever the worth of my stories, it wasn't financial, and they disappeared like snowflakes in a blizzard of other writers doing the same thing.

    I quickly learned, that half of the battle to get anywhere as a writer was gaining attention through self-promotion. Nobody knows who I am, so why should they want to read my work? Writers are part of a branding process these days. Reclusive authors are virtually extinct. It sometimes feels to me, that reading novels is a form of nosiness for some people. They want to find out more about the author through their work.

    In this way, the book world has become more like the music industry and Hollywood.


    2) Writing a book is actually the easiest part of the whole process. I love the planning, background research, specific fact checking and seeing a new story take shape.

    For me, editing is quite the most tedious task I've ever done, confirming what Garcia Gabriel Marquez observed: Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry….With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.

    I had no idea how time-consuming and soul destroying it would be.

    Querying is like crawling on broken glass to the tradesman's entrance of a fortified castle full of carousing gatekeepers, the literary agents who know what's what...and they sure as hell don't want to know me!

    That leaves selling the book, the self-promotion, the flogging of my precious story as a commercial product—see point 1).

    Learning that publishing, more than anything, is a BUSINESS was tough. It's not an arena for gently showing off how clever I am as an author, it's more becoming the manufacturer of a commercial product. My book may as well be a new flavour of baked bean.


    3) What sells best isn't necessarily the finest writing by the most talented authors. We're advised by writing gurus to labour carefully to produce a brilliant manuscript, an intriguing story that's correctly punctuated and free of flab. I take a lot of care in creating my novels, devoting thousands of hours to each title.

    It's galling to realise that someone who's already got a public persona (and piles of cash) can throw a story together and instantly get a publishing contract. Invisible ghost writers will knock things straight. Had some nitwit celebrity submitted my novel it would have been published to acclaim.

    Readers buy books by people they already know. They also buy stories that are so basically worded, that the language wouldn't trouble a 10-year-old child. Bestsellers are often not highfalutin literature. Instead, simple yarns sell in their millions.

    It makes me question why I'm trying to produce high-quality crime novels, when, if I want to make money, I should simply scribble off a piece of crudity that appeals to mouth-breathing, knuckle-draggers who move their lips while reading to themselves.

    Dumbing down has won. That's something that I didn't fully comprehend before entering a new era as a writer.

    What do you wish you'd known before starting out?

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

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    I suppose there's disillusionment for all of us in the writing process. I decided to write full time because I was sick of writing for others, writing for government committees. But, having run my own business for years, I approached writing as a business. My goal was not so much to express myself artistically, but to create a product that others would want to read. I was hoping that, as a writer, I could leave marketing to someone else, because it was one of the things I hated about running my previous business. HA! No such luck there. It's taken a couple of years, but I've finally come to the conclusion I just have to learn to self-promote. I love writing. I even enjoy editing. But I get panic attacks when I think of promotion and marketing. But I'm learning. My first bit of book promotion is coming out in two of the local papers this week, and I'm gearing up for three bug programmes/book readings at a big local event in April. Nothing earth-shattering, but I realise I need to start small and local, playing on my local prominence as The Bug Lady (yeah, the celebrity thing, I suppose, though I got to that point by marketing The Bug Lady).
     
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  3. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

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    I had to think about this. I had no particular expectations when I started out. I was very ill, fed up, and not wishing to dally in Hades, set myself two jobs, one to find out if I could find the stamina to start and finish a novel, whether good bad or indifferent, and could I develop proficiency in card reading such that I could do it to a service level.

    There were certainly things I did not know or appreciate, plenty, but nothing much that could particularly have helped me more, had I known it sooner.
     
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  4. Matnov

    Matnov Well-Known Member

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    For me, it would have been that the booze and the writing do not mix, at least for me. Many a time (and we are talking thousands), I sat myself down and decided that this was it. I was going to write because that was what I always had wanted to do and that a bright future awaited me as a sort of modern day Hemingway crossed with Oliver Reed. I would write and booze my way to fame and fortune! Alas, it never happened. Sure, I could sit down and write all night with a bottle by my side and some eclectic tunes blasting away on the hi-fi but come the morning, I was wrecked, the house was a mess and I had managed to somehow lose everything I had written the previous evening (which bordered on the genius by the way, at least by my reckoning).

    Fast forward until a shade under 5 years ago when I decided that enough was enough and within a month or two of making the decision for the booze to go, I started to write. And realised how bad I was but so what? Re-writing is the key, making sure you write every day and that I write because that is what lights up my day. And a cup of tea is far more conducive, at least in the mid to long term, than a diet of Gin, Beer and and fine old Irish!
     
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  5. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Saw my first queen bee of the year yesterday, a warm sunny day, I hope she found some sugar fast enough.
     
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  6. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    And I have just been chasing a giant bumblebee around the kitchen. I wanted to put it outside, but it has disappeared somewhere...
     
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  7. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Watch where you sit :) Found an exhausted bee out in the garden, and it had got too cold. Brought it in, offered a drop of lemonade and it drank some and revived. Perhaps I should have offered a martini...
     
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  8. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

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    It's serious bee season here. They all come inside when I'm cooking down tomato sauce or ketchup (they're attracted to vinegar, of all things) for canning. Some days I have to ferry two dozen of the girls outside. I will never understand why Kiwis don't install window screens...
     
  9. Patricia D

    Patricia D Venerated Member

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    I've thought about this question, and have to say - nothing. Ignorance was bliss. If I had known more about how difficult the non-writing part was, I might not have started. I'm still crap at marketing but have learned through experience that I truly enjoy writing and will keep it up, regardless.
     
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  10. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

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    "Ignorance was bliss." Yes, it was, wasn't it? Those days when your enthusiasm for all the possibilities with your writing swept you along in a frenzy? It's good to remember that from time to time--to remember your enthusiasm is actually still there, though it's been overlain by reality.
     
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  11. Luciferette

    Luciferette Member

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    I don't hold with much of that guff about "born writers" and those that say it's like a compulsion, the urge to write...but - and I think I might be about to contradict myself here - no one is FORCING us to write. I can't count the number of times I've sat down on my single day off from the "proper job", wanting desperately to write, then nothing happens. I do some washing, try again. Make a coffee, sit back down, and...yep. Brain just does not get in gear.
    This makes me miserable. Frustrated with myself, wanting to kick in the head those "write 1000 words a day" folk, and disappointed in myself, in truth. Surely if was really A WRITER, my word count'd be devouring chapters like Kettle Chips. That's how it was when I started writing, all those years ago.
    And there, I suppose, is the contradiction. We get the itch to write that, eventually, gets scratched. We put ourselves through those rubbish days for the thrill of the great ones (however rare), and no half-ass hobbyist would persevere. They'd give up at the the first mind-freeze. It's the things we learn after we start putting the grunt in that really matter - and if someone had told me just how hard it was to do it well, in the beginning, I'd have given up too.
    So yes - ignorance was definitely bliss!
     
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  12. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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    Another thing that I wish I'd known, in my early stages of creative writing, is a greater awareness of the rules of writing competitions.

    In a burst of enthusiasm and naïvety, I uploaded 44 titles to Smashwords and Amazon in a short period of time. This was the best of my work, including short stories and poetry. Self-publishing in this way, making an ebook available for sale, means that it disqualifies the work from eligibility for most writing competitions.

    A few competitions allow entry by stories that have previously appeared online, but not many.

    In retrospect, I wish that I'd held onto them, and tried my luck by submitting to competitions. Even if I hadn't won, being short or long-listed is a better way of raising a writer's profile, not just to readers but literary agents who keep an eye open for potential talent.
     
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  13. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

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    Lately, I've started only writing short stories in response to competitions--once the competition I wrote the story for is over, then I think about other ways of publishing the story.
     
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  14. 1408

    1408 Venerated Member

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    "What do you mean I shouldn't write a 120,000 YA novel as a debut author?!"

    To be honest, even that didn't bother me too much in the end. It just gave me more time spent learning how to edit. I suppose I set about doing it just to see if I could, when I found out that I could the next step was pretty daunting. I didn't know anything about the publishing world and I still don't. I sent my book out to a few agents a couple of years ago and then left it alone until now. I'm not any wiser, I just know that I am never more productive with housework than when trying to write a query letter. I suppose that's something I wish I'd known, if I wanted to be tidier I should have tried writing a book sooner.

    I think one point that I wish I'd known was something you pointed out, Paul. The self-promotion deal. I'm not one to try and gain attention to myself and so I fall incredibly short when it comes to the likes of Twitter. I'm honestly torn between even pursuing a traditional book deal or self-publishing. I guess that sums it all up, in the end, before writing, I wish I'd known what I wanted to do with it once it was finished.
     
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  15. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

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    That Cornish novel that worried you, Paul, Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield who grew up on Bodmin Moor, might represent good news for you. The Times has written a review...suggesting a Gothic mystery set in Cornwall must give a nod to Daphne du Maurier. The novel features an unreliable narrator, a girl called Shilly, and a murdered girl, Charlotte.

    'her relationship to the dead girl is beautifully realised, 'we were close as moor stone and the ground that held it. Until someone uprooted us.'

    'a stand out mystery.'

    I haven't read it yet to have a view, but this doesn't suggest a success for knuckle dragging in your own literary arena. Here is a piece from her literary agent Rogers, Coleridge & White...also mentioning that the writer had obtained a bursary.

    With 44 titles under your belt, maybe.....?
     
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  16. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Things I wish I'd known before starting to write... yikes that's a long list. But here are a few off the top of my head...

    That Amazon would indeed grow up to rule the world.
    That anyone with a keyboard and the ability to upload a file could call themselves a "published writer."
    That readers really don't want to work too hard to get through a book.
    That readers one day wouldn't care whether an author used proper grammar, sentence structure that made sense, or wrote the same book, over and over and over and over again. Mainly because those readers have the IQ of a gnat and the attention span of one, to boot.
    That, while writing the stories is more fun than anything, there is no guarantee that anyone else will like them or realize how much blood, sweat, tears, and emotion I put into each one.
    That readers will never value everything I put into a story as much as I value it.
    That readers would rather steal my work than pay for it, when they can get away with doing so.
    That I would one day compete with people who think writing dinosaur porn is a legitimate way to earn a few bucks on Amazon. Or that there is actually a market for such stories.
    That I'd have to sit on Facebook all day and all night, making small talk about what I'm eating, drinking, seeing, feeling, or hearing, just to gain enough attention from potential readers to make a dent in my book sales.
    That I'd still be working a full time job to pay the bills, after close to 90 published titles in six years.
    That being a published author doesn't mean now what it did back when I actually started to write.
     
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  17. Bernard Stacey

    Bernard Stacey Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Awesome list @Carol Rose but you forgot one...

    That, even after all these constraints and obstacles, I still get what amounts to a legal high when immersed in telling a story - and I get it for free. That there is nothing else yet invented that can send me willingly out of my warm bed on a cold winter's morning to start writing whilst everyone else sleeps, desperate to see what happens to my characters.
     
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  18. Jimithyh

    Jimithyh Respected Member

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    A related question: Has anyone taken their finely-crafted "opus" that no-one appears interested in, and considered either altering the gender of the MC, or re-writing the perspective (e.g. from 3rd person to first)?
     
  19. Jimithyh

    Jimithyh Respected Member

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    This I can relate to, Matnov. Though I'm now a coffee fiend (and coffee shop fly... or should that be "flea").
     
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  20. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    I wish I'd known how much I like it -- I'd have started earlier. All that wasted time. I always knew I'd like it, been scribbling since I was a kid, just didn't realise how much I'd enjoy doing it 'seriously', for want of a better word.
     
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  21. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Yup, rewritten the perspective for a number of stories.
     
  22. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    'dinosaur porn'? o_O
     
  23. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Velociraptors, No Viagra Needed.

    Sexy T-Rex Was Simply The Best

    Hadrosaurs in Seventh Heaven
     
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  24. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Love in the Palobscene
     
  25. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Fifty Shades of Cretaceous
     
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  26. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Venerated Member Founding Member

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    It's a thing, apparently. And no I will not write it. NO. NEVER.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2017
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  27. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Believe it or not, I really do take this quite seriously. It's important to me to write good stories, not simply what the masses (think they) want. That's why I won't sell out and write utter crap that sounds as if was done using a template. Change the names and the locale, maybe a few key details, and voila! Another crap book. Nope. Not this girl. Good thing I don't have to live off it, but at least no one can ever call me a hack.
     
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  28. Patricia D

    Patricia D Venerated Member

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    This conversation inspired me to google dinosaur porn - not only are there books; there are videos. I didn't go to the sites - lord knows what that would put on my poor little computer - so no first hand reports.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017
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  29. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Yeah, I passed on the videos, too. LOL!!
     
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  30. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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