The Career Author: 11 Strategies for Living Your Dream
Back in the day when I managed corporate communications for consumer-product giant, Kimberly-Clark, I would wake up at 5 a.m. to bang out as many words as I could on my novel before making the dreaded hour-long commute to work. Throughout the morning, as I rubbed elbows with company executives and spouted off scripted answers to pushy reporters, my story never roamed far from my mind, tucking itself behind the thin veil of my imagination. And on the rare occasions that I’d take a lunch, I’d sneak away to an empty conference room to spend more time crafting my beauty into being.
The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing. I literally was writing blind. But one thing was for certain: if I didn’t write, the very life in me would seep out. Even though I drove a BMW, enjoyed the comforts of a fat paycheck and rode the corporate jet, deep inside I was slowly starting to hemorrhage. And the only way I knew to stop the leak was to write my little heart out.
And that’s what I did until one day, a full-length novel blinked at me from the screen. I blinked back, without a clue in hell as to what to do next. (You can read an excerpt of that first novel here.)
Living the Dream
Fast forward 11 years to the present. I’m a published author living my dream – the dream that God intended for my life. There are no corporate jets, BMWs or even six-figure advances – yet. But I am getting there, slowly but surely. And I want to help other writers do the same.
You’ve probably heard that right now – in this digital age – it’s never been a better time to be an author. Five years ago, I’d have laughed out loud if you would have told me that in 2012, I’d have more control over my career than ever. Well guess what? It turns out that this is absolutely, undeniably TRUE.
Writers, Take Control
A paradigm shift has occurred. Authors today hold more power over their careers than ever before. No longer do we have to sit around and wait for publishers to anoint our books. No longer are we at the mercy of traditional marketing plans that hardly skim the surface of social media. We can publish are own books, create our own hype and at the end of the day, take home 100 percent of the profits – if we so choose.
That’s right, my fellow scribblers. We have a CHOICE. The path we ultimately decide to go down – either independent or traditional publishing – should depend solely on what’s right for us as individual artists. But before we can go in either direction, we must take control of our career. Your career isn’t the boss; you are. So if you’re ready to start calling the shots, here are some ways that can help you grab your writing career by the horns:
1. Acknowledge That You Are A Writer
If you want to start living your life as a writer, you’ve got to start believing that you are one – regardless if you have a publishing contract or not. So repeat after me: “I am an author. I am an author. I am an author.” When you start doubting yourself and your abilities, repeat the above 10 times. 20 if you have to.
2. Write Every Day. No Matter What.
That’s right. Even if you’re sick. Even if you’re in a bad mood. Even if you don’t feel like it. You say you want to be a writer? Well that’s what we do. We write. Make it a habit. Start a journal. Scribble on a Kleenex tissue (a shout out to good ol’ Kimberly-Clark!). I don’t care. Just do it. Every. Damn. Day.
3. Stop Worrying About What Other People Think
This includes your family (i.e. parents, siblings, etc.). People love to share their opinions on what you should be doing with your life. “What? You want to, um, write? *giggles* Why not do something more stable like … an accountant!” You get my drift. And trust me, there will ALWAYS be someone throwing out a snide remark about your writing dream. Don’t listen! Plug your ears! Bottom line, worrying about what people think will get you nowhere. So just do what you are born to do. WRITE.
4. Protect Your First Drafts
As a rule of thumb, I only let two people in this world read my first drafts – my husband and my agent. Why? Because I trust them and I know they won’t mess with my voice. For authors, voice can be everything. And allowing too many hands in the pot can water it down. And no reader likes watered-down pros. That’s just boring.
This also goes for critique groups and/or writing partners. Set expectations up front for what you are looking for, and if somewhere along the way you feel as if you are chasing your tail (or your partner’s edits), then reevaluate whether or not the arrangement has run it’s course. In other words, your writing is, well, your writing. Period.
5. Build Your Author Brand – Whether You Are Published Or Not
Seriously. Just get over the fact that you aren’t published or haven’t completed your manuscript, much less started it. Just get out there and announce to the world that you’re a writer. Open a Twitter account. Start posting writerly things on Facebook. Start a blog. Sign up for Goodreads. In other words, build your social media platform. Now. Today. Not after you finish that short story or land an agent. “But Stephanie, social media scares the sh*t out of me!” Well it should, people, but that’s not a problem either. Thankfully, there’s some great resources and books out that to help you boil it all down. Two of my favorites? We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer. Both excellent books by writing expert and social media guru, Kristen Lamb.
6. Nurture Your Inner Artist
Go to a museum. Watch a movie. Redecorate a room. Paint. Roller skate. Do whatever it is that exercises your creativity OUTSIDE of writing. Always wanted to try your hand at pottery? Take a class. Want to play the piano? Schedule some lessons. The fact is, you’ve got to put back in what you take out. In other words, refill your creativity bucket – even if it takes you away from your writing. Trust me, it will pay off. No one explains this better than Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Guide to Creativity. This book will change your life as an artist. It has mine.
7. Learn to Say No
This one’s for all of you people out there who try to do to much (including myself). And if you’re a writer, you’re even worse. Learn to keep your writing time sacred. If you want a writing career, then you’ve got to cut the fat in your life. I’m not talking your family and your kids (I’m a mom, for crying out loud!). I’m talking about bowing out gracefully when the PTA president asks you to head up a committee, or declining an invitation for a night out that you know will wreck havoc on your morning writing routine. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have a life – for it’s in living our lives that we have the creative bandwidth for our art. I’m simply suggesting making a habit of being more selective with your time and energy. And who doesn’t need a reminder about that?
8. Network, Network, Network.
Only this year have I started to understand the power of networking with other writers. Writing can be a very lonely job. That’s why it’s important to connect with people in your field – just like you’d do in any other profession. Authors are great when it comes to building each other up and offering advice. And come publishing time, we love promoting each other and seeing our friends succeed. Yesterday I had a great conversation with a very passionate and talented writer who’s in the process of polishing her first novel (you know who you are, E. L. Farris!). Talking to her not only lifted my spirits, but it also made me feel good that I could share some of my publishing knowledge in return, which brings me to my next point …
9. Pay It Forward
The writing community is big on this. That is, if someone does something good for you, go do something good for someone else in return. Share your knowledge and experience and you’ll be amazed at the positive energy that comes your way.
10. Let Your Interests Drive Your Writing
If you’re not passionate about what you’re writing, it will show in your prose – and readers will catch on pretty quick. So stop trying to force stories that you think “will sell” and just write what moves you.
11. Trust Your Instincts – and the Story
If I’ve learned anything over these last 11 years, it’s this: write with you gut. Because if you write with your gut, you’re allowing your inner artist to guide you. And once you learn how to tap into your inner artist on demand, you are pretty much golden. Stories often take on a mind of their own. Understanding this – and accepting it – is key. So if out of the blue one of your characters does something that completely shocks you, like committing a brutal murder or sleeping with an ex, just go with it and see where the story leads. Because sometimes your best writing can happen when you’re not really writing at all.
Do any of your writerly types out there have anything to add?