I’ve had a few people ask me how I got started writing. Quite frankly, I was bored with television. I was a young mom with a small child and a husband who worked 3-11. I had written angsty stories as a teenager, but decided to try my hand at romance writing, thinking it would be easy. After all, I took English in high school and college. I read voraciously.
It isn’t easy and I had a LOT to learn. I dabbled for a few years, but real life interrupted and I had to return to work full time. Writing was shoved aside for over ten years until I found out a dear friend had published a romance novel. I was amazed and in awe. I timidly mentioned I had tried writing a few years back. She took me under her wing and helped me. I wouldn’t be sitting this close to being published without Jill Odom.
Next, I joined my local Romance Writers Of America chapter, Southern Magic. I was terrified and intimidated entering my first meeting. I mean there were AUTHORS there! (yeah, I know, DUH) But, authors are my rock stars. I’ve always loved reading. I had fangirled over many of these remarkable women at the annual Readers Luncheon. Why would they want me there? I didn’t belong. I wasn’t published, I didn’t even know where to begin.
I think this is a common fear for most new writers. We’re scared we don’t belong with “published” authors. We’re terrified of being humiliated. Let me tell you a little secret. Yes, pull in closer, I’m going to whisper this. Guess what?
Authors are readers, too.
Yep, that’s the big secret. Authors loved books way before they wrote one single word. We all started right where you are today.
So start by putting an idea down on paper. Will every single word remain? Nope. Will your first book be published? It happens, but not often. Some things you write will never see the light of day.
Here is my step by step advice.
1. Write. Every. Damn. Day. Even if it is just one sentence. Sentences become paragraphs. Paragraphs become pages. Pages become chapters. Chapters become books.
2. Do Nanowrimo when it comes around in November. If you are a plotter, start plotting now. If you’re a pantser like I am, well, just go for it when it rolls around. (although you might want to at least get an outline done) Nanowrimo is a community of like minded folks who want to write. They challenge you to complete 50,000 words in the month of November. It’s a great motivator. They even send you cheer-leading type emails to encourage you as you write. Plus, it gets you in the habit of writing every day.
3. Hook up with other writers. Join writer associations like Romance Writers of America. Friend them on Nanowrimo. Friend authors on social media. Most believe in paying it forward. We wouldn’t be here without the help of others.
4. Ask questions, even if you think they are silly. I guarantee someone else has wondered the same thing.
5. Take classes. Community colleges. RWA classes, other writing venues. Most classes I’ve attended were reasonable or free.
6. Enter contests. I can’t stress this enough. Where else for $15-30 can you get professional critiques? I promise, asking your friends is nice, but usually not helpful. They are either so brutally honest you quit writing, or they fangirl over stuff they hate because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Contests give you honest opinions from non-biased writers.
Does some of the critique hurt? Absolutely. I still have not re-visited the manuscript that got these comments. “I have to admit if this was anything but a contest entry I would not have read far into the story.” OUCH. I admit, I cried over that one. Here’s another. “I didn’t connect with the hero or heroine.” WHAT? HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE MY BABIES?! *insert loud wailing and gnashing of teeth* And the parting comment: “I would have no interest in reading anymore.” Yep. More tears shed. (I plan to revisit this manuscript someday. I still love those characters. However, I won’t worry if it isn’t salvageable, not everything we write is.)
However, let me point out this was my first contest entry. It scored 49/100. What did I do after that critique? Did I hang up my “pen” so to speak? Hell, no. I decided I’d prove to myself I could write. I took classes. I entered more contests. I found critique partners. I continued to WRITE. EVERY. DAMN. DAY.
Don’t worry if you enter a contest and get a bad score. Sure, it might feel like a failure, but it isn’t. Did you hear that? IT IS NOT A FAILURE. Because here’s the thing, the lower the score, generally, the better the critique.
The comments above? Did they hurt. Of course they did. Maybe she could have phrased things a little “nicer.” But, the judge explained why she didn’t like my entry. At various points she showed me where/how to improve it. The judges that just give 5/5 or 4/5 on everything, rarely make comments. To me, while it is flattering, it isn’t helpful. I WANT and NEED the explanations and advice. That’s how I learn.
Enter contests. I promise, your writing will improve. I kept at it. (See the picture above, those are all contest entries from 2013-2014) My scores improved, but usually I’d score high with two judges and bomb with one. I finally decided it wasn’t too bad, I meant two out of three people liked my stories! And again, the judge that hated it gave the best critique. Judges are not the enemy. Most of them are writers. They know what you’re going through and they want you to improve. So learn from them.
And yes, I finally placed and won in a category. My husband swears his hearing problems are the result of my scream of excitement. Did the final judge (who are usually editors and agents) ask for it? No… but someone else did.
Saving Evangeline will be published next month with Omnific Publishing!
Hang in there. Dreams do come true, as long as you work for it.