Monday, May 19, 2014

How I found the write path

This post is brought to you via the special blogfest, How I Found the Write Path, hosted by Carrie Butler and PK Hrezo.

The Prompt: Write a letter to yourself when you first started writing toward publication. Details here.

Dear Budding Botanist,

It's exactly ten years on since you put first halting and painfully self-conscious words on the page, when you decided (and Space only knows how the heck that happened) that you could write a novel.

In those first months, as the pile of words grew, you were convinced that the literary world would beat a path to your door, lapping up the sheer beauty of your glowing prose.


I've got news for you, and you ain't gonna like it!

Publication is a cold, uncaring, profit-motivated business. It doesn't care about you or your stories unless it can see a clear and sure-fire path to making money out of you. I'm not knocking this, it's a legitimate business model especially given the vast number of talented writers out there, but it does lead to behavior that makes it enormously difficult for new writers to break in.

The good news is that the world of writing is a wonderfully diverse and supportive community. All real writers know how hard the publication process is, and they band together to help and encourage each other. I don't think you'll find anything like it elsewhere in the creative arts.

So, here are some things you should know to help you on your way.

Have fun

This is paramount, and it is not some feel-good wishy-washy idealistic crap. Readers can tell when you're having fun and when you're just going through the motions. The parts that you had most fun writing will often also be the most enjoyable to read.

Take the opportunity to torture your characters. Make then act in ways that you would never dare. Bring the reader into your mind and share the wonders of your imaginary world. Write what you enjoy and make your enthusiasm shine on the page. Have fun.

Know your own mind

Throughout the writing and publishing process, you will be bombarded with advice. The more advice you hear, the more confused you will get. For every "thou shalt" you read about, there is someone equally experienced preaching the opposite.

For the most part, there are no absolute right answers. Sure, there are some answers that are more or less likely to lead to a good outcome, and some that will almost certainly torpedo your efforts, but there's a vast no-man's-land in between where it's largely a matter of preference.

So, what to do?

The most important thing to remember is that this is your journey. Not somebody else's. If you heed some advice and it doesn't pan out, the only person to blame is yourself, so become self-reliant and take responsibility for your own destiny. All I can advise here is to read and research and draw your own informed conclusions. Know your own mind and work out what's right for you.

That's not to say be obstinate and insist you know best, but choose carefully which advice to follow and which to set aside. Do so knowingly, and own the outcome.

Pull your finger out

Your story is doing nobody any good sitting on your hard drive. You are in danger of wasting years on the agent query lottery and there are respectable alternatives to traditional publishing. You are living in times when technology and social media are connecting people like never before, and shaking the foundations of brick-and-mortar bookselling. Be a positive part of the revolution.

The onus is still on you to craft the best product you possibly can. Don't take shortcuts. Polish your story until it is something you are proud of, until you reach the point where you find you are editing but no longer really improving. Then...

...Get off your sorry butt and get it out there.

Good luck and best wishes
Old and Creaky Botanist


Ian S. Bott

I give my permission to use my entry in the e-book compilation. 



cleemckenzie said...

Exactly right. Good that you set these ideas down for us to read.

Unknown said...

Having fun is super important. If you do not love what you are doing, then it will be more of a chore and readers will not like it as much.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Great advise! I told myself a long time ago that if the time ever came that writing became a "chore", I'd stop doing it. We've gotta love what we're doing if we want readers to love what we've done.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

A brilliant letter. I particularly love that last line.

Botanist said...

Lee, I hope someone will find some of these ideas useful :)

Lady Lilith, that is a great way of putting it!

Susan, the one thing I don't want is for it to become a chore.

Lynda, what - the "get off your butt" or the "Old and Creaky"? :D

Johanna Garth said...

I saw an article recently about the balance between art and business. It was fascinating. Your post reminded me of it. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I can relate to the part about the more advice you hear, the more confused you'll become!

Austen Sharp said...

Really enjoyed your letter and thank you for reminding us to have fun. Many writers I've known tend to forget that, including me when I first started out over 34 years ago. Life is too short!

Botanist said...

Thank you for the flattering comparison, Johanna :)

Alex, glad I'm not the only one to get confused!

Eleyne-Mari, it's something I have to keep reminding myself too.

Valerie said...

Fantastic!!! And having fun is the key, in my opinion!



Gina Gao said...

I really enjoyed this post! Thanks so much for sharing.

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with you about going with your gut. I wrote something similar in my post.

Sarah Brentyn said...

The conflicting advice! It’s everywhere and I keep subjecting myself to it. Your advice here is fantastic.

I love your idea that “the literary world would beat a path to your door”. I had that same ridiculous idea. And also let my writing sit on my hard drive for many years. I was The Stagnant Writer. I gave my younger self the same advice to get out there (except you are nicer about it). Love your letter.

Botanist said...

Valerie, I might have guessed :D

Gina, you're welcome.

Theresa, I've seen a lot of recurring themes in the posts so far.

Sarah, isn't it amazing how naive we all were at the start?

Dean K Miller said...

Spot on, spot on, spot on. Thanks for this, Botanist. So much is what I've encountered and wondered if others felt the same. Picking the right advice is nearly as hard as the writing...and also "putting it out there!"

Tammy Theriault said...

i love how down to earth this was! especially when you said readers will know when you're just going through the motions. we are a smart bunch :) Glad to have met and found you through the hop and am now following your blog!

Elizabeth Mueller said...

The only thing that cares for you or your stories are the fans and it is our job as authors to make sure of that! Great post. :D

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading this. You are absolutely right. We each have our own journeys to succumb to. And there are no right and wrong answers.. just the ones that are right for our own heart and creativity. I loved when you wrote, "Bring the reader into your mind and share the wonders of your imaginary world." It's our world, indeed, and when we are able to share this world with our readers, we are using our gifts to the fullest of potential.
Very interesting blog here. It's really.. versatile=) Will be following!

Botanist said...

Dean, that is the great thing about this writing community: you get to hear other people facing the same things, and you know it's not just you.

Tammy, you've got to give readers credit for sure!

Elizabeth, welcome back, and thank goodness for readers :)

Gina, as much as we can support each other, we still each have to find our own answers don't we? Welcome to the Bald Patch :)

Meradeth Houston said...

Great points and wonderful letter! I particularly like the Have Fun--something that's far too easy to forget in this business at times!

Anonymous said...

All these entries are wonderful. I'm finding many things in common with bloggers, as well as new things.

Botanist said...

Meradeth, yes, fun is so important!

Medeia, I've noticed that too. Several common themes.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I never had anyone to give me advice when I was starting out, so I never had any conflicting. A bit of advice would have been good, but knowing me, I would have ignored it :-)

Denise Covey said...

Hey Botanist, great advice. Starts off with a common theme. Didn't we all think it was going to be easier than it turned out to be. Still, we all love it and are working through it and will find success in the end.

Botanist said...

Annalisa, I think many people, like me, actively search online for advice on multiple aspects of writing and publishing. In fact, I still do! There's lots of good stuff out there, but it's definitely caveat emptor.

Denise, you just summarized two themes that seem to run through almost all the posts I've read.

BTW - I'm still working through the entries and I hope to get around to everyone in due course.

Liz Blocker said...

Great letter - and I love how you signed it :) it does seem like we all started with idealized dreams, and had to learn the cold reality the hard way. I do appreciate your spin on it, and your acceptance of that reality with some true positivity!

Nick Wilford said...

All great points. Especially about having fun. It might not feel like it everyday, but I'm sure we all have times when it's a blessed relief to be able to escape into our own worlds. The more involved we are, the better will be the outcome.

Melissa said...

"The most important thing to remember is that this is your journey. Not somebody else's."

Best piece of advice there is. Everyone's path is different, and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another.

Great entry!
Thanks for visiting my blog.

(And, P.S. My mother tells stories of me hiding in my closet with a spiral notebook and a flashlight. I've had an interest in writing that goes back farther than just a few years. ;)

Botanist said...

Liz, old and creaky is how I feel most of the time these days :)

Nick, I think it's a needed reminder through the tough parts. Even querying can be fun. Honest!

Melissa, I've also seen this advice very wisely paired off with don't compare yourself to other writers. Every one is different.

Carrie Butler said...

"...and it is not some feel-good wishy-washy idealistic crap."

I LOVE it! Thank you so much for participating, Botanist. :D

Botanist said...

Carrie, thank you for organizing it. It's been fun, and I hope the compilation goes well.

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