Hello, everybody! I’m so excited to be back in Seekerville, one of my favoritest places in the cyber world! Today I thought it would be fun to talk about how sometimes we need to give ourselves permission. Now, we’re all adults (or teens) and nobody usually stands in our way… or do they? There are so many paths in the writerly life that sometimes it feels as if everyone has an opinion on how we should manage our career. So, I’m here today to talk about all the ways you can be a writer… and then I’m going to give you permission to do what you want. This is your chance to act completely irresponsibly and have no guilt whatsoever. You can blame me for the fall out. Sounds pretty good, right? Let’s start!
TAKE THE TIME
Some people might have told you that you can’t raise children and write at the same time. You can. There are plenty of writing mommies out there who have published with babies and toddlers. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s really, really not. But just like raising babies, it’s more rewarding than most anything else I can think of. So grab those stolen moments to scribble down words, if that’s what you really want to do. I give you permission to ignore the naysayers. And remember, a happy mom means happy kids.
Do you want to pay a sitter to come and make play dough blobs with your kids for a few hours while you write, but are afraid you’ll lose your super mommy street cred? You won’t. I’m not saying that I don’t worry what other people think. Just the other day I took my kids to the park so I could write. They played on the toys and I sat at a picnic table. There was a mom there who was chasing her little boy around the equipment, even going down the slide with a big “WHEEEEE!”. I started to feel guilty that I wasn’t pretending to be a pirate in the big plastic fort, too. Then I remembered that before I was writing, I was sitting at the bench reading. I’ve never been the “WHEEEEE!” mommy. My kids are perfectly happy playing with other kids. And I’m happy writing. So, if you’re feeling guilt for not being your kids’ entertainment every second of the day, I give you permission to let them play. Even with someone who’s paid to be there. It’s okay. They will survive.
Are you afraid you’ll look silly declaring yourself a writer when you have never taken a writing class and just might have slept through AP English? You won’t. When I first started writing, I referred to my project as THE BOOK, and I said it in a funny, faux-serious voice. I just couldn’t say I was writing a book without feeling like a big joke. It made it worse when a friend told me, “I never knew you wanted to write.” I didn’t. Not until I had that one idea that I decided to put on paper. Did that make me less of a writer? Should I have been scribbling stories since grade school? How was I to know I would ever want to write a whole book? Then I thought about all the things I’ve done in my life that I didn’t know I was going to do before I did them. (Like last night when I made fried sweet potato in a panko batter. I never knew I wanted to make that, either but they turned out pretty good.) So, if you want to write but never have before, it’s okay. I give you permission to come out of the closet and declare yourself a writer.
DON’T PUT WORDS IN GOD’S MOUTH
We’ve all heard about people who say they felt called to write, or that God gives them all their plot inspiration. What if that’s not you? What if you never get that flashing neon sign from heaven that you should start writing a story? Maybe you start wondering whether God doesn’t want you to be a writer or that He might not be pleased with your books. Guess what? God’s cool with it- and you. (Unless you’re Richard Dawkins. Then you’ve got some explaining to do.) He gave you that desire to write. You don’t have to be given a golden fleece in order to feel like you have a story to share.
Let’s skip to the chase. You’re afraid you’re too old, too young, too rich, too poor, too educated, too uneducated to be a writer. You’re not. I think we’ve talked in the comments on Seekerville about how varied our backgrounds are but we’re all writers. This is the only job where everything you do, every day before this one, has helped you become a writer.
Now that you’ve but some steel in that spine and are determined to write a book, let’s move ahead to… the career. Ahhh, the career that everyone likes to manage for you. It’s amazing how much unsolicited advice a writer can receive. (I’m on both sides of that pretty often, actually, since I LOVE to give advice. I try to catch myself, but it still happens. Like right now.)
So, your book is written and you don’t want to spend years to query an agent, land an agent, wait on editors, revise to specification, and then see your book perhaps not as you intended? Don’t. There’s nothing more painful than seeing your book (your baby!) morph into someone else’s idea of what it should be. Nothing.
You want to self publish but afraid no one will buy your books? Here’s some scary news. Nobody may buy your trade books, either. I won’t lie, self publishing take a lot of work. But the drawbacks of educating yourself on how to market and make a book attractive to Nook/Kindle readers are far outweighed by the goosebumps you get by choosing your own cover, writing your own blurb, and letting characters land a kiss below the jawline.
What if you DO want to query an agent, land an agent, wait on editors, revise to specification and then see your beautiful book so much better than you thought it could be? Go ahead. Working with an editorial team is the sort of experience that everyone should have at least once. It’s not the same as paying a freelance editor. You are working together, give and take, for the greater good of the book.
What if you’re a vocal advocate of the self publishing wave and then you get a great offer from a traditional publisher and want to take it, but don’t want to look two-faced? (Ahem) One of the proudest moments of my life was reading through Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs and seeing how Beth Adams and Katie Sandell’s hard work had helped me create something that gave me chills.
A self publishing blogger suggested I signed that contract because I needed the “validation”. Maybe he’s right. It did feel good to know that something I wrote was “good enough” for a New York publisher. Not that I didn’t think it was, but because so much of the publishing world still sees them as the epitome of great writing/books. Other writers certainly seemed more positive about these books once Howard Books/Simon & Schuster put their name on the back. (Even though they were the same books with the same plot, characters, and voice. Even the same goofy titles!)
I worried that I was going to lose the good friends I’d made in self publishing when I went back to trade fiction. But then I asked myself if these friends were paying my electric bill. No? Then they didn’t get a say in my career. I did what I thought was best for me and my books. And my friends were actually excited that I had the freedom to make those choices. Having the freedom to choose is a good thing for everybody.
BE THE BOSS
So, you’re a real writer now and you’ve written some books and people seem to like them. But there’s this other book you want to write and it’s not quite the same as your other books that people like and you’re afraid that no one will like it. So, you stay in your comfortable place, writing the same thing until your eyes cross, hoping to make your readers happy.
Let me tell you a secret. We readers can tell. We can tell when you’re bored with your own writing. We can tell when you’re slogging through that plot that has been through the mill so many times it has a nickname in the writing community. We can tell when you’ve passed that torch to some hired gun even though your name is on the cover.
(But if you love writing in your genre, don’t. Move. An. Inch. For example, Jennifer Crusie wrote a great post about category romance and why she feels fierce loyalty to it here.)
So, if you’re dying to write a thriller and you usually write science fiction, go ahead. If you’re yearning to write a non-fiction vegan cookbook and you usually write cozy murder mysteries, do it. If you’re hankering to spend a full year working with a National Book Award nominated writer on a YA fantasy set in futuristic Japan but you usually write sweet romance, you have my permission. (That last one may or not be me.) Know why? Because happy writers make happy readers. It won’t serve anybody if you force yourself to work on something that you no longer love. And maybe you’ll come back to it even more excited than when you left. At least, that’s been my experience.
TAKE A BREAK
What if you’re tired of writing and want to take a break but don’t want to look unprofessional? Do it. Unprofessional is writing a book that you hate, and having it out there for fans to read, and being ashamed every time you see it on the shelf. Unprofessional is writing yourself into the ground until you no longer care whether the words are good and if they hold any blessing for the readers. Unless you’re under contract, you don’t owe anybody anything. A lot of writers feel pressure from their readers about when the next book will be out. We’re people, too. We like vacation as much as the rest of the world. And we especially like clearing off our writing calendar and catching up on all the movies we missed in the last few years.
GET A JOB
Are you tired of spending every minute writing and not seeing a return? No agent interest, no proposals accepted, no fat royalty checks? You have this crazy desire to get a real job that actually pays you and write in whatever time is left in the day? Go ahead! Nobody pays the bills but you. I personally like eating. I like having electricity. My husband works full time, but we have six kids and some of them like to randomly break bones or need expensive dental work. I’ve worked full time, part time, and at home. I’ve worked in a deli, a call center, and for four different cities. I’ve been the head of a law library and a children’s librarian. I love that my writing income means I don’t have to get a day job, but if I worked a day job, I’m sure I would fit in my writing time (just like I do now, at night). The writing life doesn’t mean you’re pecking out words from 8-5. Most writers have day jobs and don’t rely on their spouses to support them. Stephen King wrote for years while holding down a day job. I’m not sure where this idea came from that writers are sitting in a lovely hut in the middle of a garden with no other care than the temperature of their tea. There’s no shame in working a traditional job and writing. It’s the norm. On the flip side…
QUIT YOUR JOB
Tired of fighting for writing time and want to quit? (Of course, this only works if you can live without that income. Let’s not starve the kids, ‘kay?) You’re afraid everyone will make fun of you for writing full time when you don’t even have the hope of a contract? (They might.)
You think that you owe a debt to society and have to put on pants everyday to be respected? You don’t. Writing good books is a great way to be a productive member of society
There. I’m sure there are more but in short, this writing gig is not for wimps. We talk a lot about thick skins and perseverance and staying the course no matter what anyone says. But sometimes we need a friend to give us a hug and say, “I understand. I have faith in you to do the right thing.”
So, share something that you’ve done that went against popular opinion! I want to give you a virtual high five and a cupcake for following your own good advice. Or if you have always wanted to do something, but haven’t had the courage, write it in the comments. I’ll be here all day to wave my hand over your life and tell you: GO AHEAD. Be the captain of your ship. Steer into rough waters if you must. Fold up the sails and slow down if you need. Pull out the lifeboats when necessary. Be brave.
Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Virginia Carmichael writes all over the genre map, including Christian contemporary and historical romance, a series dedicated to Jane Austen, and YA urban fantasy. A homeschooling mother of six young children who rarely wear shoes, she's madly in love with a man who has never read a single Jane Austen novel. She holds degrees in theoretical linguistics and religious studies from the University of Oregon and was nominated for Best Debut in Series Romance 2012 by Romantic Times Magazine. She can be reached on Facebook at her regular author page of Virginia Carmichael or at Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits, where she celebrates all things Jane.
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