(This is the first part of a two-part series. Part II coming soon!)
I’m of a cynical bent, so am ill-disposed towards cheerleaders, positive thinkers, and canned morale boosts. But the life of a writer is a lonely and often discouraging one. If you don’t want to end up jumping off a cliff with the pages of your last manuscript fluttering after you, you have to find small victories to keep you going.
I think this is worth writing about because the need for encouragement came as something of a surprise to me. Whether it was because I believed I would become an overnight success or I was young enough to have a naturally rosy outlook when I started writing I don’t know, but as I’ve moved along in my writing career, I’ve found it invaluable to try for, grab onto, and celebrate the little wins…while I work towards the big ones.
If you find your hope flagging and lately all your short stories have titles like “I’d Rather Work in a Coal Mine”, try a couple of these paths to the little victories that will keep those serotonin levels up and empower you to stay in the game. If you have your own ways to boost the ego, please share; there’s no such thing as having too many tricks.
Many writers labor on their work for far too long. Often the result is neither beneficial nor detrimental and the piece treads water for weeks, months, or years, languishing on a hard drive or in a file. It becomes a source of dread, the Thing That Was Never Finished, and you avoid even looking at it for fear of being dragged into another year of re-writing.
Don’t give up, get it out there. It may not win a Pulitzer, the New Yorker might not come knocking, but there is a tremendous sense of freedom and accomplishment in simply seeing one’s work available in the wider world. You can’t publish crap, but if you’ve agonized over it for this long, chances are you’re conscientious enough to have written something worth reading.
If you still believe self-publishing possesses the stigma of vanity publishing, get over it. The world of publishing is changing and not just in the monetary sense: the very nature of what it is to write is being challenged by digital publishing. The upshot is that your success is no longer measured with a yardstick that only a handful of agents and editors possess; your audience is out there and waiting.
One caveat: if you’re a numbers person, you can go into another emotional tailspin if your sales fail to take off after publication. Remember this: you’re building a career, not a sale. The purpose here is to know what it’s like to feel like a professional and use that energy to empower your writing. Self-publishing is the means to an end only.
Give It Away
An interesting twist on the self-publishing adventure is the idea of giving your work away–even temporarily–on mobile reading apps like Wattpad or Scribd. (I talk about my own experiences with it here.)
There are many things to recommend doing this: you have the sense of getting your work into the public domain; the exposure may lead to sales of your other works (even the same work); and, at the very least, it’s an emotional lift to watch the number of “reads” of your work tick upwards hour by hour, day by day. If you are lucky and industrious enough to cultivate a following on these sites, you may create a real community around your work that welcomes a chance to comment on your posts and spread the word on your behalf (some of the top titles have logged hundreds of thousands and even millions of reads. Check out science fiction novelist Bill Gourgey’s book Glide, fully serialized on Wattpad: 163 pages, 73 parts, and over a million reads).
Understand that you won’t become rich this way, but you will get your work read. If you have these two priorities reversed, you’re in the wrong field anyway.
Part II will talk about getting involved socially with other writers…and what that can do to your own sense of accomplishment.