If one more person asks if I’m “just” a writer….
There are many miss-conceptions about what it means to be a ‘writer’ and I want to stamp these out. Either you like to write, or you don’t. But if you’re someone who wants to be published, you take it seriously. It’s not just a hobby and you don’t ‘just’ write. I was this person and after much perseverance, I now have two psychological thrillers (‘When I Wake Up’ and ‘What Did I Do?’) under my belt, while researching my next novel. I’m not ‘just’ a writer. I AM a writer.
Time and commitment
Writing a novel takes time and plenty of commitment. After you’ve spent many (many) hours penning your novel, there is still much work to be done. You cut, you rewrite and you restructure. And that is even before your work gets published. During this period, you have to keep the faith, because often you will think your work is rubbish (and sometimes brilliant). And once you have done all of this, you hope and pray that
"I'm NOT just a 'writer"
someone will believe in you and publish your book (if not, you start over anyway and write a new novel – you never give up!). But once you have your break, the job of promoting your book begins. Repeat. You start over with the next novel.
Good books take research
At the Emirates Literature festival this year, I will be speaking about how you don’t necessarily have to ‘write what you know,’ which is what some authors suggest. Despite my first two books taking place in familiar environments from my childhood in Sweden, I mostly write about people and experiences that are new to me. Prior to writing, do your research – read fiction and non-fiction books that relate to your subjects, scan articles, interview experts or people with insight or relevant experiences. My latest novel, ‘What Did I Do?’ deals with human trafficking and I read countless accounts of young people trapped by deceiving men and women. Also, who is your target audience? A book for young adults for instance, will be different in terms of style, storyline and language, so read other books in your chosen genre.
As a writer, you’re always reading. You learn from other talented writers but you search for your own voice. What makes you unique? What topics are you not afraid to tackle? Are you good at creating odd characters or are you particularly skilled at conjuring up likeable characters? If your story has been told before, how can you tell it in a new, unique way? Be creative and experiment. Have a good awareness about what books are already on the market, but create using YOUR own voice. Finding your voice takes practice and the best way to do this is to write as much as possible.
Re-writing is the ‘real’ writing
It takes time to write, but once you have typed your thousands of words and a story has emerged, you now need to review your text with fresh eyes and re-write it. For my second novel, ‘What Did I Do?’ I got carried away with my research. I needed to cut and deleted 30,000 words (this is the ‘kill your darlings’ phase). In my first novel ‘When I Wake Up’, I told the story from five different perspectives which meant I had to make sure that each character’s point of view was consistent throughout the novel. Surprisingly for some, I do very little storyline planning prior to writing my books – I know how the book is going to end but much happens along the way. I also like to keep the reader in suspense so the pacing is key. Do you have enough cliffhangers? Enough obstacles for your characters? Enough details about them to make them real? Every writer’s process is different but we all spend much time re-writing before we’re happy with the result.
Publishing is an industry
You write because you love it but if you want to get published, you have to remember that publishing is a business. What will sell? Will people be interested in reading your novel? If you don’t want to worry about an agent or publisher believing in your project, you can self-publish. But you ultimately want people to read your work, so you still need to think about the commercial viability of your book. Readers have to get curious about your story.
Then there is marketing
You feel relieved (and of course, overjoyed!) when you get that coveted publishing contract, but the hard work is in no way over. Bookstores and publishers will care about the sales of your book. How can you get the word out about your book and increase these? Through PR, social media, speaking at events and getting positive book reviews. In a crowded market place with hundreds of thousands of authors, you want your book to be the one that someone picks up. Because you spent so much time on it, pouring your life and soul into it.
So, no, you’re not ‘just’ a writer. You ARE a writer. You live and breathe your passion. So own it.