Happy Friday! Today I am joined by Catherine Ferguson to talk about what she wishes she knew when started writing.
Seven things I wish I’d known when I started writing
You have to be incredibly single-minded and just a little bit mad to actually make it.
It can be really challenging, treading this (often lonely) path to success. It’s incredibly deflating when you’ve sent off your precious manuscript with a mix of hope and apprehension in your heart, to receive word after a nail-biting wait (that might only be a few weeks but feels like six months) that it’s a ‘no’. You learn to accept, early on, that rejection is par for the course and you mustn’t let it stop you in your tracks.
When I first decided to write a book, I gave myself a year in which to succeed, which just seems frankly ludicrous now. When I realised my money was going to run out long before I got anywhere near my goal, I set myself up as a self-employed cleaner in order to make ends meet and I used every spare minute to work on my book, pretty much putting my social life on hold. People were really nice but I’m sure a lot of my friends suspected it was all a bit pie-in-the-sky, this trying to get published business, and would have preferred me to get ‘a proper job’. There were times I agreed, but something drove me on.
In the end, it took five long years of writing and rewriting, finding out what worked and what didn’t, before I finally found an agent who liked what I did. We decided the book I’d written wasn’t unique enough to grab an editor’s attention, so I spent a further year working on something new – and finally, a year and three months after landing an agent, I had my very first publishing deal. The euphoria, after all that hard work and refusal to give up, was amazing. I still have to pinch myself that I got there in the end.
As a published author, there are incredible highs …
It’s all an exciting new adventure, the fulfilment of a lifetime of hopes and dreams. There are so many lovely milestones to enjoy – from that first phone call from your new editor, welcoming you on board, and your first trip to London to meet the whole team, to the count-down to publication and the actual day itself.
Publication day is a bit like having a special birthday – it’s the best excuse ever to drink champagne, buy yourself a new outfit and have fun celebrating.
That first five-star review is pretty special, too …
… but the bad days can be very bad.
Okay, so you’ve landed your publishing deal and on the whole, people seem to like your book, which is great. Then it hits you. You are now expected to do it all over again.
The problem is, you tend to pour everything you have into your first book, so it can be very daunting coming up with an idea for the second. What if it’s a flop? Maybe your first book was a bit of a fluke and you’ll never be able to repeat that success? Oh God, perhaps you’re already suffering from the dreaded writer’s block! Might your fabulous new career be over almost before it’s begun?
It’s best not to over-think it. Just hold your nose and jump in. Remind yourself that you’ve done it once, so you CAN do it again!
I think all writers doubt themselves. For me, that happens on uninspired days when getting the words onto the page feels like wading through treacle with a mammoth weight attached to each leg. You end your writing stint with the grand total of ninety-five words under your belt. (But hey ho, only another sixty-seven thousand to go …!)
You might have a hundred great reviews but you will only ever think about the single bad one.
It’s human nature, of course, to dwell on the negative and take it as a personal insult. Everyone does it. But knowing this doesn’t really help when a complete stranger (who has absolutely no idea how much time, sweat and tears you’ve poured into it) has just dismissed your lovely book with something like, ‘It’s okay, if you’ve got no other reading matter to hand’.
It just hurts, all right?!
You will never, ever be able to understand the Amazon ranking system. But that will not stop you obsessively checking your own ranking a great deal more than is reasonable and logical …
Why do we do it? I know I’m not the only one to think to myself, at least twenty times a day, ‘Ooh, I’ll just have a little check on my Amazon ranking…’
I resolve every now and again to go cold turkey and stop looking altogether. But it never lasts more than a few hours. And the frustrating thing is, no-one appears to know the secret of the Amazon algorithm, so you can’t figure it out anyway. It doesn’t seem to be based on how many books you’ve sold, which is a concept I could actually understand. Or if it is, it’s only one of a number of factors, probably way too technical for my limited brain to grasp.
Anyway, back in a mo. Just got to check my ranking …
A daily walk (among trees, preferably) can be the best way to get the creative juices flowing.
Sometimes there’s just no getting the words onto the page. You can bargain with yourself all you like (five hundred words then I can watch Coronation Street on catch-up etc) but it just ain’t working. Your inspiration has all dried up.
For me, the way to tackle it is to walk away from the computer and get outside. (It’s amazing how often I forget this simple solution and sit there stewing for ages, getting nowhere. But every time I remember to go out for a walk, it seems to pay off.)
I have a nice little circular route that takes about an hour and winds through a pretty little village and down some lovely country lanes (which are less lovely when flooded, so I’ve taken to wearing wellies). And sometimes, it’s just a nice walk with lots of healthy fresh air and exercise. But then other times, the magic happens. I don’t know if it’s the steady rhythm of your feet or letting your mind run free that does it – but I’ve had my best flashes of inspiration on these walks. Often, when I’m thinking about something else entirely or admiring a tree, scenarios start to unfold in my mind that are so perfect for the story, I can’t wait to get home to write it down. A character that’s been stubbornly flat and inaccessible suddenly comes to life and finally you know what their motivation is and why you wanted them in your book in the first place.
Those moments are thrilling. They might even be the best part of the writing process for me.
Eventually landing a book deal is worth every bit of heartache and frustration you go through to get there.
There are a lucky few who write a book, find an agent and publisher with relative ease and go on to bestseller stardom. But for the vast majority of us, trying to get published is like walking down a long, winding, obstacle-strewn road with no idea if you’ll ever actually reach your destination.
It usually means writing every spare minute you can (often at the expense of a social life) and never giving up in the face of repeated rejection. Oh, and smiling valiantly when people remark (usually in a caring way, but I suspect not always) ‘Haven’t you got a book deal yet, then?’
But this dogged persistence and a refusal to be knocked off course – even when people suspect you might be off your trolley – is what will get you there. And after all that hope and effort and determination, how sweet is that eventual success …