Once, when I was whining about how difficult it was to be discovered as an author, my mother remarked, “Well, you must like hitting your head against a brick wall.” (Such support, right?) Of course, she meant that I could do much easier things instead of trying to publish novels.
It’s always hard to be an author, and at least for me, with all the Covid restrictions these days, it seems even harder now. Although I long to escape to another world and another life, most days my brain seems incapable of creating that fictional place and story.
When I speak to high school students about the writing life, I ask them to name the most important trait needed to become a successful author. They guess aspects like “good grammar” and “imagination,” which are important, but not the most important. The correct answer is “self-discipline.” Nobody makes a novelist work forty hours a week. There’s usually no guarantee of payoff for all the hours we put into assembling words into stories. We have to make ourselves sit down and write and edit and finish a book. And then most of us have to make ourselves market that book, too. So, as we toil away at our computers and rearrange endless Post-It notes or Scrivener outlines, it’s all too easy to hit the wall and simply not want to continue.
I smash into that dang wall on a pretty regular basis. I get stuck on plots. I decide my writing is total crap. I’m almost always certain I don’t have a clue how to market a book. Sometimes I don’t even how to finish the freaking story.
But I know I want to try. So, I back up from that wall, bandage my injuries, then take a long solo walk or paddle my kayak around the bay. Some evenings, I’ve been known to have several glasses of wine and feel sorry for myself. But I allow myself only a day to wallow in self-pity. The next day, I suck down several cups of good coffee and get to work on employing these techniques for getting over or around that invisible barricade.
To help with writing:
- I read a mystery that I love that is similar to what I’m trying to write, and make notes about what happens in each chapter. This must be a book that I’ve read at least once before, because I don’t want to get so involved in the story that I can’t see the structure. I’m not going to copy the plot or characters, but taking notes about the structure allows me to see how the author built the story. Then I can often see where I am going wrong, usually by telling too much too soon, or straying off on some tangent that kills the suspense.
- I watch a movie in the same genre and take notes of the scenes to accomplish the same goal I described above. Again, this should be a movie I’ve seen before, so I don’t get too wrapped up in what’s going to happen next.
- I read an instructional book on writing mysteries. Yes, I know all this stuff, but I need to be reminded over and over again.
- I brainstorm with another writer, asking for criticism of my story and for any and all ideas for improvement, no matter how wacky. It’s easy to lose all objectivity about your own writing, and it’s also easy to fall into a rut, so you need to seek out the ideas and opinions of others. I generally don’t end up using most ideas presented to me, but brainstorming sessions open my brain to new possibilities.
- I practice writing the short description for the story that will go on Amazon or on the back of the book. This is always an agonizing exercise for me, but it often causes me to focus on what the heck the story is really about.
To help with marketing:
- I Google other authors who are similar to me and look at what they do on social media and their author websites and such. Since I am an indie author now, I mostly look at other indie authors, because traditional publishers have larger advertising budgets and more marketing opportunities than most indies do.
- I ask other mystery authors at my level (or slightly above) and in my genre which marketing techniques and advertising sites have worked for them. I write mysteries, so it won’t help much to ask a nonfiction author or a romance or fantasy author; I’m seeking ideas on what works for marketing mysteries.
The process of writing, editing, and marketing a book takes a long time for most of us. I meet many writers who finished writing a story but did not bother to proofread or polish it, uploaded the rough version to the internet, and then got frustrated and bitter when that effort did not result in massive sales. I call this group “hobby writers.” They aren’t yet professional authors. Professional authors know that writing and marketing books is work, and they are willing to put in the days to push on when they hit the wall. The process doesn’t necessarily get easier with each book, but we know that when that barricade inevitably looms in front of us, we will find a way to get around it.