10 Lessons learned during 10 years of writing

Roughly ten years ago, I gave up the day job – had a virtual bonfire for the scads of files I wouldn’t need anymore, purchased a bulletin board for writerly reminders, and set myself up with a brand new notebook and several books on writing. I made a few commitments to myself – to take writing seriously, to find an agent, and to complete the novel that had been brewing for a few years. And here I am ten years later: three published novels; two completed manuscripts with a new agent; a blog with readers from around the world; and five chapters of a new novel.

While working on this new novel — by the way, it’s a contemporary story — I came across Dan Rockwell’s blog on leadership (long story about why). Each of his posts has a catchy title “3 Reasons Leaders Sink”, “7 Boring Things Successful Leaders Do that Failing Leaders Neglect”, “7 Things to Do When Progress is Slow”. Browsing around, I found this quote: The biggest failure is ignoring the lessons of failure. That notion prompted today’s post. So what are the lessons I’ve learned from the things I’ve failed at?

Novels don’t write themselves … you can’t be a writer unless you write in a dedicated and disciplined manner.

Failure is part of the process … all writers have been rejected, some many times; learn from those rejections. Learn from the stories that didn’t work. Learn from the critical things readers say about your novels.

One successful novel doesn’t guarantee the next … most of us will have had the experience of anticipating a new novel from a favourite author only to be disappointed when it arrives. A publisher won’t publish your next novel unless they think it will be a success, even if your last one did well.

You need to be part of the community … this could be a genre community, a workshop community, a group of writer friends. Give to your community more than you receive.

Finding the right agent is critical … agents are individuals and each one has her/his personal preferences. Find one who loves the kind of stories you write and who will really work with you to improve your stories and make sure you pick the best stories to write. This is not an easy process.

Learn to say no … I’ve spent hundreds of hours responding to other writers, reading their novels, working with them on guest posts. But you only have so much time to go around and sometimes saying yes is just another way of procrastinating.

Time management is critical … as a corollary to ‘learn to say no’, learn to allocate your time to the right tasks. Social media can be a huge time suck, use it sparingly. A weekly schedule is helpful – I’m still trying to implement this one successfully.

Distraction is the enemy … phone calls, the ping of arriving emails or texts, the lure of a good book, the tangle of research, my children, my husband, an untidy home, a bright sunny day – all of these are distractions for me. Set them aside and work your schedule.

Marketing is your friend … for a few years I embraced marketing and promotion activities. Last year I did almost nothing and as I mentioned before, sales have suffered as a result. Remember, every new reader is a new source for word of mouth recommendations.

You can’t write all the time … take time for your family, your partner, your friends. Take time to be active and enjoy the sports and other interests you have. Writing is tough work. You need to revitalize regularly.

I’m startled to realize that ten years have passed so quickly. So much hard work. So much joy!


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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16 Responses

  1. Good post. Congratulations on your 10 years and all that you have accomplished. I’m into year 1 of balancing both the writing business and the training business I have. My goal is that in four years, like you, I can burn all those files and books I don’t need for training, to turn the tables and make writing my full-time job. And the discipline part is the hardest. That said, I’m getting off and going back to my chapter. 🙂

  2. Great pointers. Knowing these facts and applying them are two different things! It’s always good to be reminded of them so we can evaluate our current practices and make the necessary adjustments. Thanks!

  3. Mary, I sense a recent underlying theme in your blog–reflection/reevaluation, perhaps “reboot.” You’ll recall we once used that term when restarting a desk computer that did annoying things or refused to do what we wanted. For small reboots, I clean piles from my writing space. Amazing how much “good” but ultimately distracting clutter accumulates! True? Thanks for your 10 Lessons. As usual, you hit the spot. C

  4. Congratulations on 10 years! I can relate to many of these, especially the marketing one. I’ve found the same thing – when you don’t have the time/money/whatever to market, you don’t make nearly as much. I guess it is true that you have to spend money to make money. Here’s to at least 10 more profitable years.

  5. Excellent post, Mary, in your typical efficient fashion. Thanks for the reflections on the ups and downs of our writing world. And yes … ten years do simply fly by! Some of the best parts of it all are the meaningful and supportive friendships we find along the way. I treasure ours! Onward to the next ten!

  6. Like so many others already said – thank you for posting and also Thank You Historical Editorials on FB for sharing, because that is how I came across this. Good reflections back on a decade of dedicated writing.

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