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!

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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.

The Writing Soul – with Suneetha Balakrishnan

Suneetha Balakrishnan had ‘just a job’ until she began writing full time. Now she combines what she calls work-write and write-write as her career.

What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?

It was not exactly a career, I would call it just a job with vertical escalations people call ‘promotions’. I worked with the public sector in insurance, a job I got at the age of twenty, and held a senior administrative post when I quit. I suppose I was good at what I did, but I was always restless. I never understood why.

Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?

I think I have always been reading, and then writing, for myself of course. The trigger must be good books. My mom, a voracious reader and an academic, introduced me to the classics early on and made sure I had plenty to read all the time. I guess that never left me, and it was a natural escalation to writing.

Do you now write full time or part time?

Full time. I left my steady, well-paying and secure employment 12 years ago and I had 20 years of service left to enjoy. I don’t get a pension from that tenure. So now I work-write to make a living and write-write in response to what my writing soul demands.

What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?

I suppose I enjoy all sorts of writing, so being able to write for a living is a rare skill I fully acknowledge and am thankful for. And working from home means you have a universe to yourself. The parts I least enjoy are when I have to chase payments, and when people don’t understand I am at work and think it’s okay to barge into your physical and mental space.

What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?

I think the job I left behind is not even a memory now, it’s like a previous incarnation. I miss nothing about it, not even the steady salary cheque and the perks. There are so many compensations in this life, freedom being the first and best of it.

Do you have any regrets?

I will gladly and proudly say, None. There was no better decision I could have taken.

What advice would you offer other second career writers?

Developing the right skill suited to the sort of writing you want to take on is as important as being disciplined. Your value will be your steady output delivered on time. And nothing can replace that, I have experienced. And ASK for money, please. People will pay the plumber, the electrician, the cook and the driver, but the writer they use for a crucial part of their work is usually expected to work for little or nothing. Develop bargaining skills, network with others who work like you to find out about ground realities and arm yourself with the right information. It’s a great thing to be a writer, just find how to manage the stress points, every career has it. 

Many thanks for sharing your journey, Suneetha.

The Guest by Suneetha Balakrishnan – Sameer is a ‘catch’, he is qualified, comfortably off, well-employed, young and has no bad habits. And when Sameer was proposed for serene Kavitha, she thought he was too nice. But is a girl allowed to say No because the groom proposed is unexciting? Then she met his mother…

The Guest is a day in the life of Mama, Sameer and Kavitha. A story of ordinary, everyday people.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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.

From Ph. D in History to author

C.L.R. (Colleen) Peterson’s debut historical novel, Lucia’s Renaissance, takes place in late sixteenth-century Italy. She loves to shine a spotlight on little-known heroes from the past. “The first time I gazed up at the ceiling of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, the Renaissance cast its spell on me through Michelangelo’s painting of the full-bodied, emotional figures of God and Adam.”

What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?

I earned my Ph.D. in European History and taught at the college level. Later, as my children were growing up, I began tutoring English as a Second Language.

Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?

During my years in graduate school, a law-student friend suggested I write a novel based on my dissertation topic. At that point, I had written only academic papers (a far cry from page-turning fiction). Fast forward to years later, when I had an opportunity to take a course about writing and finishing a novel. My journey was launched!

Do you now write full time or part time?

I write ¾ time, when I’m not tutoring or spending time with family.

What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?

I always look forward to traveling to Italy (both mentally and physically)—researching details of life in the late Renaissance, imagining and writing my stories. Gathering with other writers renews my energy, and I always learn something. Marketing is a mixed bag; I enjoy sharing my novel and research with live audiences, but the administrative details of marketing steal time away from the creative world.

What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?

I’m grateful to be the master of my own schedule, but miss daily social interaction with students and co-workers.

Do you have any regrets?

I hesitated far too long before publishing my first novel. I wish I had sought expert feedback earlier about whether my book was ready to see the light of day.

What advice would you offer other second career writers?

Have fun with your writing! Enjoy the adventure. Immerse yourself in the time and place you write about—writing is a great excuse for travel, even via the internet.

Don’t expect instant success. Learn the craft: join a writing group, go to conferences.

Be bold: swallow your pride, ask for feedback from other writers and weigh it seriously.

Lucia’s Renaissance by C.L.R. Peterson – Heresy is fatal in late sixteenth-century Italy, so only a fool or suicidal zealot would so much as whisper the name of Martin Luther. But after Luther’s ideas ignite a young girl’s faith, she can’t set them aside. In Lucia’s Renaissance, plague, death, and the Inquisition test the faith of this precocious teen.

Many thanks, Colleen and best wishes for Lucia’s Renaissance. You can reach Colleen on her website on at her Facebook page.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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.