‘Debut author’ has a lovely ring of the fresh start about it, doesn’t it? Here I am world, brand spanking new. But underneath that shiny white tip of the iceberg, of course, is years of unglamorous toil, polishing and honing your book to the point where it’s ready to go out and seek its fame and fortune. There really is no such thing as an overnight success.
I’ve learned a lot on my journey to publication, mainly that making pretty with words is only a small part of creating a story. Though I was a features journalist for years, used to churning out a couple of thousand words on demand, I underestimated the sheer hard labour of planning and plotting a book, the mind-boggling complexity of handling a plot arc across 70,000 words.
I was also hampered by some erroneous beliefs – chiefly that writers are born and not made, a hangover from an English degree that never revealed the behind-the-scenes slog that went into the classics I was reading. Now I know that talent is the smallest part of the equation. You can learn to write. You can learn to create character, to plot, to edit, to analyse and rewrite. You do it badly at first, and then you slowly learn to do it better.
Indeed, it requires a raft of qualities to see a book through to launch day – guts, determination, perseverance, the ability to withstand criticism and rejection without packing up and calling it a day. You also need support – people who can put the wind back into your sails and guide you out of the doldrums. One of the best things about writing in the era of the internet is the easy access to people in the same boat, other writers who offer a wealth of shoulders to cry on when the going gets tough.
I’ve also learned that writing a book is not a sole venture – though only one name appears on the cover. It takes a lot of midwives to birth a book: beta-readers, agents, editors, graphic designers, sales people and publicists all play an integral part in bringing a book to the shelves. That’s why there’s an acknowledgements page – so everyone who plays a part in the process gets a bit of credit.
So, what advice do I have for someone starting out?
- Be in it for the long haul. Learning a craft to the point where you have something worth paying money for is usually the business of years.
- Read everything you can get your hands on about writing and maintaining your creativity.
- Discover your own process, and what you need to do at each stage of that process to help you on to the next.
- Explore different tools. I’ve acquired a gamut of software to help me make it through to all those drafts: spreadsheets, mindmaps, Evernote for storing bits of research, Onenote for organising that research.
- Finally, make friends. No writer is an island – reach out to others, and pay your dues by helping out whenever you can.
Emma Haughton is featured in our Rising Writers for June this month, and you can see them all here