What’s the best thing about being a writer?
My serious answer to this is that there’s nothing more fulfilling than doing what you love. My REAL answer is that there’s nothing more fulfilling than having a job where ‘pyjamas-all-day’ is practically required.
Why a writer?
It was never really about choosing to be a writer. I simply am one. I grew up in love with books and words and began writing my own stories as far back as I can remember. The only part I ever really chose was deciding to follow my passion and then dedicating myself to it.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. I don’t know if it’s a writer thing or a personality thing—maybe a little of both, but I find ideas for stories everywhere. From big life events and drama and dreams to people-watching from my third-floor flat window and eavesdropping during public transport ‘adventures’. (I’m a delight, am I not?)
Books are an endless source of inspiration. You should never, under any circumstances, copy the work of other writers, but reading books will undoubtedly spark a thought or an idea, and the wonderful notion of ‘what if’ will help that idea grow into something original and unique to you. The ideas are easy. There are perhaps too many ideas flitting around in my head. The more difficult part is knowing which idea is good enough to pursue. Which one is good enough to make a story worthy of the reader. Usually, it’s the idea that never leaves. If you can’t stop thinking about it; if it haunts your days and keeps you awake at night; if you feel yourself bursting with the need to get the story out of you—that’s the idea worth writing about.
Why did you self-publish?
In two words: Creative control.
Long answer: There is a plethora of content around, discussing the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing. As far as I can see, there is no right or wrong path. It is as personal as writing is. For me, after months of research, I opted for the path that would allow me to keep my book rights, give my book an unlimited ‘shelf life’, and give me control over content, cover choices, and deadlines. And the biggest bonus of all? Time. The instantaneous wonder of self-publishing is the perk to end all perks, allowing writers to share their work with readers as soon as it is ready, with no gatekeeper deciding where and when or even if.
How do I become a writer?
Simple. Just write.
As Neil Gaiman said, it’s one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.
Reading any and everything you come across is a necessity—how else will you ever know what makes a good story (and a bad one)? Classes and lessons on writing can be helpful but reading is fun, free, easy, and irreplaceable. Books are your most valuable tool and any writer worth his or her salt will tell you this. Reading will help broaden your experience, your vocabulary, and your appreciation for what makes a good book just that. However, the single most important thing I believe you need is perseverance. It is what I lacked in the early stages. It’s why it took me so long to finish writing a single book. Free tip? Never wait for inspiration to come knocking on your door. Inspiration will not plop you in front of your computer and dictate word after word. More than half the time, inspiration (fickle bastard that it is) doesn’t bother showing up until you do. Relying on a creative muse is a sure-fire way to prolong your work process. It just doesn’t work.
What does work is mustering the self-motivation to show up, do the work, and keep going. Keep going until you reach the very end of a single project, even when your muse is missing in action. Even when other ideas are beckoning—jot them down and file them away for later. Even when you’re knee-deep in housework and errands—it will all still be there when you’re done writing. Even when your spouse is wondering why there’s baked beans on toast for dinner, again. He’ll live.
When the idea of writing or editing has become your personal hell—and it will—as you read your manuscript for the twentieth time, remember: let nothing or no one deter you from your goal, especially yourself. Self-doubt is a part of the job description, and whilst often crippling, use it to your advantage instead and strive for improvement. Just keep going.
How do I self-publish?
Research, research, research. It’s the only way to truly know if self-publishing is the right path for you. If it is, thecreativepenn.com is a great resource for starting out, with everything from self-publishing tips to establishing your brand and marketing.
I use Scrivener for writing but there’s also a built-in function for exporting your finished manuscript as Mobi, ePub, Docx, and PDF files, which you’ll need to publish your work as an e-book and paperback. There are plenty of options other than Scrivener for this, some of which are free, like Reedsy, but I can’t fault the Scrivener software.
Whilst publishing my first book, I found thebookdesigner.com to be a handy collection of articles on formatting the Docx file before converting to PDF, with brilliant tips on gutter margins, headers, pagination, and front- and back-matter. Even if you think you already know everything there is about good ol’ Microsoft Word, these articles will still prove useful for learning about the standard and correct layout of a paperback book (there was a hell of a lot more to it than I ever thought possible).
Update 2020: I’ve recently published newer editions of my work following a name change. Kindle Create has taken the legwork out of book design. Createspace has also moved over to Kindle, meaning you can easily publish both ebook and paperback versions of your work without the hassle it once involved, right from the Amazon KDP dashboard. Yay, technology, right?
Canva and Gimp are brilliant free tools for DIY cover design. Always check copyright when using images—Creative Commons images are your friend. Pixabay is just one of many sites with Creative Commons images for cover work, which do not need attribution and/or are free for commercial use. There are several paid sites featuring stock photography too, such as Shutterstock, but this depends on your budget. If you can afford it, hiring a professional cover artist is highly recommended.
Self-publishing is a lot of work (and don’t get me started on marketing!) but it is ultimately rewarding, and since I didn’t have any budget to speak of to hire professional help, my bonus is the sense of achievement for having done it all myself. Eventually.
Is it all worth it?
More than I could ever imagine. Doing something you love is always worth it and overcoming the inevitable obstacles on the way makes the reward that much sweeter.
Will it make me rich?
You’re in the wrong industry. If you’re looking to get rich, look elsewhere. Writers hardly ever strike it rich, especially in the beginning. The outliers like traditionally published Rowling and King or the self-published authors, like Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking, took years to build what they have, and even then, there’s no guarantee of becoming like them in terms of monetary gain. That’s not to say it won’t happen. No one can predict the success of a book or its author. Rather than paying attention to market trends, I try to focus instead on crafting the best version of the story I want to tell, staying true to myself and that story, firmly believing (if a little naïvely) that if a book is engaging, and you have discovered some means of promotion, your work will eventually find an audience.
If you’re truly in this for the joy of writing, the riches are in the form of knowing your stories are reaching and resonating with readers. For me, that’s the real success. Everything else is frosting on an already delicious cake.
Recommended reading for writers:
Recommended websites for writers:
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird
As a side note to that piece of advice from Harper Lee, a thick skin is something of a neverending work in progress. It’s never easy but it is vital and honestly, the only tip I can share is the same I one I tell myself every day: be patient with yourself, be open to complete failure, allow yourself room for error—and complete derailment at times—but always come back to the writing.