So what happened between the time I started writing novels and now when I've reached the point where I can teach a class on "Pitch, Query and Synopsis" at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference? (July 21-23 in Seattle)
Overnight success? No, more like 25 years and a steep, often discouraging learning curve. Times when I said, "Why am I doing this? I must be crazy. I can make more money working at MacDonald's."
Occasionally, I stopped having anything to do with writing for months, even a year. At first, I felt massive relief. I kicked back and relaxed — for a short time.
Soon I felt guilty. I missed being creative. I was wasting my abilities. I still had my writer friends, but I felt left out. People who weren't writers or at least avid readers weren't interesting. I was miserable. (My husband says the only thing worse than a wife who is writing is one who is not.)
After a reasonable period of grieving, I went back to writing and teaching the craft. I had needed the break, but I just couldn't stay away.
What must a serious writer do?
1. Study the craft. Then study the craft some more. If you aren't learning something new about writing every month, you'll stay an amateur or you'll be writing novels that bore even you.
2. Attend writing conferences if you can afford to. They're great resources for learning the craft, meeting agents and connecting with other writers.
3. Find a writing community, not just any group but one that has the same or better writing standards than you have. They must be honest in their critiques but supportive. At the first group I attended, it quickly became apparent there was excessive antipathy between the men and the women. I didn't stay long.
4. Don't leave your meetings feeling beaten up. Listen to the critiques without defending yourself. If more than one person mentions a problem with your manuscript, take it seriously. If the criticism doesn't resonate, don't make the change.
5. Don't give up, no matter what. Actually, that's not usually a problem for fiction writers I know. They're addicted, but it's a relatively healthy addiction. They can't imagine not writing. They may encounter writer's block. They may be distracted by such things as family commitments, illness, work or similar interruptions. They may become discouraged, even depressed after years of rejection. They may become so irritable their families can't stand them. They may temporarily switch to another activity but they return to writing because they just can't help themselves. Even Stephen King, who in 2002 declared he was retiring from writing, remerged.
6. Trust yourself. You're likely to come to a point where all the critiques begin to sound like noise. Take a break, step away from the project and let it marinate. I know too many people who go from a conference to a workshop to a class and then another conference, workshop and class. They make changes based on what the latest teacher said. A strong, original novel can't be written by a committee.
7. Enjoy yourself. The journey is the destination. If you can sell your work, you'll probably make only about ten cents an hour anyway. If your story isn't working, if it's becomes an unrelenting chore, if you're beginning to eat ice cream at an alarming rate, do something else. Think of a book you'd really like to write and go that direction. Don't worry about whether it will sell. Kick the critic off your shoulder. Just step into your fictional world and have fun until you begin to experience flow, that state where the outside world disappears, the words tumble out of your imagination and you no longer crave ice cream.