Dear Newbie Indie Author…

pranam-gurung-116984.jpg

Dear Newbie Indie Author at the start of your journey….Panic not. Though everywhere you turn there are rules, and experts, and advice, and do’s and don’ts. Remember that all those who are further along than you, were once where you are now. If I could give any advice to me when I was a newbie indie author, it would go something like this;

  • Attend a course, workshop or conference. Something that fills you with wisdom and ambition. Something that makes you dream and hope and long to get your words out into the world. Something where dreams are balanced with a hefty dose of reality and an honest account of how hard it is likely to be.
  • Remember that Rome was not built in a day, so neither will your author platform. Be aware of it, learn about it, but don’t panic about it yet. It will grow with you, in time.
  • Be brave. But only when you are ready. There is no rush and no reason to change your personality or try to be something you are not. Tip your toes in the water with a Facebook author page, or a Twitter account. Play around with things, lurking around the edges until it feels right to dive in.
  • Don’t feel like you have to be on every social media site, stretching yourself too thin, whiling away precious hours by attempting to engage with them all. There is simply no point. Choose two or three and make sure one is your blog/website. Give these your attention, and enjoy them. Think of them as your own little projects, little mini businesses. Little acorns that will one day grow into Oak trees!
  • It’s fine if you are just talking to yourself. Everyone starts off like that. It’s not a waste of time! Think of it as practice. You can be uninhibited, knowing that barely anyone is there. Practice your voice, try things out, have a giggle. By the time your audience has grown, you will be far more comfortable in the role.
  • Make your blog whatever you want it to be. Some writers just blog about writing. That’s fine. Some blog about other issues, political, social, personal, and that’s fine too. Some blog weekly, some once in a blue moon. It’s all fine. Do what its comfortable for you. A blog is for your writing and writing should always be fun. If it doesn’t feel fun, don’t force it. Try something else.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. We’ve all taken different paths. There will always be writers with more money to spend, more contacts to enlist, more gift of the gab, more luck, more everything. But you are the only one who can tell your story in your way. Hold your head up high and try not to play the comparison game with anyone.
  • Don’t get eaten up with jealousy. When you see others succeed, be glad for them and then try to work out how they did it.
  • Don’t expect your family and friends to rush out and buy your book. Don’t expect many of them to understand what the hell you are doing. Find fellow writers to help you through the frustration and elation that is to come.
  • Remember that the only way to succeed is to never, ever quit.
  • Remember that success means something different to everyone, and only you can decide what it means to you.
  • Be prepared to be work hard, to treat writing like a job, to put in the hours, to find time for promotion and writing, to try new things when nothing is working, to feel like giving up, to want to bang your head against the wall, to want to throw your laptop out of the window, to scream at people to just please buy your bloody book and to go to bed and not be able to sleep for the ideas, thoughts, doubts and frustrations whirling in your head.
  • Be realistic. Dream big with your feet still on the ground. Keep your day job and be proud of it. Write because you have to, because the ideas and the words and the characters are too big to contain in just your head alone, and because you want to share them, to let others feel like you do. Write because you love it, because you live it and breathe it, because it excites you and makes you feel like you are living more than one life. Don’t write to get rich. Don’t write to impress anyone. Write because there is no choice not to write.
  • Know that you’ve got to put the work in to see the results. That inevitably and eventually, you reap what you sow. Little steps sometimes take you further than big ones. Sometimes the only way you realise how far you have come is when you stand still and look back to where you started.
  • Don’t spam people. Don’t become a robot hitting everyone who follows you with a buy my book link or plea. Engage with them. Forge relationships. It isn’t all about you. Don’t follow other people just so they follow you back. Think about why you are following them.
  • Don’t play the numbers game. Likes and follows mean nothing if people are not engaged with your voice and your style and what you have on offer. It’s not about the amount, it’s about the quality.
  • Don’t only post an update when you have a book out. Build an audience. Give them something to read, debate, join in with and get excited about. Then ask them to buy your book.
  • Be proud. You’re doing something some people only dream of. Do you know how many people say they would like to write a book, but never actually do it? You’ve done it. You’ve proved yourself and realised a dream. That’s pretty cool. And be proud of going indie. It’s not an easy road. But it is an incredibly creative and innovative one. Who knows where it might lead? Who knows what skills you will require? What contacts you will make? What friends you will find? What effect you will have on those that read your work? Who knows where you will be one year, or five years, or ten years from now? The possibilities are endless so dream big and work hard. Don’t moan, don’t back out, get on with it, and make it happen.

(Credit to Pranam Gurung for the image.)

Please feel free to comment and share. What advice would you give to a new indie author? What do you wish you had known in the beginning? Anything you would do differently?

Advertisements

Dealing with Self-Doubt

Writers are often plagued with crippling self-doubt and I am no exception. It’s always there, lurking, waiting for opportune moments to show up and throw me into a panic. I’m preparing a book for release, and I always find self-doubt shows up in a big way around about now, so it is something I am currently dealing with. But there are lots of other times I’ve experienced self-doubt about my writing, so I thought I would list them here as well as my tips for dealing with it.

  1. Childhood. When I was a child, I didn’t know what self-doubt was. Sure, I was shy and introverted, but I also had the child’s innocent optimism and I was utterly convinced that one day I would be a world famous author. Of course, life happens to children. Reality is dictated to them. You can’t do that, you can’t be that, you won’t make money, not many writers are successful, and so on. The worst thing you can do to a child is squash their creativity. If you were that child, be kind to yourself now. Remember that people probably had good intentions. Perhaps their ideals and aims in life differed greatly from yours. And if you know a child who wants to be a writer, for God’s sake don’t crush their dreams. Let them make mistakes. Don’t pick on their grammar, their spelling or their lack of plot. Just let them write! It can all too easily be discouraged in children these days.
  2. Adolescence. Writing helped me get through my teenage years. Without a doubt, it was my greatest friend and comfort. From the diaries I wrote daily, to the lyrics I scrawled onto my bedroom wall, I wrote endlessly. I was in a constant dream and my head was full of wonderful words. Self-doubt had found me though, and I now accepted I needed a realistic Plan B. I would have to decide on a day job to pay the bills. My advice to anyone at this stage would be this; keep writing. Keep dreaming. Don’t worry about structure or plot, or how many drafts it will take, or how similar your work is to your favourite films or books, or how pointless it seems putting down words that are unlikely to be read by anyone else. Perhaps right now they are only meant for you. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not useful, worthwhile or beautiful. Keep going. In private, in your bedroom, in your head, in snatched moments. It will all take you somewhere one day.
  3. Writing Group. Self-doubt may lead you to attend a writers group and they can be a wonderful help. Just remember not to compare yourself to anyone else. No doubt you will all be of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. There will be people there with more and less experience than you. There will be people there with a better grasp of grammar. There will be people there who can write the most beautiful prose. Don’t be intimidated. You are not them. Only you can do what you do. Use writing groups as sound boards and listen to any advice that is helpful but don’t let exposure to other writers encourage self-doubt. You are there to get better and to move forward.
  4. Twenties. Real life. Graduation. Jobs, Careers. Marriage and babies. All these things get in the way when you are becoming an adult, leaving less and less time and energy for writing. This is the period of life when so many leave writing behind, viewing it as a childish, foolish habit they must move on from. After all, very few writers earn a living from it, and there are bills to pay and rent to find and debts to cover and there will just never be enough time to sit down and write like you used to. And then every now and then someone you used to know will ask if you still do the writing. And saying no, not anymore, will break your heart. So write anyway. Even if it’s just a diary. Or a blog. Or scribbles and rants into a notebook. Even if it’s five minutes or ten minutes a day. Even if you don’t think it will ever go anywhere. Get back in the habit. NOW.
  5. First draft, We all get there eventually. The first draft. Self-doubt will plague you more than ever before. Are you wasting your precious time? Is everyone laughing at you? Is everyone expecting you to fail? Can you even write? Is anyone ever going to care? Something keeps you going, but self-doubt is clawing at you every step of the way telling you to go back, to quit, to stop before you waste any more energy. Don’t listen. Keep going. The first draft is just the beginning of a long journey, but if you can get it done, if you can get over that hurdle, then all the rest will come. You’ll have fostered the stamina and grit needed to pursue this idea until the finish.
  6. Feedback. Getting feedback is hard. You need it, but you dread it. You sort of hope everyone is going to gush over your work and say it is the best thing they’ve ever heard. But being realistic, what you really need right now is the cold hard truth. You need to be able to take it. If your characters suck, if your dialogue is stiff, if your middle drags or your ending is unsatisfying, you need someone to tell you. Then you need to take the time to think about it, digest the information and decide what you agree with. Don’t let self-doubt hijack you now. Writers never stop getting better. That is part of the fun.
  7. Submissions. Submitting your work is a brave step. Maybe it’s competitions, or magazines, or articles. Maybe it’s your novel to agents or publishers. You’ve done all the hard work and now you are handing it over to the ‘experts’. If you are lucky you might get some feedback. It might sting, it might be encouraging. Or you may get the long cold silence. Whatever happens, self-doubt will creep in to remind you that you are a crap writer and nothing you write will ever be published by anyone. Just keep writing and remind yourself that the more you write, the better you get. That rejection is part of the process for ALL writers and that all you can do is learn from it, and refuse to let it make you quit.
  8. The Final Draft. Nearing the end of a project is exciting and thrilling. Seeing the end in sight after a bumpy road of stops and starts and endless highs and lows, can be a huge reward for a writer. You have finished the book. You have rewritten and edited and proofread and copyread the book and you have probably done all of this so many times you have lost count. In your head, at last, the book is ready. It’s done. It’s the best it can possibly be so it’s time to let it go. But hang on…suddenly the doubts are back in full force. A dark paranoia that you were wrong all along, that no matter what you do to it, no matter how many more times you rewrite or go over it, it still hasn’t worked. It’s not the book you had in your head. It’s failed. You’ve failed. I don’t know why this happens when the final draft is done, but it always seems to happen to me. One moment I will be basking in the relief and the joy of a completed, polished manuscript, ready to move onto the next project, and the next I will be doubting every single word I have written. I will want to change my mind entirely, consider scrapping the entire book even. The only way I get through this is by reminding myself that I felt exactly the same about the previous books. And would I change anything about them now they are out there? No. When it’s time to let go, I think you get a gut feeling, followed by a flood of doubt and fear. Try to accept this as natural and ease it gently to one side.

Feelings of self-doubt are part and parcel of being a writer. They follow you about, peering over your shoulder and niggling at you. They will never go away, and that is perfectly normal. If we were full to the brim with endless confidence, I suspect we might start turning out some pretty poor writing. Self-doubt forces you to aim for perfection, to question yourself and your work again and again, until one day you know you have done all that you can.

Take What Tortures You And Write About It

I’ve got a confession to make. Just lately I’ve been suffering from a strange, and as far as I know, nameless, affliction. The only way I can describe it to you is by asking you to recall the feeling you get in your stomach just before you sit an important exam. You know, that lurch, that turnover, that horrible tightness that takes your breath away for a moment? Yeah, that.

I first noticed it happening whenever I thought about my writing. The things I had planned to do once my littlest child was in bed. I put it down to a sort of nervous excitement, and a borderline panic about how little time there is to write all the things I have in my head.

Then I noticed it happened at other times too. Just randomly. My stomach dropping, lurching and rolling over.

So, then I blamed it on something else. I’ve always been interested and engaged in political thought and debate, but even more so in recent years. This is not a bad thing, but then it gets to the point where you are feeling angry and helpless all of the time. Post Brexit was pretty bad. It’s all pretty bad. Climate change. Inequality. Housing crisis. A rise in racism and hate crime. Endless war. The fact we’re being organised and dictated to by massive corporations hellbent on destroying the world. The fact you cannot trust the media to tell you the truth.

sadlaptop

So, I made the decision to delete Facebook from my phone. Something I never thought I would do! I was getting seriously addicted. Picking it up to check my newsfeed first thing in the morning, and pretty much every chance I got throughout the day after that.

I did feel an immediate sense of relief. That first morning stomach lurch dissipated. I picked up a book instead. I no longer check my phone throughout the day because there is nothing to check. I have a quick scroll through Facebook in the evening, once I have done enough work to deserve a little break, and I’m sad to say it’s still the same. The violence rages  on, the world gets hotter and there seem to be angry and ignorant people everywhere.

I did feel a sense of relief and freedom for a while. But that feeling in my stomach has not gone away. In fact, I am getting it more often. Maybe it is because I’ve become aware of it, nervous of it even? Confused by it, and as a consequence, fixated on it? I don’t know, but it is strange, and  very annoying. Sometimes it takes my breath away. I have to stop, hold onto something and take a very deep and deliberate breath. And then I am okay again.

I can’t blame anything in my personal life. Everything is as it should be. Everyone is in perfect health. Money is tight, but it’s never been any different at any time in my life. We have a lovely home and a huge garden. We grow our own fruit and vegetables and raise chickens and ducks. We’re outside, a lot! I’ve got my four beautiful, intelligent children, and yes they come with their own issues, and yes being a parent is sometimes stressful and exhausting. But I’m a placid, easy going sort of person. I roll with the punches. I look back on the past fondly, I focus on the now, and I don’t look too far ahead,(unless it’s my saving up for a VW Campervan.)

So why the bad feeling? What does it mean? What is it trying to tell me? I just can’t work it out. It takes me by surprise at random times of the day, creeping up and sucking the air out of me, crunching up my guts and making me think I have forgotten something important. Am I about to sit an exam? Am I about to confront some scary, aggressive person? What is it??

I don’t know, and maybe I will never know. Maybe it built up over time and my stomach got so used to being tied up in knots, it just doesn’t know how not to be. All I can do right now is try to make use of it. I wrote a short story you can find in Bird People And Other Stories called She Is… I wrote this story to keep a novel at bay, and I’ve started writing a second short story with the same characters. Basically the story is about teenage girls, bullying and revenge, but the narrator describes this constant heavy feeling in her belly. She wakes up with it, and it comes and goes throughout the day. Of course, this came from me and my own experience, and I’ve carried it on into the next story. In her mind, it’s because something bad is going to happen, she just doesn’t know what or when. It’s a sense of foreboding for her, a warning from her body.

My fears for the way the world is heading, my fight to find hope, my questions about human nature, have all been rolled out and examined in Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. (On the third draft now) I didn’t even realise I was doing it at first, but I’ve poured so much of my current state of mind into this story-line. Elliot is the child in me, the hopeful innocent looking for the good in people. His mother Laura is the cynic in me, (exaggerated a fair bit! )Through her I get to rant and rave, I get to swear and scream at the cruelty and injustice in the world. I get to indulge myself in misery and cynicism, fearing the worst and totally giving in to it. I get to hide under a duvet and pretend it’s not happening.

In The Mess Of Me Lou is the voice for my own teenage angst and body issues. She is louder and brasher than me, able to say things I was not.

In recent short stories I have released endless frustrations and anxieties. From my utter dismay that people think it’s okay to dump rubbish in the river where I live, to my constant paranoia that one day soon the Earth is just going to snap, just going to cull us all in one bloody swoop, freeing itself at last. I honestly don’t know how I would cope with this world if I were not a writer!

'Writers are desperate people and when they stop being desperate they stop being writers'Charles Bukowski.jpg

I think this is the best and sometimes the only thing we can do with something that tortures us. Use it, write about it, pass it on to a fictional character. Maybe this is one way to eventually rid yourself of it! Or at least gain a better understanding of it. I think writers do this all the time, often without even realising it. We project our fears and anxieties onto made up people, into made up worlds. So it’s not us with the problem, it’s someone else.

And then, we feel like we have some control. We can direct the proceedings, we can work out what the problem is, we can send the character on a journey and we can even create a happy ending 🙂 I truly think this ability is one of the greatest things about being a writer.

What about you? Please feel free to leave a comment!