I am an Indie Author Rebel. While I’m far from an expert, I’ve learned some stuff the hard way. As I take on new information and continue to develop writing craft, this list will likely change. The list items might not change, but how I approach the topics certainly may.
The following is a response to an audience member and aspiring writer who took the time to reach out and ask for advice. I’m grateful when people who have read my books take the time to reach out. In fact, it’s one of the things I live for as a writer.
That was a not-so-subtle hint. I’m available on Twitter, Facebook, and my email is listed on this very website. Hell, I even have a google voice number if you want to dial that. Why the hell not?
Let’s chat about stories.
Writing is a service job for me. My goal is to serve the audience with writing that will take them away to another world. That’s my mission.
So without further somethingorother misused French word or something, here’s the email as I sent it.
Thanks for reaching out.
I need to check this email account more. I’ve been putting out the “contact me” message for a couple years in newsletters and the back and front matter of books. I’ve had very little response until now.
As for writing advice, the first thing I have to say is take all advice with many grains of salt. That includes the very advice I’m about to give you.
There are thousands of roads up the mountain. Choose the turns and switchbacks that feel best to you, as long as the road takes you upward.
I’ll give you as much as I can. The qualifier here comes from the fact that I am still learning. I won’t give you any guidance that I haven’t tested thoroughly.
In terms of “what it takes to be a writer,” there are only a handful of things that are non-negotiable. I will start with those. These “must haves,” in no particular order, are:
1. A writer must write
No, you don’t have to write every damn day. It helps to do so, but many people have lives that don’t permit it. But writing should be a regular habit. Even if you write once a week, do it and make it count.
Don’t judge your writing until you have a system for evaluating your writing that is reasonably objective. This is important and ties in with item #2
Just write! Write journals, write one-paragraph stories, write two sentences from a scene you’ve just imagined. Write a description about how your best friend made you feel when they said something that gave you a strong emotional reaction.
You don’t have to publish all of your words. Use writing as an exercise.
2. Learn the craft
Grammar, spelling, the use of metaphor and simile (know the difference) are important. You don’t have to get it right the first time, but if you want folks to pay even $1 for you work, it should be proofread.
The car can have rust, it can rattle, but the wheels can’t fall off. It can’t leave the passengers by the side of the road.
Learn how to describe things through dialog and action. Learn economy of words. Challenge yourself to express complex things with few words.
Learn about tropes, themes and devices. Understand what a story is and how it works.
Holy shit! I didn’t know it was so complicated! All these terms!
Nope. It’s not that complicated. Don’t let story craft jargon intimidate you. You know all of this already because our lives are made up entirely of stories. Stories are transparent to us.
But the writer is different.
It’s the writer who can leave the stage of their own life in order to become the author, director and producer of their own play.
Writers are not that much different than carpenters. You just have to have sensible names for all the tools and know how those tools are used to build something the audience can live in.
3. Write for the audience
Even when you write something that you might not ever show anyone, do it to make your writing better. Ultimately, you want to write stories that people want to read. It’s nice if you like your own work. It’s much better if hundreds of people want to read it.
Your job isn’t to put some words on a page. Your job is to create an experience for the reader that will take them away to another world.
No shit. Believe that.
4. All criticism is good criticism
If nothing else, the harsh, one-star reviews will serve to make your skin thicker. Don’t read the reviews unless and until you are ready to have them help you and not hold you back.
It helps when you realize that reviews are not for you. They are for other readers. Use reviews to look at your work the way that a reader might.
It’s not your damn job to like or dislike your books. That’s what readers are for. Of course, it helps if you do like your books, but it’s not strictly necessary unless you are just writing for yourself.
I’m not saying the shitty reviews don’t hurt. I’m saying that there is gold in them thar hills. You don’t have to agree or believe in anything a reviewer says, but you should at least consider what they said.
At the very least, critics and/or reviewers have read at least some of their words. Start by being grateful for that. You want people to read what you write, yes?
5. Succeeding without knowing why is worse than not learning from failure
I put this one in bold because the revelation was crucial for me.
First off, there is another principle built into this statement. That concerns failure. Don’t be afraid to write a book that bombs. The best way to learn is to put something out there and see what happens.
My big brother took the training wheels off my bike when I was a kid. I had road rash scars for years, but I’ve ridden hundreds of miles in my life without taking another spill. Riding to avoid crashing is not the same as riding to learn how to do it better.
If you write a book that really takes off and don’t understand exactly why it was a success, you might end up a one-hit-wonder.
But if you take the time to figure out why the book took off, you can reproduce that success. You can write the next book that flies, and the next, and the next…
Understanding failure lets you avoid mistakes.
Understanding success makes your victories greater.
Well, that’s what I think I know.
We are living in interesting times.
I hope this helps you. We need more Indie Author Rebels out there.