Writers have a tendency to gather in groups, large and small (I wonder what the collective noun would be? A scribble?). They conglomerate at festivals, frequent bookstores and go to each other’s book launches. So, as an author, I know lots of other established authors. I also know lots of aspiring and emerging authors. People always want to know about the writer’s journey of established authors. There are blogs and articles and books full of these journeys. But aspiring and emerging authors also have interesting and inspiring stories to tell. Yes, they are still in the early part of their journeys — but sharing those journeys can be wonderfully inspiring for other writers who are at a similar stage. So I asked friend and emerging author Karen Carlisle to share her story on this blog. Take it away Karen…
When George asked me to write a post for his blog, I thought: Me? What can I say that would be of any use to other writers? I am just starting out on my own writing journey? I think that was the point. There are many people who want to be writers but they do not do the one thing that a writer should do — write. Thank you for asking me to share your space, George.
Here is the thinking behind my journey…
When I grow up, I want to be a writer
By Karen J Carlisle
I love stories. I used to collect the Target Doctor Who books in the 70s and 80s. I read every Star Wars book I could afford. I wrote my own adventures. I longed to travel to different worlds and accompany The Doctor on his travels through time.
I longed to grow up and become an astronaut, a Time Lady or a writer. Though I excelled at both English and Physics at school, I did not have the advanced maths skills to be an astronaut. (Sadly I was not born a Time Lady).
Both halves of my brain — the Logical Left and the Creative Right — fought for control. I was encouraged to follow a stable career path. My urge to write was shelved (for a few decades); I finished my Bachelor of Applied Science and became an optometrist. I never had the courage to follow my dream. Not practical.
Now I have all grown up. I have a career. I have a family. I have a home. Sometimes life has a way of throwing things at me — circumstances have rekindled my dream. I still want to be a writer — more than ever!
But what did I need to do to achieve my dream goal of becoming a writer (dare I say — possibly a published writer)?
The Logical Left side of my brain went into full gear: You used to get 95% for essays in high school. You can do this!
My plan of attack was:
1. Posit the question
3. Practical work
4. Discuss conclusions. (There was no escaping the university scientific training.)
1. The Question: What was the secret to successful writing?
2. The Research: Writing is a skill. Like many skills, training is required. I devoured books and followed blogs by authors and publishers to learn their secrets. The following points kept popping up:
The most influential piece of advice I have read was: Write (or read) 1000-1500 words a day (not always achievable, mind you). In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell proposed the 10,000-hour rule — to become an expert at anything, requires 10,000 hours of practice. Though not a guarantee, it was obvious that I would need to practice writing every day.
Finish and Submit the Work.
Anything can be proven by manipulating statistics but any way you spin the following, it is scary. Maybe 3-5% of writers finish their work. Of these, 3-10% might submit their story. (Stats vary but it is safe to say it is a very small percentage.) To have any chance at success, I would have to finish and submit my work.
In my final year of high school, I wrote a science fiction/comedy novel. It is in our shed… somewhere… unread by more than two people. So I had finished one book. Surely I could write another? This time round, I resolved to improve on the ‘submitting’ phase.
Learn to handle rejection.
Very few writers succeed with their first book. Even JK Rowling got rejected a dozen times before being published. Rather than discouraging, the statistical reality actually consoled me. If I finished and submitted my work, then I would be ahead of 95-99% of other writers. This increased my chances of success significantly. Game on!
3. Practical Work: Time to put my research into action.
Reading was the easy bit. Regular writing required some organisation. My plan would begin with writing short stories and a personal blog. This would get me into the habit of the good ‘work practice’ of writing daily.
Both short stories and my blog exploit my obsession with completing things to a deadline. A blog is public. If I don’t write, there is a vacant space on the Internet. I can’t fake it. My readers will know. Though less public, short story competitions have a deadline and the added incentive of prizes.
A year of competition entry rejections has been beneficial. I have adopted an excellent piece of advice — wallpaper my room with the rejection letters! Each one is proof that I am a writer who can (at least) finish in that 1-5%!
4. Conclusion/Discussion: Statistically I have come out on top.
Of my twenty short stories submitted for competition, I achieved one short listing. (I am told this is good.) This year, I joined NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo (online incentives to finish up to 50,000 words in a month). I completed my goal for ‘Camp’ in April (10,000 words) which then grew to become my first completed novella of 35,000 words (now in rewrites and edits). I have completed 30% of a novel length manuscript and have a rough outline for a first draft of another steampunk novella length story (for NaNoWriMo in November). I am happy with this progress.
Currently I am preparing to publish a series of short stories in the steampunk-alternative history genre — my current passion. Without it I would not have been inspired to begin my writing journey… all over again.
Thank you Karen, for sharing your journey. I’m sure that other writers will find it inspiring. I certainly did. To find out more about Karen and her writing, check out her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
For those of you who are interested in reading more about writing, Karen supplied me with a list of some of the instructional books she has read…
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Writing Steampunk by Beth Daniels aka Beth Henderon, JB Dane
- Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell
- Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
- Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: How to create out-of-this-world Novels and Short stories by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans and Jay Lake
- The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans (with RA Salvatore)
- How I got Published Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words, Edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay
- Steampunk – An illustrated history of fantastical fiction, fanciful film and other Victorian visions by Brian J Robb.
Happy reading… and writing.
Catch ya later, George
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