I think I can say, after four decades of this writing business, that I’m finally a mature, bonafide writer—no longer an editor or English teacher who writes ‘on the side,’ not a would-be writer or writer-in-training anymore. My apprenticeship is over.
Some of this thinking is the result of my father’s death, just months ago (readers might notice I dedicated my last novel, Brother Rattlesnake, to him). My father was a professional (corporate) writer and editor, and you think he’d be proud that I followed in his profession, but in reality he was pretty harsh and critical with me in regard to all that. It was part of that old-school wisdom where you never offer praise or encouragement, and I get the logic behind that, but it did a number on my self-confidence, I can tell you. Eventually I stopped sharing my books and writing with him, because there seemed no point.
Last week, as my sister and I were cleaning out the apartment down in Florida, I scanned the wall of my father’s bathroom/dressing room, and saw right beside the mirror, a promotional postcard of a book I’d written about eight years ago: The Raven Girl, a historical novel set in Ireland. It was a bit yellowed with age, but there it was, posted up next to the mirror where he shaved everyday, where he could see it everyday. So finally, proof that something I wrote finally got through to him.
Then when I came home to New Jersey this week, I received a telephone call from one of those dubious marketing firms (likely overseas). My husband reported that they had been calling me all week while I was gone. The gist of it was that they wanted me to ‘interview’ with them, and sign away my book rights to them so they could market and promote them ‘more effectively.” I told them, in the politest possible terms, to go to hell.
I’m not done writing, but I am done with the Writing Business. I no longer need writing books, seminars, webinars, conferences, expensive classes by egotistical has-beens, writers groups, rigged contests which charge you a hundred bucks or more for a flawed and unreliable ‘analysis’ of your writing and all that other nonsense insecure writers (myself included, for too many years) rely on to keep themselves going in a monstrously stressful and demanding profession. After all these years, I finally figured it out: When you’re young, all you have to do is read. (And ignore your father.) And as you get older, all you have to do is write.
This is not to say I don’t need to keep honing and improving my art. I certainly do. But you do this by continuing to write and self-edit, every single day, not by spending money on that literary magic bullet. I don’t know where we get the idea that throwing money at something necessarily makes it better, when all you really need is time and thought.
Being an independent publisher, despite the many glitches and hard lessons and lack of prestige, has proven to be a Godsend for me. In the many years I’ve been blogging, I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, ‘traditional’ vs. self-publishing. In the beginning, back in 2010 or so, it was wonderful and revolutionary, then it was awful when everyone decided to jump into the pool. But now that it’s settling out, and losing its luster with other writers, it’s getting easier again for those of us who persevered. I don’t spend a fortune on promotion and advertising; I have a strict budget and try to use alternative means to get the word out. If I have any lessons to share with other writers, it’s these: 1) Write what you love, no matter what. 2.) Write every day. 3.) If you want to create an income, write a series, and build on it. 3.) Proofread and proofread and hire an editor if you feel you must, but don’t make yourself crazy: Nobody’s perfect, and when a critic says your book has too many typos, it’s not a valid criticism—it’s harassment. 4.) Don’t worry about reviews, professional or otherwise. I’ve sold plenty of books with and without them, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. If you get too many bad reviews, however, something’s definitely wrong. And finally: 5.) Don’t worry what your father (or wife, or children, or boss, or professor) says (or doesn’t say) about your writing! Just go ahead and do it anyway.