When you decide that the writer’s life is the life for you, you step into it wearing rose colored glasses. Reality can’t possibly factor into the life of a fiction writer, right? Wrong. Not only does it factor in, but the realities of writing can sometimes hit you like a Mack truck, reminding you in a hurry that writing isn’t all unicorns, fairy dust, and chocolate frosted brownies.
So, knowing what I know now, what would Kristy 2.0 have to say to teenage Kristy?
1. You’re Just a Storyteller
When the writing bug first hit – in a serious kind of way, rather than just dabbling with it – I wasn’t any different than all the other first time writers. I dreamed of writing novels that would impress people around the world. Of being presented with a Nobel Prize – and every other award designed to rank me ‘up there’ with the greatest writers throughout history. It didn’t take long to realize though that very few of us (including me) will ever hit those heights.
But that’s okay. Whether fame, fortune, and prizes ever come with the territory for me, the stories that live in my head still need to be told. And I need to start getting them out of my head on a more regular basis because it’s getting kind of crowded in there.
2. Perfectionism Comes With a Price
And that price is stress, stress, and more stress. I can write and rewrite scenes a million times, but no matter how much I might hope that every word that appears on my computer screen is literary gold, they’re not going to be. So I have to keep reminding myself that at some point, my best is just going to have to be good enough, release each story into the world, and move on to the next one.
3. There’s More to Writing Than Writing
A whole lot more. There’s getting to know my characters. There’s outlining. Fifteen-year-old Kristy had zero clue about that. I tended to run with the first ideas that came to mind, not realizing until a couple of decades later that ‘pantsing’ is only sustainable for me for the first chapter or two. I need to put the preliminary work in so that when I sit down to write the story, I don’t find myself sweeping for cobwebs or organizing my desk after the initial enthusiasm fades away.
But that’s not all. Not by a long shot. Of course, if I’d known everything that was involved – having to learn about running a business, marketing, social media (a bit of a challenge for an introvert), websites, newsletters, and blogging, I might have run screaming in the opposite direction.
At that point though, it would have meant a career in law enforcement. Not being the bravest person on the planet… Yeah. That wouldn’t have worked out very well.
4. Burnout is a Very Real Thing
You work too hard for too long, often losing sleep to get everything done. There’s so much to worry about. The ads you sweated over for days were a flop. The book still isn’t selling as well as you’d hoped. The store where you have the most sales changed their algorithm again, and you have to figure out how to work with it and get those books selling again.
You don’t take the time to refill your creative tanks with reading, movies, and admiring the beauty and wonder of the world you live in. You don’t spend enough quality time with the people you love. You don’t take time for yourself period.
All you do is spend your time, energy, and attention on the books and business. Then, when the burnout hits (and trust me, it will!), it feels like you’ll never be able to pull yourself out of it. Been there, done that. More than once. And one of my goals is to never hit that kind of low again.
5. You’re Making Great Progress but … Squirrels!
There’s a reason all those stories you wrote in spiral notebooks as a teenager were never finished. You hit a snag in the plot, or there’s a problem with the hero or heroine you hadn’t planned on … and boom! One of the other stories that’s on your to-be-written list starts whispering your name, promising that it will be so much easier than the one that’s making you want to tear your hair out.
And when your to-be-written list is several dozen ideas long, you’ve got a lot to choose from. Yikes!
6. Success Depends on Finishing What You Start
Building on #5… When you’ve got several books in various stages of completion, stories that have been collecting dust in virtual files for a year, two years, or … longer, you start to wonder if you’ve lost the gift for writing. It’s scary to think of losing something you’ve loved, nurtured, and depended on since you were a kid.
Does it mean that you’re a failure? And if you are, what can you do next? Is there anything that can bring you the same joy as storytelling? Are you even qualified to do anything else? Probably not. So, time to buckle down, put on your big girl sneakers, and just do it!
This is something I’ve struggled mightily with the past few years. But I’m finally making progress. In just over a year’s time, I finished – and published – Loser Wins the Girl, Quinn’s Saving Grace, and The Bell Ringer’s Christmas. Next on the list is book two in the Men From the Double M series, Steven. When that one is finished, hopefully before spring arrives, I can start on new stories. Yay!
7. Life is Like a Dunk Tank
Another thing I’d never have guessed would have an impact on my writing life is … well … life. Life throws some major curve balls – straight at you. Health issues – for you and the people you care about. Financial concerns. Loved ones dying. Distractions of all kinds. And so many other things (and people!) needing your time and attention.
Things that make it hard to concentrate. Things that sap energy, that suck the motivation to do anything but simply try and survive each day right out of you. But you keep fighting. You tread water until you’re ready to pull yourself out of that tank and get on with the business of writing.
8. Appreciate Naps!
Why? Because adulting is rarely easy. Especially when your career choice has anything – and everything – to do with writing. The indie author road is rewarding, but full twists and turns, detours and dead ends, and frequent, unexpected surprises (not all of them pleasant). So, it can be very exhausting. To the point where even a ten-minute cat nap might be the only thing standing between getting that next sentence down – or having a major meltdown. A meltdown that includes tears, despair, and chocolate. Or popcorn. Or both.
So never turn down the shortest of naps. Or just lean back and close your eyes, breathe slowly, and relax for a few minutes. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your stories, right?
So Would I Have Done Anything Different if I’d Known?
I doubt it. Some people are born to be writers – and I’m one of them. I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. First with dolls. Then with the goofy plays I wrote as a pre-teen. Then with Barbie and her pals.
But when I got too old to play with Barbie dolls, the stories kept filling my head and I needed an outlet. That was creative writing. I wrote my first real story when I was fifteen, and I’ve been writing them ever since.
Writing is a gift. It’s what I do. What I’ll always do, at least as long as I’m able to get the words out on paper and digital files. And I hope I’ll be able to do that for a long time to come.
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