Regular Writers & Artists blogger Lia Louis only went and got herself a book deal! Here are some of the things she learned on the path to publication...
In January, one of my biggest dreams came true – I signed with a dream literary agent, Juliet Mushens, and just a few weeks later, signed a two-book deal with a dream publisher. After all of those hours; all of those hundreds of thousands of words of worlds and made-up people with made-up heartache and happy endings; all of those ‘unfortunately, this time we are going to pass’s; all the scrapping, redrafting, rejections and tears... I got “the call.” Or the email, should I say. The message I had been daydreaming about for years. I'd broken through what at times felt like a welded and triple-locked door.
I am going to be a published author.
My book – the one I sat writing at the dining table on my laptop, at the park on rain-soaked paper, in bed on my phone beside tiny babies, grabbing hold of those slivers of time, will be a real thing that I can hold in my hands.
I have been writing these blog posts for Writers & Artists since 2014, and although my desire to write books and be a published writer has never faltered, one thing is for sure: I have learned a lot since that first post, and even more since I began writing ‘seriously’ a couple of years before that. So, while I find myself in this day-dreamy phase of my writing life, I thought I'd reflect on my journey from then to now; think about all of the things I've learned, and what I wish I had known when I first started.
- That thing that is holding you back, the thing your brain is telling you makes you inadequate for this, for writing a book, for being an author must be ignored. (ie: I already have so many responsibilities, I have two kids and a full-time job, I can’t write a book, I didn’t even finish my GCSEs, I haven’t even read a single Austen, people like me don’t write books, etc.) But also: draw on it. Pull strength from it. Use it as fuel to write despite it. Your ‘voice’ and the unique way in which you write a story is made up of all these little things – your life experience, your background, your worries, fears, insecurities, the things you do – and it is that which helps your writing stand out as yours.
- It is normal to hate what you’re writing, at some point. One minute you’ll be proud of it, the next, you will be sure you have written the biggest pile of dung this side of the earth and it must be tweaked/completely changed/burned to a cinder. Don’t act on a whim. It’ll probably pass. It’s most likely self-doubt in very convincing-looking clothing.
- Speaking of which: self-doubt. If you’ve ever read my blogs, you’ll know self-doubt has always been a massive issue for me, but I am learning slowly to cope with it. Try to accept that self-doubt tells lies that sound very much like fact and truths. Never let self-doubt win, but also, be thankful it exists and stops you believing the first draft you wrote in six weeks without breathing is Pulitzer-worthy and the single most genius thing a human has ever penned. As Liz Gilbert talks about in Big Magic, let it sit in the car with you, but never let it steer, hold the map, or even change the radio station. Recognise it, accept it, but never let it talk you out of making what you want to make.
- Rejections will come. Don’t dread them or take them personally (as hard as this may seem.) They’re almost impossible to avoid. If you’re getting them, it means you’re out there, being a writer, and on the path to getting where you want to be. Plus, sometimes they come with truly valuable feedback.
- Which brings me to: get a reader or two. I spent a long time being too frightened to let others read my works-in-progress. I found a little group of writers and readers I trusted (social media is great for connecting with people in this way, especially if you offer to read something in return) and chucked my work out there. The feedback you receive can be a huge help, especially if multiple people are saying the same things. Put yourself out there. Be read. Don’t be afraid of that.
- Celebrate everything. Every small victory. Finishing things, praise from someone who has read your short story, a nice almost-but-not-quite rejection from an agent or competition, a flash fiction acceptance, a brilliant lightbulb of an idea, writing for an hour, pressing send on something. All of them. Not everyone does these things. Be proud.
- Don’t rush. Sometimes you feel you have to – you aren’t where you thought you’d be at this age, perhaps, or there are too many books like yours being signed up/published, or you realise you have been working on this draft over a year and you’re nowhere near done, and ‘*insert mega famous author* does SEVEN DRAFTS? I refuse to do seven drafts.’ Write often, but just don’t rush. You will suck out the enjoyment. You will meddle with the process. You will miss things. You will send it out too soon. You won’t give your work, or yourself, the best chance, and the best chance is what you deserve.
- But… at the same time, don’t wait. There is never ever a perfect time to write a book. There will always be something, a reason to not write, an excuse as to why you can’t, but books upon books are finished and published by people every year who wrote anyway. Make time for it, even if it’s fifteen, twenty minutes on the train to work, half-an-hour on a Saturday morning before everyone wakes up, 10-minutes here and there on your phone. Let it be your reward. Don’t wait for the perfect time. You may wait forever.
- Love what you’re writing. Write the book you want to read, especially the one that frightens you a bit, the one you keep talking yourself out of, the book you’re waiting to write when you wake up one day feeling exactly like a proper writer who can write such a thing. The truth is, you’ll never wake up with that feeling. If it’s the book of your heart, the book you’re excited about, that feels a little bit like you’re putting a part of yourself on the page, then you’ll look forward to sitting down and writing it (most of the time) and that sort of motivation and fire cannot be replicated. (And words written with excitement and heart usually jump off the page for the reader. They can tell.)
- Agents are people. Publishers are people. There are no evil gatekeepers. They are not impossible people to please (hard, perhaps, but definitely not impossible) who cackle with evil laughter while pressing delete on the manuscript you’ve poured hours into. They love books. They love story, just like you do, and know they need writers, like you, to write them. Listen to their valuable advice and spend time getting to know what they look for, how to approach them, how to submit work to them. They want your work to be good. They want new voices and new, fresh material. They are not troll-like bouncers blocking the gate to all your writing dreams. (Honest.)
- If writing advice doesn’t speak to you or motivate you, ignore it. Pieces like this can be great – but also, so terrible. Read it, but if it doesn’t feel right for you, toss it. Everyone writes and works differently. One process may work perfectly for one, when it would never, point-blank, work for someone else, and that is more than fine.
- Don’t compare yourself to anyone else – to your favourite writer, to the writer who just signed a humongous book deal, to anyone. This doesn’t need an explanation. Just don’t do it. It helps nobody. You are where you are, writing what you are writing, and you’re exactly where you are meant to be.
- And finally, make sure you keep going. I once read something that said a published writer is a writer that never gave up – a writer that picked themselves up and tried ‘just one more time.’ If you give up, throw in the towel, what is absolutely certain is that you will never get there. If you keep going, however, keep knocking, keep pushing, eventually, the door will fly open. Keep learning, keep making mistakes, keep writing, getting up, ploughing on, and don’t stop sending out your words. You’ll get there. Persist, persist, persist.
Lia is a writer from Herts, where she lives with her partner, three children and too many clothes and books. In 2015, she won ELLE magazine's annual writing competition, and her debut novel SOMEWHERE CLOSE TO HAPPY is due to be published in May 2019 by Trapeze/Orion. Find her on Twitter here