Thursday, March 26, 2015

Writing Priorities

It's actually pretty easy to be a writer - you just write. To be an author, to have your books published, whether by yourself or a third party publisher, that takes a lot more, and it can be hard to figure out how to use your limited time wisely. The classic advice is that you should write every day. Write what you know and keep writing, that's what makes you a better writer. It's true, and writing is the most important thing in becoming an author, but you have to fit a lot of other things in there as well.

First, you have to edit. Some people count that as writing, but it's really different. It's fun to create something new, to turn a blank page into a story and to watch the magic that happens, never quite knowing where your characters will lead you, even if you are a planner. But if you want to improve you need to go back and fix all the mistakes that you made the first time through. You need to re-examine your grammar, your story structure, your pacing, your choice of voice and setting, your side stories, your conclusion, everything.

Once you've made a story the best you can, you then get feedback, take a little time off, and come up with ways to make it even better. A lot of this work should also benefit you when you start the next shiny new project, making your first drafts better and your final drafts better still. It takes a lot of time to edit, even more to edit and improve, but that's what's necessary to become an author - you need to make the writing the best it can be.

But your manuscript is only one part of publishing these days. If you want a big publishing contract (or even a smallish one), you'll need an agent. That takes time: researching agents, researching agencies, following agents on twitter, studying the market, writing a query, revising the query, entering pitch contests, submitting queries, waiting for replies, doing revisions and resubmitting. All these things take time and effort, but aren't nearly as fun or freeing as writing.

These days you also need to build a platform. Okay, maybe you don't have to. You can still get an agent and get published without a website or social media campaign, but it seems like it's getting harder. Agents and publishers definitely check out your presence before making offers. And if your goal is to sell books, at some point you're going to need that platform. That means either time or money - probably both. Building a website, interacting on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, writing a blog or a Tumblr, reviewing books on Goodreads (which brings up another time-suck: you have to be reading voraciously to know your market and observe the trends).

So what's most important? Where do you spend your time? Writing, editing, reading, marketing, researching, or even just building up life experiences to draw from? I've been struggling with this lately as I've been very busy with a full time job, a new house, a new marriage, a plan for the future, and trying to be a good friend and enjoy my life a little bit. Writing comes first for me, but I always have new ideas that are waiting to be written. I have to discipline myself to follow a project through to completion.

For me, editing takes longer than the first draft. I budget more time for it than anything else, and I think it's where my writing improves the most, not only for the current project but for all future ones. I'm in this for the long haul so the future is where I aim my efforts. I do blog, but not as much as I once did. I blog when I have something to say and it helps me get words out and focus my mind on my actions (like this post is doing right now). I take the agenting process slowly. While I'd love to find an agent, I don't have the time to devote myself to it and it feels like an amorphous goal so I do it piecemeal and trust that over time it will work out.

I've cut back on the social side of platform building, but I haven't abandoned it. I keep my toes wet, keep my website live and stop in to twitter or some forums on occasion. I'd like to spend more time and I know it could pay off, but it can also eat up all your social time. I like to save a big chunk of that for real life people, for doing things in the physical world. I know I need that to be healthy and happy, and that's as important to me as becoming a successful author.

I don't write everyday, but most days I do some work towards my goal. What that is depends on where I am in a project, so I let my time and intensity vary with the other demands of life. The more my time is crunched, the more I try to keep editing, since it's the most valuable to me, and the less I spend on social media and agent hunting. When I feel overwhelmed or unmotivated, that's when I turn back to writing something new, even if it's just a flash story, to inspire me.

I will never stop writing, and I do put in a lot of time towards the publishing goal in addition to the fun tasks. But I am more than a writer and I always want to be so. Maybe my lack of single-minded determination, my unwillingness to make myself miserable and sacrifice the other aspects of my life will slow down (or stop) my goal of being an author. But I'm making that choice deliberately and I'm happy with it. I'm still a writer and always will be.

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