Calling yourself a “writer” is something that makes a lot of people nervous. It can feel like you’re asking to be called pretentious, or worse. If you’ve ever had the experience of meeting a distant relative at a family gathering and they ask what you do, you know how it goes.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh! Anything I might have read?”
And the answer is almost invariably “no,” and so you know in their heads they’re thinking “Not a real job, not a real job.” It’s enough to cause a crisis of confidence, which of course contributes to the dreaded Writer’s Block. And when someone reads some of your writing and says “This is superb! Have you considered writing a novel?”, it’s easy to answer “no.” Because writing a blog post or an essay is one thing – a novel is a whole other ball game.
So many good writers shy away from the idea of writing a novel when that friend might really be onto something. If you think you can’t write a novel, you’re wrong. It may take time, and you may have a few false starts. But if you are ready to put the work in, you can overcome any obstacles – including the ones you put in front of yourself.
Excuse #1: “I know I can write, but I can’t write people.”
Writing characters is maybe the toughest part of writing a novel, it’s true. Even those of us who don’t think we’re creative can set a scene, can sketch out a narrative, but writing people is hard. Most successful novels will have at least one character who’s a lot like the author. Why is that? Because it’s easy to write yourself. Other characters are harder, of course. You can base them on your friends, but you want your friends to read the book and still like you, so that’s tricky.
What you need to do is sit and set out a profile of your characters. Their name, age, what they do for a living. Their personality. Refrain from making them too amazing – readers these days can spot a Mary Sue a mile away, and prefer someone relatable. Read over your profiles, and if they remind you too much of anyone, change the details until they’re their own person.
Excuse #2: “I know I can write, but I can’t handle rejection.”
Every author on the face of the Earth has received at least one letter of rejection from a publisher. J.K. Rowling famously received numerous rejection letters before one publisher picked up Harry Potter. One of them told her that she should get a day job because she was unlikely to make a living in children’s fiction. If writing is what you want to do, then you need to have a thick skin. You will get rejection letters – but they make the non-rejections worth so much more.
If you don’t want to leap straight into the lions’ den with publishers, then consider self-publishing to begin with. Book-printing experts such as Steuben Press will put your book together for you. You can then sell online or at book fairs, or give your books out as gifts. If you get good feedback from those, that should up your confidence. Never give up on the idea. Where would we be if Suzanne Collins had taken her first poor feedback as a sign to give up?
Excuse #3: “I know I can write, but the good ideas have all been had.”
We’ve all sat in front of a laptop, racking our brains for ideas, and the moment a good one comes up our internal editor rejects it. “No, already been done. There are enough books about vampires/wizards/astronauts…”. It is true to say that it gets harder to be original the longer time goes on. So the first thing to say to that is … don’t worry about having a truly original idea.
J.K. Rowling wasn’t the first author to write about a wizarding school. Stephenie Meyer definitely didn’t get to vampires first. And there have been more novels about a dystopian future than anyone could read in a lifetime. What you do need is a hook. Something that makes it a bit different. Play around with the lore a little; there is always something you can bring to it. A new setting, a unique power, a different threat. If you try to be 100% original, you’ll just end up with a book no one understands.
Excuse #4: “I know I can write, but I don’t have the time.”
Authors and actors alike have the same issue that stands in the way of their success. In the beginning, it doesn’t pay. And so they need to hold down a full-time job while finding ways to indulge their creative side. Where authors have an advantage over actors is the fact that an actor usually needs to break through while they are young. The film industry is very ageist. And sexist. And shallow.
On the other hand, when you’ve got your work backed up, you can take as long as you need to finish your first novel. If you snatch a few pages each lunch break, take a few hours at the weekend and some in the evenings, you can let it come together at its own pace. In fact, you may benefit from taking a little longer over it – this allows you to refine what you write and really consider where the story is going.
You can come up with all these reasons and more not to put your writing to the ultimate test. There are dozens of reasons not to try – but in the end, all you need is one reason to give it a go. If it works out, you’ll have the chance to make money doing something you love. And there is nothing better than that. Sure, when you’re on novel number 10, you’ll still get writer’s block. But it beats the hell out of doing a job you’ll never like, let alone love, for just enough money to keep your house warm.
You just need to stop making excuses.
Stay indie, and rock on, write on,