Today I am thrilled to welcome back Allison Symes to the blog. On this occasion she has agreed to share her insight into writing pitfalls. Thank you for your time and advice today.
The writing life is fun but being prepared for the roller coaster aspect of it is a good idea. Every writer has their ups and downs. It helps to know this. Going into the writing life with your eyes wide open also helps. It also helps, I think, to accept the following is true.
Rejections and Con Artists
Every writer gets rejections (or even more likely these days, you don’t hear back). It really isn’t just you.
There are con artists out there ready to exploit the dreams of writers. It pays to build a network of writer friends and to know where to get advice. Every writer needs this. Always check out the fine print. Never be afraid to ask awkward questions and do go to the Society of Authors/Alliance of Independent Authors for advice.
Regular readers of this column will know I’ve mentioned this before. It’s important enough to bear repeating (and this is coming from someone who was nearly caught out by a vanity publisher and later a vanity agent. These crooks are out there, I’m afraid).
Bear in mind the cons can include dubious contracts for publishing (poorly) a book and charging you thousands and taking your rights. There are dodgy competitions out there too. None of this is new and the con artists adapt to technology here too – they are relying on people not knowing and thinking this is what they do have to do to get work out there.
There are plenty of honourable and honest alternatives out there – such as using an independent press and/or genuinely self publishing but again you need to know where to find out about these things. Other writers are not your competition. They can be your allies in helping you avoid traps laid for the unwary here.
Writing, Editing and Stamina
Writing takes longer than you think. Editing takes even longer! You can’t rush this. No writer gets it right straight away. You do learn from what works and what doesn’t. There is a purpose to rejections, honestly. They can help you evaluate where you are with your writing and where you need to improve.
You need stamina and commitment to write but this can be built up with time. If you can only write for five minutes a day, that’s fine. Those pockets of time build up.
Reading and Writing
Every writer needs to read well in and out of their genre. You are literally feeding your mind and inspiration here. The wider you read, the greater the pool you have to fish from for possible story ideas. Everyone builds on what has gone before.
There will always be room for crime stories, love tales etc even though there are thousands of these already out there. What publishers are looking for is your take on these (or other) stories and what you can bring to the writing desk here.
There are different ways to write. I must have some kind of outline. Others are hampered by such things. You do need to work out which method works best for you and it is not unknown for people to do a mixture of both.
While I outline, I do not list every single thing to go into my story or blog post. I need enough to get me started, to know what has to happen in the middle, and a rough idea of the ending. This means I know I’ve got my structure in place but also gives me room to let my imagination fire up and fill in the gaps.
Others do have to write notes on every aspect of their characters and plot so they have a detailed road map to follow when they write their work up. Different strokes for different folks and all that but it pays you to work out what would most suit you.
Making writer friends is a wonderful thing to do. Not only is there the support, these good folk absolutely get what writing means to you (family and other friends do not always). And being a writer friend is equally wonderful. The writing community as a whole is supportive. We all learn from each other. That matters.
As you learn more yourself, with time you’ll be able to give out valuable advice to other writers just starting out. It is a case of paying it forwards, paying it backwards. I’m so grateful for the invaluable advice I’ve received (especially against con artists) and it is a privilege and pleasure to share that on.
Writing events and conferences are useful. It pays to work out the kind which would suit you best, if only for budgetary considerations! Day events are great and there are many online ones now. Work out what you want from a writing event as that will help you decide which would benefit you the most.
Books, Writing Accessories and Apps
Expect to spend a small fortune in books and stationery. Every writer loves a decent book collection of their own, notebooks and “nice” pens. It’s not a bad addiction to have!
There are loads of writing apps etc out there. Some, like Scrivener, which I use, let you have a free trial. You don’t have to rush into any of this. Again, as with the conferences, it pays you to know what’s available and work out if it would suit you.
Every writer is expected to have a social media presence. To be honest, you do need to think about your potential readers early on if you’re after publication. You need to know which market would be the best fit for your work. How can potential readers find out about you and what you write?
As a bare minimum, have a website (but you can use the free plan ones to get you started – I did this before moving on to a paid for plan which gives me more options, which I now use), and decide on which social media platform to use. I started off just with a website and Facebook. I now have my website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube. I haven’t gone for Instagram or TikTok. Not sure these are for me but if I change my mind later, that’s fine.
Have a look at other writers’ websites and social media platforms to see what they do. You learn a lot from this. You can figure out whether X’s or Y’s approach to these things would work for you.
Competitions, Trying Again and Regular Writing Times
You get used to not hearing back from competitions etc but you can rework your stories and send them out again elsewhere once the deadline has gone by for the original competition you submitted the work to. I’ve gone on to have work published somewhere else after it was rejected so it can be done.
It pays to have a regular writing time as this helps keeps you writing and it shows everyone around you that you are taking your craft seriously. Also split this time between creating work and marketing. Talking of which…
Every writer has to market but you don’t have to do everything at once. Starting small scale is how everyone starts and you then build up what you do. I see this as another creative way of sharing what I do with others but to do it in a way which is entertaining. For example with my Facebook posts, I share writing tips I’ve found handy as well as talk about when I have a story out somewhere.
I also sometimes talk there about the ups and downs of the writing life too. You do have to think along the lines of what is in this for my reader/what will make them want to read this? I like to think of it as sharing something of value and have found people then don’t mind at all when you then do promotional posts every so often. What they don’t want is buy my book all the time. Nobody does!
And, yes, I will be sharing this post widely on my social media links because it gives me something to talk about as well as flagging up something of mine people can read and hopefully find useful.
Always Have Something on the Go
I always have blog posts to work on and flash fiction pieces to write and I love that. It means I’m never stuck for something to write. I work out what time I have when during the week and then plan my writing sessions around that.
The longer sessions are where I tend to write the texts for blogs like this one. The shorter ones are where I’m doing some research or drafting a flash piece. In the background, I’m working on a longer project.
Doing things this way keeps the writing life interesting but on the odd occasions where the words don’t seem to come so easily, I find switching to another thing I’m working on frees up the mind. If, say, I’m struggling a bit with how I’ll end a story, I’ll go and draft some ideas for further CFT posts. Inevitably while doing that, an idea for how to end my story occurs so I note it down and come back to it. You are never stuck on more than one thing at a time!
With stories, it pays to be working on something, to have something else out there on submission (for markets or competitions), and to be resting another piece which you’ll come back and edit later. Don’t fall into the pitfall of writing one thing and then waiting for that to be accepted before you write anything else. You need to develop writing stamina and that comes from writing regularly. Also why wait? While one piece is “out there”, getting on with another one does make sense.
It pays to find out more about the industry you’re working in and that can be done via social media, the writing magazines and so on. It will be here you’ll pick up on useful advice, warnings about scammers etc., and other pitfalls awaiting the unwary writer.
It is true, I think, that the more you put into something in terms of effort, the more you get out of it. That’s not necessarily going to come about via publishing contracts (though it can do) but the more you write, the more you learn to improve the craft as you discover what works and what doesn’t for you. You’ll end up producing more work too and that will give you more chances of having acceptances.