I believed in one of my dreams … once. Then reality happened and I had to let it go. I grew up, went to work, got married, got divorced, and then got sick and could no longer work in a normal job. So there I was, forty-four years old and bored I decided to go back to school and get a degree in psychology (I’m finally a senior … yay!), but I was still adrift. Then an old dream reared it’s dusty head from the back of my brain. “You used to think you could write. What happened to all your stories?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized if I wanted to live my dream I was going to have to treat it like it deserved the dedication I gave to past employers, and the dedication that I give to school. Writing needed to be my job.
So if I wanted writing to be my job what did I need to do?
- I needed an idea that was fully formed and ready to be written. That sounds a lot easier than it was. I keep a notebook next to me at all times, and a file on my computer that I fill with strange ideas when they pop into my head throughout the day. Are all of these going to be novels? No. Are they good enough to be novels? Absolutely not! What they are is a starting point giving me the beginning of an idea I will try to develop into a full story with characters people enjoy. Stories I enjoy writing.
- I’d need to research the story idea. Again this sounds silly, it’s a story I developed in my head, so how much research can be involved. I typically say there’s a metric butt load of research goes into everything I write and I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration. My novel is set in my home state of Oregon. Heck, it’s loosely based on the town I live in, but it doesn’t mean I don’t need to research. Not only did I research locations, I researched the types of creatures I was going to use in my book, weapons, and mythology. If it went into the story, I researched it. Even the stuff I should have known because I lived there.
- I’d need a fully developed plot. This little step I found out the hard way. I tried to be a pantser and free write my story, but I go off on tangents and my characters didn’t cooperate. Thus story boards, outlines, and detailed character profiles became a HUGE necessity for me.
- I’d need to develop a schedule for writing and stick to it. Yes, I write to a schedule. I set deadlines, word goals, and time goals for writing. I’ve found it makes me more productive and my writing is better for it.
- I needed to learn about those who write the same genre that I wanted to write, what works, and what doesn’t. This is the second most important step for me. I am an avid reader, but there are things in some novels that don’t work for me and some things I adore. I didn’t want to copy what my fellow authors were writing, I wanted my novels to be unique. However, there are things I wanted to pay attention to. I write urban fantasy so the questions I started with are what creatures are people using, or over using? What is consistent in the genre? What could I do to make my novel unique?
- Most important of all, I needed to take classes and learn from other authors. I take classes all the time. Some are free; some cost money at varying price points. All of them have taught me things that I use now. While there is one that I consider to be head and shoulders above the rest, at least as far as helping me improve my craft. It might not be the class that works for you. I believe we should all seek to improve ourselves and our skills as authors.
- Finally, I needed to enjoy my chosen path. I needed to enjoy the process of writing. I needed to feel excited every time I sat down to torture my favorite characters, and I did torture them. I had to feel a jolt of happiness when the story finished, not because I was done, but because I had another story ready to go behind it that I was looking forward to.
You will notice that I didn’t put something about needing to make a livable wage. While I feel this is my ultimate goal, right now I write because I have stories to tell. Lots and lots of stories to tell and I have yet to publish anything except a few blog posts. Golden Opportunity will come out on September 2, 2016 with any luck and then I will have more information to share about what works, and what doesn’t, for the self-published author.
V. L. Cooke