The Creative Journey

Last week I re-read one of my favourite romance novels and marvelled again over how deftly the author sets up this sweet yet imperfect relationship then sweeps the reader along on the up / down rollercoaster of making the whole thing work. It’s a book that makes me sigh with envy (over both the hero and the skillful writing) every time.

I don’t make much use of my e-reader, I prefer physical books. But it’s perfect for romance novels (all those embarrassing cover jackets). But after finishing the latest reading of my beloved romance, I did a search for the author on my e-reader. I found the online shop stocks her full back catalogue and all for very reasonable prices. It seemed churlish not to click the ‘download’ button.

I started with her first novel but a third of the way in I had to put it down. The characters are clunky and come off as cruel rather than cute. The plot is threadbare and too many of the scenarios simply ridiculous. I find it hard to believe the same person wrote both books.

But it’s encouraging too. It goes to show how much you grow as a writer over the course of your career. When the author wrote book one she probably thought it was the best thing since Michael Jackson moonwalked. Now she probably wishes she could snatch it off the shelves and bury it in a shallow grave.

Similarly, I bought a new edition of Alice Walker’s The Bluest Eye not too long ago. The introduction includes a section written by Alice Walker detailing her dissatisfactions with the book and the changes she would make if she revised it now.

Alice Walker!

I take two things away from this:

1. Accept your work will never be perfect. Perfect is subjective. The you who likes what you’ve written today will find flaws next week. So revise, revise, revise, then bite the bullet and send your work out.

2. Think of the creative life as a journey, each mile making you a better writer. The writing process may not get easier but at least you can look forward to marked improvements in your finished projects.


Writer’s Digest Conference 2014

I spent the first weekend of August at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. I heard about the conference a few weeks before it was due to happen and because I like to procrastinate in new and unusual ways, I decided to book a place.

The cost was a little prohibitive – for someone trying to save, anyway – but I figured I’d do whatever I could to keep the costs down. I travelled by Greyhound bus, stayed with a friend and barred myself from 5th Avenue.

The trip turned out to be an incredible experience. Here are 5 things I learned at the Writer’s Digest Conference.

1. Always pack business cards

Bus cardI had some made up the week before I left and I’m so glad I went to the trouble because handing out cards is so much easier than trying to scribble your details on scraps of paper. They came in particularly useful at the Lulu sponsored event on Saturday night when I plucked up the confidence to speak to the black, female writers in attendance. I get very used to being the only person of colour in writing groups and at events so it was wonderful to make some new friends.


2. Self-publishing has upsides but definite drawbacks too

There were a lot of workshops addressing aspects of the self-publishing/traditional publishing debate. It’s a very topical issue for writers right now and it was useful to hear from experienced writers who have opted to go either way or take a hybrid, middle path.

The panel of writers said it can take a long time to build volume sales and distribution of print copies is very limited. However, they felt it was worth it to retain control and work on their own timeline.

My big take away was the cost. The figures for outsourcing cover design, editing (development, copy, proof), marketing, file formatting, etc ranged from $5-$10k. It seems of you want to self-publish to the highest standard possible, you have to be willing to invest in your work.


3. Every writer struggles with the white page

Writers hear this a lot but we’re a self-depreciating bunch so we don’t really take it in. I know I often feel like I have the monopoly on crumbling before the blank page. But our day two keynote speaker was bestselling author Harlan Coben and he was unequivocal and clear, we are all scared when we create but it’s about discipline, he said. It doesn’t matter if you’re nervous or uninspired or think this is your worst writing ever, you sit down and get on with it.


4. Make sure your pitch is airtight

Pitch SlamThe conference’s main draw is the optional Pitch Slam. Basically you pay a little extra for one-on-one, three-minute meetings with agents. In those meeting you have 90 seconds to pitch your project and they have 90 seconds to respond, possibly even handing you a card and requesting full chapters. I didn’t sign up for this, I know my big YA project isn’t quite there yet, but most of the attendees did and it was so interesting hearing their stories. It just reiterated the importance of knowing exactly what your novel is about and being able to convey the plot and themes in a few sentences.

For an personal account of Pitch Slam from one writer who did participate, read Cina Pelayo’s blog post.


5. Brick by brick

Everybody from bestselling self-published author Michael J Sullivan to bestselling traditional author Kimberla Lawson Roby stressed the slow path to success. “I built my career one reader at a time, one bookclub at a time,” Kimberla told us during her keynote on the last day of conference. Everybody wants to be the next E L James and release a book that zooms straight up into the stratosphere. But for the average writer you go step-by-step, gathering readers one at a time. I imagine once you have them hooked, you have a fan for life. Which seems a good trade off.



Bonding with fellow writers

Kimberla Lawson Roby

Kimberla Lawson Roby