When I first hit the book scene as an author, I developed a talk called, "Ten things I've learned since becoming a published writer."
Some of the things were funny: There's a man in Texas who doesn't like to laugh . . . and is proud of it.
Others focused on what surprised me: No one is going to recognize you or stop you on the street to tell you she loves your book.
This weekend, I was in Roswell, NM as a guest of the Friends of the Public Library. I updated my Ten Things talk and wanted to share five items with you. They're personal — not dictums for everyone — but they're tidbits that are important to me and might help others on this particular road.
#1 The first job of a writer is to write.
Yes, I know that sounds obvious, but it took me a few years to figure out. I got so distracted in the marketing game that I kept losing focus of what's important. You have to write to be a writer. If you're not writing, you'll be a has-been before you ever become a does-have.
#2 Creativity must be nurtured.
There are several ways to do this. I've found unplugging — turning off the computer (especially the internet/email, no phone) is a big one. Taking walks and staring blankly into space works well too. And writing, writing, writing — without personal censorship — propels me into different and interesting directions . The more I do it and produce, the more ideas I have.
#3 "Edit" is the most essential word for any writer.
I don't care who you are, editing will make you better. It's part of writing the best book you can. The longer I'm in this career, the more I realize how words can be misinterpreted. Writing what I mean to write takes effort and a critical eye. Actually, it takes many critical eyes.
#4 There's no such thing as "writer's block" — at least for me — BUT there is such a thing as paralysis due to fear of failure/of not living up to expectations.
Most writers I know are great actors. We pretend to have faith in our work. Dig deeper and you'll find our fragile faith in ourselves, in our ability to effectively tell the stories we want to tell. We can be knocked to the floor with a bad review or a nasty email. When we're in that scary place of self doubt, it's difficult to continue creating. And it's easy to get stuck, to blame an absent muse, when what has really left us is our own self confidence.
#5 Word of mouth remains the most powerful way to make/break a career.
It doesn't matter if we Twitter or FaceBook, if we email or do public appearances, if we buddy up to bookstore employees or attach magnetic signs about our books to our cars, if we send out monthly newsletters or have contests — nothing will get us further than the real buzz of readers who love our work and want us to succeed. I know that many people believe that we can manufacture that buzz, and maybe we can through some of the methods mentioned above, but the bottom line is that person-to-person communication remains the single most effective tool to persuade others to buy books.
I don't want this to be a long post, so I'll stop here and throw it out to YOU.
Writers: What's something you've learned since publication?
Readers: What has surprised you about writers or their professional lives since you've become part of the literary community (You are, you know; you prove it daily by reading and hanging out in the blogosphere.)?