Another year has come and gone, and I have to admit I’ve learned a few things…
…like how chipmunks and squirrels have an uncanny way of chewing up things inside my car engine when I park near the bushes. How did they get in there????
…like how staying spoiler-free when all your friends have seen the new Star Wars movie and you haven’t would be a great script for the new “Mission: Impossible” film.
…like no matter how hard I try, the mission “Lone Wolf” on “Halo: Reach” cannot be beaten. Where’s Master Chief when you need him?
But aside from those nuggets of wisdom now fully integrated into my mind, there were a few things that being a writer introduced me to. No, I didn’t learn all of these lessons in a year. Most of them came over time. But through this first full year of being a professional writer, I have to say that these lessons have kept me going and will continue to help as I begin 2016:
LESSON ONE: ALWAYS BACKUP YOUR WORK
I’ll never forget when my high school history teacher told his class the story of how he was eating at a restaurant and someone stole his laptop from his car in the parking lot. Normally such an item could be replaced, but there was one thing on the hard drive of that computer that couldn’t be: his book.
During his cancer treatments, he had been working on the script, doing research and writing drafts. He was nearly finished when it was stolen, and when he arrived at school, the frustration was evident. On the laptop was his only copy of his work, and now…it’d be near impossible to get it back.
He died a few years later from cancer. He never did get to publish that book.
Whether it’s on a flash drive, CD, hard drive, or paper, I’ve always made sure to have an extra copy of my work just in case my original gets lost or destroyed because of what my history teacher went through (and the lesson he taught us on how important it was to keep backup copies). I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me when my computer crashed and deleted my work. Is it inconvenient? Probably. Very few people like to put in the extra time of having multiple copies. But will it save you a bunch of heartache if the original gets lost? Certainly!
LESSON 2: SOMETIMES THE FIRST DRAFT IS THE BEST
Would you believe this lesson was learned in 2015?
Over the winter, I’ve been hard at work finishing the manuscript for “Captain Patty and the Boston Buccaneer”. Truth is, I started this story earlier in 2015, but throughout the spring and summer, I’ve been plagued with what every writer eventually goes through: “scrap/delete/rewrite/repeat”.
I had most of the manuscript finished by summer, but for some reason or another, I wasn’t happy with it, so I scrapped it. Thankfully thanks to Lesson 1, I kept a backup copy, and so went on to write draft number two. Months later, I was on draft number eleven (and about ready to lose my mind, ha ha.) Unsure of what to do, I gave the drafts to my beta reader for input on which script was the more enjoyable.
Would you believe she enjoyed the first one?
Talk about a waste of time (on my part!) I always heard my teachers say that sometimes the first draft written is always the best. In my experience, that has never been the case, but with this story, it was! Though I’m still a big supporter of multiple drafts and being happy with your work, sometimes it’s okay to be happy with the first whim of inspiration.
LESSON 3: THERE IS NO ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ IN WRITING
I recently had lunch with a fellow author to discuss how our releases and marketing were going. We’d both done research into how best to sell our books. We’d also had a year of experience in being authors and were beginning to see the very first fruits of our labor.
Funny thing was, what helped him and what helped me were two very different things!
He benefited from public speaking engagements. I benefited from social media and promotions. How was it that everything else we tried seemed to not work like it had for others?
What we learned was that every writer has a different story. No, I’m not talking about the books they write. I’m talking about the story of their experience as a writer. Not every author will do well on social media. Not every author will do well traveling and speaking. Not every author will find success right away despite doing everything right and by the book. Not every author will work hard and see that hard work pay off. Some will have it easy. Some will have to work for it. The point is this: what works for you may not work for others, and what works for others may not work for you.
Don’t get discouraged if the tried-and-true promotions don’t work for your book. Don’t be surprised when the sales pick up out of nowhere because of that tiny book signing you did over the weekend. We all have a story, and just like how we make everything different for our characters, everything is different for us.
LESSON FOUR: DON’T GIVE UP
During the summer, I entered a craft show that was supposed to be the biggest event in the state (at least according to a fellow crafter and the great economy of the area). I gathered up all my books, expecting the sales to be huge, and drove two hours to the event.
Guess what happened that day? It rained. It got hot and humid. I nearly got stuck in the port-a-potty (never wear high heals going into one of those things…lesson number 5.) And I made…one sale. Mind you, this sale was from a fellow exhibitor who felt sorry for me, ha ha!
I couldn’t believe it. How could such a popular show have gone so badly? I was to the point of never wanting to do another show again, especially after the loss in revenue.
Then, months later, I got a call of a last-minute craft show at a local church near my house. It was the first year this craft show opened up. There was hardly any advertising. It was guaranteed to be a failure.
But I went anyways, maybe just for the donuts they offered to exhibitors. At least breakfast would be good.
Would you believe that ended up being the best show of the year? Sales were great, I met some awesome people, got an offer to speak at a book club, and best of all…I got my donut for free!
As writers, we often expect success to follow right after publication. For some lucky few, that’s true. But for the rest of us, success takes time. Months…years…decades? We don’t know. Success may actually never come. But we don’t know what tomorrow brings. Life is full of surprises, and we never know when that hard work is going to pay off.
What matters is that we don’t give up. If we quit, success is guaranteed to not happen, but if we persevere, there’s still a chance. Don’t give up and never lose hope. You never know when the next success story will be yours.