Are you feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do to be a writer? If so, join the club. Sometimes the writing journey feels overwhelming. There aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish the mind-boggling amount of things we writers feel must get done in order to grow not just as writers but in order to establish our place in the publishing world.
Years ago, all an author had to do was write a book and send it off to a publisher (one handwritten copy at a time!), and if her manuscript was accepted, the publisher did all the work of publishing and promoting. Now, authors have to be writer, marketer, publicist—and sometimes publisher—in order to make strides to become known and to have their books sold and distributed.
And still, after long hours each week applying ourselves to so many career-promoting tasks, we may feel frustrated and unsure whether we’ve accomplished anything at all. And our books? Well, sometimes we don’t even have time to write, it seems.
We also set huge goals for ourselves, and sometimes these can also add to the overwhelm. So I’d like to recommend a few helpful writing-related goals that will help you achieve your broader goals.
1. Try some new plotting and structuring techniques
I am always trying to stretch myself with each new novel, trying out new techniques, new ways to plot, structure, and organize my ideas. For many of my novels I used index cards for scenes. I’ve created character flow charts, character arc charts. For one novel, Intended for Harm, I used six large pieces of poster board and used Post-It notes for the scenes. These are all ideas I got from other writers—either from their workshops or from books on the writing craft. If it’s in your plans to write a new book this year, think about stretching yourself and forging into new territory.
2. Try to attend at least one writers’ conference
I was given the advice to attend a writers’ conference nine years ago. I had attended a few here and there over the years, but this time I planned carefully which one to attend. I couldn’t afford to go to many, so picked the one that I knew would provide much-needed instruction on the writing craft. To my surprise, the author who made this suggestion said that not only did she receive an offer of a publishing contract at a conference but that’s how all her author friends got published. Really?
Well, nine years later and after having contracted eight of my novels with mainstream publishers by attending writers’ conferences and pitching there, I can also say that nearly all my writer friends who have gotten contracts or signed with an agent did so through pitching at a writers’ conference. I wish someone had told me this twenty years ago when I started out.
This is the best piece of advice I can give you, for it has twofold benefits—giving you the opportunity to hone your writing by taking classes and the chance to pitch your book (either idea or finished novel) to agents and publishers. Even if you’re not ready to submit, chatting about your story and perfecting your pitch is extremely helpful.
3. Pick one weak point in your writing and focus on that
We can become overwhelmed when we think of all the weak aspects of our writing. Surely there is room for improvement on so many fronts, and with lots of rejections we can become disheartened and feel like quitting. Make it a point to focus on just one element of your writing that you are weakest in and see how you can improve that this year. Athletes will spend 80% of their time working on the 10% or 20% areas they are weakest in. We should do the same. And when you see improvement, you will feel encouraged.
4. Find (or keep and appreciate!) at least one good critique partner
If you have someone who really gives you honest, helpful feedback, that’s a great joy and aid to your writing. You can set them up as an accountability partner, too, if you tend to procrastinate. One author friend agreed to do this with me, and each week we sent one new chapter for the other to edit and critique. This keeps you writing and on target for finishing a manuscript. You can find critique partners through online writers’ groups and organizations, and again, by attending a writers’ conference and hooking up with someone you feel a good connection with. I treasure my critique partners.
5. Apply yourself to becoming a better master of your language
Since I’m a professional copyeditor and writing coach, it stands to reason that I’m going to suggest this. I can’t overemphasize how much your writing will improve if you learn some good grammar and editing techniques. So many published authors aren’t great with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They may feel that’s not their concern—trusting the proofreader at their publishing house will catch and fix all the errors.
But my feeling is that when you work hard to write better and more accurately—learning just where commas must go, when to use hyphens or italics, and how to properly punctuate dialogue—your writing will improve. When you’re not hindered by these things you don’t know how to do, you can focus on writing beautiful sentences and creating powerful imagery. It’s not a waste of time to learn to master the handling of the English language.
Challenge yourself to improve your writing chops. It will show in your writing, and the agents and editors (and readers) who read your work will see you in a better light. Editors love seeing their authors prepare error-free manuscripts.
Yes, this writing journey is full of overwhelm! But you can keep it manageable with practical, attainable goals that will help you make steady progress in your writing craft and career.
Any thoughts on some small steps and goals you’ve worked toward that have helped you keep from being overwhelmed? Share them in the comments!