About a year and a half ago, I started writing again. It had been over ten years since I had written anything productive and at first, it felt foreign to me. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had a few life-changing events that prompted me to delve back into my writing to give me something on which to focus, other than how not-so-great my life was at the time. I didn’t realize it, but writing saved me from who I could have turned into. Writing became my therapy and helped me power through a rough time. I’ve always been one to grab the proverbial bull by the horns, but with the writing, I don’t think I would have lasted the eight seconds.
A Few Things to Remember
- I didn’t start writing again to get published – I honestly wasn’t going to show my book to anyone. I did it for me and it felt refreshing not having any pressure on how it turned out.
- Close friends and family actually liked what I wrote and suggested I should keep writing and try to get it published. You know how friends and family are – if they’re generally supportive, being good friends and family, they’ll tell you it’s good, whether it actually is or not.
- I liked my story. It came from the heart and from personal experience and was definitely soul-cleansing and gut-wrenching for me, personally. A lot of memories were dredged up and a lot of tears were shed. The writing had done its job. I was a better person at the end of that thirty days.
How did it happen?
I sat down and started writing on May 1, 2017. Thirty days later I finished the first draft at a little over 100,000 words. I hadn’t just written a story. I had written a novel. I was a writing juggernaut.
Yeah, that was a lot of words in one month, many days spent burning the midnight oil, paying attention only to my writing, and neglecting almost everything else. I went to work, came home, slept, and wrote. That was life at the time. Afterward, I felt bad about it, but everyone that is close to me understood and realized I needed that time to get things right in my life. I chose a path to help me through that time and I’m glad I chose a positive one. Although I could handle that same rigorous schedule again, in retrospect, I think I’d take a little more time the next time. More later on that subject.
After I wrote the first book in my series, I realized I wasn’t finished with the story and I decided to get organized. I had caught the writing bug again.
I cleaned up the manuscript, editing away, and was able to chop it down to about 94,000 words. I can’t say that I’ve ever liked the editing process, but it’s a necessary evil plus, I wanted my story to read well, if for no one else but me. Putting words to paper is a wonderful feeling, but editing, and let’s be real, is what makes a good story great. I don’t so much dread the editing process as much as I used to, but it’s still not as fun as developing the characters, building the words and creating a story out of nothing.
What Happened Next?
After I finished editing the first novel in my series, with the name changing several times, and finally settling on the name, The Veteran, I decided to continue with the story. Normally, I’m not a planner, but I took the time to map out my story and realized it was going to take more than two books to finish. I still haven’t decided where, when, or if it’s going to end, but the more I write, the more material is created. It’s like a well that won’t run dry and I smile when I think back to how I thought when I started. It was going to be one story, one book (maybe), and when it was done I’d go back to living a normal life. I don’t what know I was thinking and I certainly don’t know what a “normal” life is anymore, but I’m in a good place on many fronts.
Book two was more of a challenge, dealing with new characters, their development, places to go, people to kill, people to save, all the while keeping my main character from imploding like I had nearly done. The story was in my head, but it was getting more complicated and I wanted to make sure that I did a better job with the second novel than I did with the first. I wish I could I say I was living vicariously through my MC, but it was more of the other way around. I was putting many of my life experiences to paper, and though less painful and more enlightening than the first time around, there were some moments where I questioned revealing more about myself.
As I was writing, I wanted more knowledge and who better to reach out to than other writers. I didn’t realize the extent of the writing community online. After doing a little digging, I decided on a nom de plume and created my profile on various social media sites. I’m no stranger to social media, having worked in the IT field for the past 25 years, and having had a personal online presence in some form or fashion for nearly as long, so it came easily to me. I was floored at how huge the writing community was and although it was like drinking from a firehose at first, I started developing contacts, talking with people, creating friendships, gathering followers and building a presence I didn’t think was possible. There are so many gimmicks out there for creating your author presence, and so many of them are a sham. With a little studying, some mental elbow grease, and through asking a ton of questions of other authors, I was able to build my presence, albeit minor compared to some, to what it is today.
I learned very quickly who the good groups and good people were, the ones that would provide helpful advice, honest feedback, and positive criticism. I also learned there are a lot of nut jobs out there who live their entire life online, seeking attention whether through the “woe is me, my life sucks, make me feel better about myself” approach, the “hey, look at what I did” approach, or worse yet, “you suck, I’m better than you and I’m going to tell you so” approach. If this offends you, you might want to consider how you identify yourself. Just remember, life sucks for everyone at one point or another and it’s how you handle it that counts.
By the time I got around to start my second book in the series, I had started to develop a decent social media presence;
- Website – Build your website. Do yourself a favor and purchase your domain. It’ll make things easier in the long run and helps you establish the first steps to creating your brand. There are a number of platforms such as WordPress or Wix that are fairly easy to use. As you see, I use WordPress, but I like its flexibility.
- Facebook – Build a Facebook author/book fan page. I built a Facebook profile, as well to interact with others in the writing community. There are a lot of resources out there on how to build a fan page and how to set up your author Facebook profile to help you reach your success.
- Twitter – This is a powerhouse of a platform for writers and you can, with hard work and perseverance, connect with some awesome people like I have, which will help with your brand. Interact with #writingcommunity and you will find that a whole new world will open up to you. Play the hashtag prompt games – interact with the other authors. Twitter can be a great conduit to other sites.
- LinkedIn – this is the more professional side of the house and you’ll need this.
- Instagram – if you like posting photos, this is a great site for you.
- Pinterest (still working on that one), and my website.
If you haven’t done it yet, I’ll be honest. It takes a lot of time and hard work to make it happen successfully. I didn’t pay anyone to do anything for me, but with an IT background, I had a little advantage over most. Anyone can do it with a little knowledge-seeking, perseverance, and lots of patience. It’s not going to happen overnight but it can happen if you keep at it.
Tools of the Trade
In order to build anything, you’ll need tools and you’re going to need to invest in your brand. Nothing comes free, so be prepared to spend a few dollars up front and on an ongoing basis. There are a lot of tools available. but here are some of the ones I use. I’ve tried a number of them, some failing miserable, some moderately helpful, and some I can’t live without. Not all tools are for everyone and depending on how you write and how you plan, you’ll want to choose tools that best suit your needs. Here is a list of tools I use:
- MS Word/Google Docs – for writing. Some people use Scrivener. It’s a great product if that is what works for you.
- Grammarly – for checking my writing (there is a plugin for Word, and Google Docs has it built in)
- AutoCrit – for analyzing and cleaning up my document. I don’t use this until after the initial editing, but it’s a POWERFUL tool.
- IFTTT.com – for scheduling posts and other functions across multiple social media platforms
- Tweetdeck – for monitoring my Twitter feed
- Canva.com – for building posts/graphics for the different platforms
- WordPress – for my website. Buy your domain. It will help in the long run.
- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest – Brand Building.
These are just a few of the tools and sites I use. If you’d like to know more, just ask me.
Building My Brand
With the end of the year approaching and due to some personal challenges, I took a little time off from writing to refocus and spent time working on my social media. I wanted to build my brand. I needed to build my brand.
The author presence you’re building is your BRAND and anything you do, negative or positive, will stick with you for a very long time.
Building your brand requires:
- You have a plan on what you want it to be.
- You have to keep at it daily.
- You have to interact with others for it to be effective.
- You have to be present – it’s not going to build itself.
- You have to respond.
- You have to reciprocate. You follow me. I follow you. No, you’re not a special snowflake who “deserves” followers because of a few facebook posts, blog posts or tweets. Get over yourself now and you won’t have to later. People will figure it out and stop following you if you don’t follow them back. It’s called etiquette.
- Try to be positive. It’s good for the soul and makes things better. Being negative all the time isn’t going to help you progress.
People will remember you by your words, not by your intent, no matter how well-meaning you were or try to be.
People are like elephants. They don’t forget if you’ve slighted them, felt wronged by your words, or just think you’re a jerk because of your opinion. I’m not saying to not have an opinion. I saying to temper your words with forethought and realize the potential impact they can have on your future as an author. In the last year and a half, I have seen many authors crash and burn because of how they interacted with others on social media. You don’t want to be that pariah. Don’t burn your bridges before you have them built. You never know who you will run into in the future or who might have some influence over your writing career.
Good word travels. Bad word travels faster.
I have found that people, especially people in the publishing industry, have a keen interest in how authors conduct themselves on social media. Keep your personal business private, and your author business public. Keep those profiles separated. Learn what to share and what not to share. There are a few subjects that I’ve found are very touchy and if you’re not careful, regardless of how you feel about them, one misstep can cause a downward spiral for your potential author career.
It’s not my place to tell, and I wouldn’t, what you should say or shouldn’t say. I love civil discourse. The key word being civil.
Civil discourse is “the language of dispassionate objectivity”, and suggests that it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the other’s moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant’s experiences (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_discourse)
Freedom of speech does not mean you are not free from the consequences of the words you choose.
Back to the Grind
I started writing book two at the beginning of July and finished with a word count of a little over 95,000 words about the beginning of September. I did some preliminary edits and then decided I wanted to go back and edit book one.
Once I had a good framework for my social media presence, I decided to revisit book one and see what I could do, but I had reached an impasse with my editing. I knew that I couldn’t proceed without professional help. I had reached a point where I was not objective enough to see the flaws in my story. Nobody is – This is truth!
At the beginning of 2018, I started looking for an editor and found one. She’s amazing, by the way, and I’ll be happy to share her contact information with you, with her permission, of course. We worked on book one for almost ten months. Why did it take so long? We have real lives; families, kids, and work full time. I go to work, she’s a stay-at-home mom and has her hands full. Life happens, and it did, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We had our challenges but we persevered through all life threw at us. We work well together and I plan on keeping her around for however long she’ll be my editor
Everyone Needs An Editor!
I don’t care if you find someone who will do it for free, use alpha & beta readers, or hire someone. You’re going to need an editor to give you guidance on how to fix your writing. If you think you don’t need an editor because your writing is just that good, more power to you, but don’t be surprised if your writing doesn’t reach the level it should be.
Humility is a necessary trait for a writer
If you’re not humble about your writing and your skills, and not willing to take constructive feedback, then stop writing. It’s that simple. There will always be better writers but if you are humble, accept the constructive feedback, work on improving your writing through practice, education, and hard work, then you will succeed.
Where I Am Now
About a month and a half ago, we finished up the final edits on book one. Book two still needs editing, and I’ve managed to write part of book three, and map out books four and five. I’m more excited about the round of editing for book two than I was for the first book, thanks to my editor.
When I first started this process, after deciding I want to be published, I chose the traditional publishing route. I love authors who self-publish, many of my close writing friends are successful self-published authors, but I felt traditional is the way to go for me. I’ve spent months researching the publishing industry, gathering data, learning about agents, the nature of the business, how to set myself up for success in this industry.
In the middle of December, I started sending out queries to agents. If you choose this route, you’ll need to do a LOT of research and save it somewhere. Take lots of notes and learn from your failures. You won’t improve if you keep doing the same thing, over and over again, hoping for a different result. That would be insanity.
Lessons I Have Learned
- Have goals – Where do you want to be in a week, a month, six months, a year?
- Have a plan – Whether you are a planner or a pantser or a combination of both, you still have to have a plan.
- Execute the plan – The plan will do you no good unless you execute it.
- Write Always – You have to keep writing, regardless of where you are in the process.
- Research – Learn everything you can about writing, about the publishing industry (whether you self-publish or traditional publish), about social media, about other authors, about agents, and most importantly, about yourself. You must know yourself and what you want.
- Interact – get online and keep your brand moving along. Grow it, strengthen it, and improve it. Remember – your words will dictate how other people see you. Choose them wisely.
- Don’t give up. You can win if you quit.
Will I be successful? Yes, I will eventually. It may not happen overnight. It rarely does, but I have realistic expectations of what is required of me to make it through this process.
It’s not for everyone, but it is for me. I will be a published author, but regardless of where it goes, I know I am one thing.
I am a Writer!