I use the word “excuses” deliberately. A reason is a legitimate justification. An excuse, as defined by my dictionary, is “an explanation, not necessarily true, given in order to make something appear more acceptable”. And here are just a few of them.
My Writing Isn’t Good Enough
And it never will be if you don’t practise. I’ve been writing for twenty years and a lot of what I’ve written is, to be perfectly frank, absolute crap. That’s why it will never be published (except perhaps as an exercise in humility to demonstrate to beginner writers that we all have to start somewhere and it’s usually not of polished place of writing – see my 7 March blog post entitled “The Embarrassment of Early Writing”). I have at least five practise novels gathering dust in a drawer. I can’t bring myself to throw them away because just finishing each of them was an achievement. But they are trite, uninspiring affairs lacking in complex characters and plot and will never be published because they were merely the training ground on which I learned. They got me here and they show a clear path being travelled, but the path was rocky and not one I wish to travel again, certainly not in the company of others.
Enough of the waffle. Just write. And eventually your writing will be good enough. One day it might even be great. But giving up before you get there is just one more excuse.
I Don’t Have Enough Time
We all lead busy lives – partners, parents, children, grandchildren, friends, hobbies, work, social events – and there will always be plenty of opportunities for your valuable potential writing time to be eaten up by other things. Choosing to write is just that, a choice. When you make the choice, it will inevitably mean sacrificing other things in your life. For some, this will be social events (which contributes to the image of the lonely, isolated writer). For others, this will be sleep (which contributes to the image of the perpetually grumpy writer). For me, it means exercise (which means I’m lazy and will never achieve the Elle McPherson body I dream of). And for a determined few, we sacrifice the security of having a paying job (which ironically contributes to being lonely, isolated, grumpy and financially insecure). But I do it (periodically anyway) because the only (unacceptable) alternative is not to write.
(Check out the blog of Kelly Teitzel called The Art of Endings: How I Stopped Procrastinating and Learnt to Write from Start to Finish. Kelly has quit her job to write full time and you can follow her journey here.)
I Don’t Know How to Get Published
Publishing is not the closed industry it once was. There are plenty of options to get your work out there from blogging (hello!), self-publishing (hello again!), literary agents to champion your work (no such luck for me) and direct approaches to publishers through their unsolicited manuscript submission procedures.
This last option is reasonably widespread nowadays. Off the top of my head I can think of Manuscript Monday through Pan Macmillan and their digital publishing arm Momentum, the Wednesday Post through HarperCollins, the Friday Pitch through Allen & Unwin, the Monthly Catch through Penguin Australia, and Random House Australia and Text Publishing who currently accept unsolicited manuscript submissions in hard copy any time. And these are just a few of the big Australian publishers. There are plenty more small publishing houses locally and a myriad of small to large publishers internationally.
It’s not hard to research the numerous options available. Perhaps the ones that end up being available to you aren’t what you were hoping for (big advance, huge print run, professional marketing team, copious bottles of champagne). But if all you are really looking for is to be published, there are plenty of ways to make it happen that don’t involve instantaneous wealth and fame.
Dodgy Publishers Everywhere, Not a Drop of Ink
A writing friend raised this with me recently after being asked for $350 by a so-called, possibly self-proclaimed, publisher to “gauge the market” for her work. I called bullshit immediately. The entire job of a publisher is to gauge the market and they shouldn’t be asking for money from writers to finance it. In fact, it should be the other way around. A publisher should already know the market and be in the business of leading it, not following, and if they decide your writing is what they need, they should be giving you money.
I Don’t Know How to Market Myself of My Work
I’m very much in this category. But when I think about it honestly, it’s not that I don’t know how, it’s that marketing myself is a huge amount of work in its own right – taking away from that valuable potential writing time I was talking about – but perhaps more importantly, it’s also way outside my comfort zone.
I like being unknown. I like not being the centre of attention. But, unfortunately, that is now incongruent with what I am trying to achieve so I had to get over it.
The first step was an online profile. I used to Google my name to make sure it didn’t come up. I resisted an online profile for a long time and I still refuse to have a Facebook page. But in 2012, when I published my debut novel, Enemies Closer, I had to accept that it is a necessary evil and seek out the middle ground. So I set up a Twitter account, a Goodreads account and a LinkedIn profile and started to slowly make connections. I did some paid online advertising. I begged everybody I know to buy, read and post a review of the book (thanks, Mum).
It’s taken a further three years but here I am in 2015 having now also set up a blog. I pumped my little sister for information on the best way to go about it since she already has her own blog (Sewn by Elizabeth – check it out) and followed her Gen Y advice.
It’s not a ticket to overnight success but it’s a small step in a very large and long process.
I Don’t Know How and/or Don’t Like to Network
Consider me firmly rooted in this category, too. This blog is an attempt to make some headway. But worse than not liking to network with people I don’t know is that I don’t want to ask for favours from the people I do know. A woman I studied my Advanced Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing alongside won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize for an unpublished novel. A man I studied my Master’s degree in Writing alongside has published 23 novels since graduating. A woman I was close to in high school is the Sales & Marketing Manager of a mid-sized but well-respected publisher. I’ve never even discreetly approached any of them, let alone outright asked for help. Because I don’t want to impose on friendships.
There’s also a stupid voice in the back of my head that won’t stop reminding me that if I make it on my own, I won’t owe anyone anything and my success will be justified. So here I remain. But I’m the cautionary tale. In publishing, it is absolutely who you know (it’s the only way to explain why so many brain dead celebrities get book deals to publish novels you’re never even sure they actually wrote themselves). Ask and you may receive; never ask and you will never know.