“I’ll put my heart and soul into my novel, work hard to get an agent, and everything else will fall into place. It won’t be easy, but everyone I know will be rooting for me.”
That’s what many aspiring writers think.
I was one of them.
It wasn’t long before reality hit me head-on.
When I started out on my literary journey nearly five years ago, I naively assumed mostly everyone I knew would back me up. Sure, there were those who said they believed in me, but their actions proved otherwise. People grew distant and soon the only sounds of encouragement I heard were from a few loyal supporters and the echoes of my inner ambition. Even so, I consider myself one of the lucky ones since there are so many artists who receive no support at all.
A long, tumultuous road usually occupies the distance between an individual and their success. The arts in particular have always been considered frivolous compared to other industries, yet with so many people clamoring for the limelight, it’s also among the most competitive arenas. It’s also one of the few fields where it’s legal for a writer to spend years slaving over a product only to receive less than a dollar for each year worked (if even that much). But, I digress…
Over the years I have been humbled and have learned many hard lessons.
Here are some things I wish I knew going in:
1. Be prepared to do absolutely EVERYTHING yourself (especially if you self-publish).
Everything? you might ask. Well, virtually. I know I’m pulling back the curtain by admitting this, but contrary to outward appearances I don’t have people handling these things—neither do some of my fellow authors. In addition to writing and conducting research for my work, I also do the following:
§ Web design for my author and book websites (the latter is still in progress)
§ Print book layout and digital conversion
§ Cover design
§ Designing promotional materials (press kit, bookmarks, business cards, posters, etc.)
When do I find time to sleep? Rarely.
2. Don’t expect people to care about your dream as much as you do, if at all.
4. You may be faced with a decision to choose between friendship/family and your career ambitions. Choose wisely. Always keep in mind what you’re willing to sacrifice or compromise. Try to find middle ground whenever you can.
5. Genuine help is rare. Appreciate it whenever you receive it and always express your gratitude.
6. Everyone has bad days. A little complaining is okay when it’s due, but only in moderation—and never let it impede your progress.
8. If you cannot afford to purchase certain necessary services to support your endeavors, expend time to research and learn the skills to do them yourself if possible.
9. Find author/writer groups on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. Pay it forward whenever possible. Don’t just ask for help, give it as well.
10. Chances are, you’ll have to work at your dream for years without making a cent of profit. If anything, you’ll have to shell out money to get started (especially if you plan to publish independently). Still, this fact has nothing to do with the level of your talent. It’s just business, and business is rarely fair. Talent doesn’t guarantee success, no matter how great it may be. Fact is, there’s a degree of luck and social intellect that comes into play. That said, if you’re planning on writing full-time, make sure you have a stable way of maintaining your basic needs; you know, food, clothing and shelter.
11. Closed mouths don’t get fed. It’s okay to ask for help when you really need it. Sometimes, people will assume you don’t need assistance because you don’t appear to be struggling. Still, always do what you can for yourself first, or at least try. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself and there’s a certain type of pride that comes with the ability to say: “I did it, myself.”
12. No matter what, keep writing, keep learning and keep growing!
It’s very demanding, transforming one’s ambitions into reality. Yet, if your desire is to leave a mark of your most genuine self on the world, it’s worth the attempt. At least it is for me. In the years prior to embarking on my literary journey I worked for organizations and causes that didn’t align with my spirit or contribute to my happiness. If anything, some of those businesses contributed to my misery. Now, even though I’m still fighting the good fight, I understand the driving force behind my struggle. I’m finally dedicated to something I believe in, something that makes me truly happy.
To my fellow authors and artists enduring the uphill battle, know that though the road seems lonely at times, there are people out there who understand exactly how tough it is since they’re going through similar trials. When you feel too weary to continue, reflect on how far you’ve already come. Just by taking that first step toward your goal, you’ve traversed onto a path only the strongest dare to travel. The road will not always be smooth, but the journey will become more manageable once you break it down into simple steps. After all, marathons are won with one step at a time.
Shykia Bell’s latest novel, CAMILEON: Beyond The Veil is available through Amazon.