Calling Oneself a Writer
So you've written a novel; now what? In this series, debut author-to-be Crystal King describes the traditional publication process from start to finish: the lead-up, what to expect along the way, and how building her social media platform has made a difference. In this installment of "On the Path to Publication" Crystal shares how she came to believe that she was truly a "writer."
As a child I wrote profusely. I wrote poems and short stories that my parents would dutifully stick to the refrigerator. As I got older, I went to writing conferences for kids and teens (I met Madeleine L'Engel, one of my childhood heroes this way!). I entered and won essay contest after essay contest. I was editor my high school paper for my junior and senior year. I was in AP English courses all the way and it only made sense that I would get an English degree. I wrote for a little while after college and made some money on racy stories that the Internet was first starting to hunger for at the time.
But by the age of twenty-six or so, I had mostly stopped writing. I felt like a hack, a wanna-be writer. I had not gone on to write novels. I wasn’t someone who would ever write the types of books that I loved to read. Who was I to consider myself a writer? In short, I was good at beating myself up.
After a dry spell of the better part of a decade, I knew that I couldn’t let the written word escape me. I went back to college for my M.A. in Critical & Creative Thinking (CCT) and ended up developing a nonfiction book proposal on exercises for writers in progress. I created it because I thought it was the type of book that would help me jump-start my writing. After I had my diploma, I realized that I would have to figure out how to make the book a reality.
Two things happened. For one of my CCT courses, I decided to create an online literary magazine with a good friend of mine. For two years, we published The Plum Ruby Review quarterly. It taught me oodles about the world of publishing and slush piles and submissions.
I also found GrubStreet. My first foray into the world of Grub was at the Muse & the Marketplace. I was in heaven. Suddenly I was in a room of other writers. I had been writing in a vacuum for so long and there, all around me, were people just like me, people who loved to write. I began teaching creativity classes at Grub (and later social media). I took classes. I met my writing group, The Salt + Radish Writers. I met people who inspired me, who had best-selling novels under their belt. And in the midst of this, I began to write my own novel.
It took nearly ten years, but that wasn’t so much in the writing. I figure the writing took me in total maybe 3-4 years. The rest was in finding an agent, making edits for various agents who were interested and then, finally, the year and a half between the time I signed the contract and when my book will be published. Now I am looking toward the launch of FEAST OF SORROW on April 25, 2017!
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I really AM a writer! But not because I have done all those things. It’s because that writing is the core of me. It defines me and gives me both pain and joy. It is something I often hate doing, but I can’t for one second imagine not doing it.
This journey has led me to a few conclusions, so far:
The nagging in the back of your mind when you aren’t writing, the kind that never goes away...that’s a big hint. Get off the derriere and into the chair. Because you are a writer and you need to exercise that muscle.
Writing is hard. It may take a long time. There are rejections along the way. You will write poorly and need to edit. You will write brilliantly and will need to edit those gorgeous passages out. You will feel your characters doing their own thing and it will give you a thrill that is impossible to explain, even for you, a writer.
Finding an agent might be hard too. Someone wise once told me that I should query at least 100 agents! So stick with it. I got lucky after about 25 or so, whew.
Networking will take you everywhere. It will give you connections that help you further your career in writing, that will help you find partners to champion you, other writers to inspire you and hopefully, an agent and an editor, and to follow, readers.
In reference to the above, you can never start too early when it comes to building your audience. Start a website, start your social channels, blog a little, talk to people. The wider your audience is when your book is eventually published, the better off you will be.
Have another job that is really a “minimal loveable thing.” That you can love just enough to stick with it and not have it be soul-sucking, so that it pays you to live and to fuel the real love--your writing. Because unless you are lucky, you may not ever make money off the writing.
But, I honestly believe that, if you keep working toward the thing you love and if you really want it (and are willing to do all the things (see #4)) to make it happen, it will come to you.
Crystal King is a 20-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.comSee other articles by Crystal King