The formula is simple:
1. Read a lot of books.
2. Write one.
3. Get agent.
4. Sell book.
Step 1 I began around age five, and kept it up pretty much nonstop. Step 2 I got through primarily because my writing partner, Mac, and my friend Linda were waiting for me to churn out chapters, and because I didn’t stop long enough to realize that I had no idea what I was doing or to talk myself out of it. Steps 3 and 4 were unexpectedly fast for someone who had girded herself for rejection – admittedly, so the opposite was a bit confusing. I’m still not quite sure I’ve adjusted.
Okay, I guess between Steps 2 and 3 I left out “Learn to rewrite” and “Revise like mad” and “Work until your fingers are so sore you have to wear Band-aids to type.” I also left out “Stick novel in a drawer for years because you know the middle is dreadful and don’t know how to fix it.” And “Go to writing conference and then not write for a year because some writers were so dismissive of you – and then stupidly and doggedly return the next year with the exact same material you had the year before, but this time your novel gets a lot of attention, so you decide you’d better rework it.”
And, oh, yeah: “Break your foot and go to Australia for five weeks in a house-swap, where you meet with another writer who seems to take your writing seriously, and you have plenty of time to figure out the rewrite you need to do.”
For other people, the steps may vary. But here’s the thing about writing: it’s a great equalizer. Anyone can do it. You can do it. Your neighbor can do it. Your grandmother can do it. If you have paper and pencil, you can do it. You don’t need classes or an advanced degree or even a how-to book (although there are plenty of those around). A computer is required at some point, but the cheapest and oldest of models, the kind you find in the giveaway pile at the local library, will do the job.
And then, when you’re ready, no matter how shy or insecure you are, no matter how quirky you think your novel is or how it seems to break unwritten rules (Don’t mix genres! people insist, never mind that Janet Evanovich made a mint by doing that very thing) – you can launch your novel into the world with the press of an button marked Send. And with that same keystroke, you can launch yourself into an entire new career, where the thing you love and the thing that drives you becomes something you can share with the world – and becomes what you do, instead of what you dreamed of doing.
Okay, revised list:
- Read a lot of books.
- Write one.
- Rewrite and revise. Many times.
- Get agent.
- Sell book.
And enjoy the journey, and the wonderful people you’ll meet along the way. That’s the part I’m loving the most.