3 Awful Truths About Being a Beginning Writer by Darlene Reilley
This week is hard.
I mean hard.
I’m in week ten of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a book that helps creatives jump-start their souls and reconnect with who they are as artists. I highly recommend it—I’ve been through this thing three times and each time I go deeper into what it means to be a creative being. Then again, some moments are just plain scary. Like right now, this moment.
This is the week where we bare our souls to our journals…and do exercises like telling “the awful truth.” Each time I start this book as a creative journey, I forget this part…I think it is selective memory or a block of some kind. If you’ve read it…you know what I mean.
This is the week where we share the real, dirty, no-holes-barred, honest true truth…about our habits and why we let ourselves get away with things.
Prepared for an unscripted moment.
So that’s what I’m doing in this post. I’m telling “the awful truth” about my top 3 mistakes I made as a budding writer…in the hopes that you will see the landmines and avoid them in your own writer journey.
Ready? I’m sure this will be fun for you and torture for me…let’s go.
Awful Truth 3: The Freelance Client from Hell
Why, oh, why didn’t I see the signs?
I knew the twisting feeling in my gut should have been a warning, but it was early in my freelancing career and I didn’t know better.
So the details: I took a client on…and I was excited because I thought the work could lead to other work later. I started out with the general questions about his site and what his goals were. Everything was going smoothly…until the moment came when I delivered the content he agreed to and then head me revise it three times without remuneration. That in itself should have been a hint, but I was happy to have work and it was an okay fee for the time, but then he did it again.
And he baited me…asked me if I could work on two other projects…and I delivered as he agreed to the same pay schedule as the first.
And he never paid for the two additions. Despite several requests for payment, once he got his content he pretended as if I didn’t exist. This is the reason I have a strict payment policy now.
Takeaway: always research your fees, set up a payment policy, and always have a contract in writing. You are a working writer. You are not doing this for kicks – this is how you make your living. When people steal content from you, it’s theft. And that’s not okay. Would Nordstrom’s let someone run out the front door without paying? Of course not. Keep a record of some sort of your projects…and feel free to email the delinquent ones…I do.
Awful Truth 2: The ER Visit & TMI
The night/day when I signed up for too much work, homework, and mainlined three energy drinks while sitting in the ER and ended up reading it out loud to edit it and so the sleeping person on the bed would go to sleep…while nurses and interns listened in on the other side of the curtain…I hoped they liked what they heard…
Awful Truth 1: The First Novel
Okay, here’s my biggest skeleton.
Although it’s not really a skeleton.
And it has my favorite character ever – and I mean she can take out Thor or Iron Man and still get home in time for dinner.
The awful truth is, I published Zombie Slayer too soon. The problem was a combination of hope, edits, and naivety. Ready? I’m shaking because to admit this means to admit I made a mistake…although I learned a lot from that mistake.
Zombie Slayer by Darlene Reilley. This novel is the story of Julia Maraton, who woke up to a living nightmare. The streets of Seattle are crawling with the walking dead. In order to survive, she must band together with a rag-tag group of survivors to formulate a plan: head North to Alaska and Julia’s family home. Escaping Seattle is only the beginning; now they must deal with desperate survivors and zombies running amok. Zombies are on boats, in the water, and on land. They must also deal with a murderer in their midst. The survivors join forces with a boat of surviving Navy Seals and the few survivors they find along the way to the fortified shelter of Julia’s childhood home. Julia risks the fate of humanity as well as her heart to ensure there is a future for the human race, and ultimately makes a decision which effects everyone. Julia Maraton is the Zombie Slayer.
Here’s the thing: it wasn’t my first novel…the first one is still locked in a computer file and probably will never see the light of day. It was the first one I felt confident enough in that I thought someone else would like to read it.
It was the first one I felt confident enough in that I thought someone else would like to read it.
So I edited it to the ability I could at the time. I had a writer friend edit it too…at the time I don’t think either of us knew what “beta readers” were. As a fledgling writer, I put my heart and soul into that novel. It was a novel – it had a beginning, middle, and end. There were character arcs. People grew. It was about zombies so lots of people died…and I loved every minute of writing it.
Julia Maraton, the Zombie Slayer, is and will always be my favorite character. She actually lives in my writer cave and helps me wrangle waylaid characters (and the villains who don’t quite want to cooperate).
I’m not biased about the work. It was good. The best I could do at the time. And at that time, I couldn’t do better. But in 2014, I had a moment where I went back and revisited the story – I read it again with fresh eyes. And I saw plot holes. I saw big loose dead ends. I saw grammar errors and other things…and I cringed. Here was this beautiful thing that I thought was gorgeous, but to everyone else probably looked like a wailing kid throwing a tantrum.
What was my payoff for holding onto that? I worked myself up to be something huge in my mind – I wanted to be this fantastic writer who wrote every day and published five times a year. I didn’t know my craft…and I was okay with working for it – I worked my way with As straight through my college writing classes. But the payoff holding onto it left me that day. I couldn’t see justifying keeping it on the market when there were so many other babies out there who were gorgeous.
So I stopped promoting it…and eventually took it off the available lists.
And that’s hard to admit. It’s really hard when the thing you love the most – the thing you’ve worked hours and weeks and months on…that it’s not a shining star, but rather a lump of coal. But there were things I learned from that black lump that I couldn’t have any other way.
I learned to love my first drafts.
I learned to love the flow of words on the page.
I learned to trust my instincts.
I learned that it’s okay to kill zombies and almost destroy the world as often as you want…as long as it was in print.
But I did get a payoff of writing and publishing that novel. Looking back knowing what I know now, I cringe, but I made art. I tried. I had to put the words on the page. It helped me level up my craft. I learned character creation and scene dynamics. It helped me get to the next step.
Takeaway: Love your writing. Treat it like the gorgeous baby it is. But don’t publish sooner than it’s ready. If you’re serious about being a professional writer, the awful truth is our drafts aren’t ready for publishing. The first things you write may not be ready for the light of day. But with work, and I mean hard work, both learning your craft and implementing it, you can do this. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take effort. But it’s worth it – what we want to do is publish the good stuff – the things that make others sit up and look and reflect on. We write to connect with readers…quietly…from our desks.
I wrote Zombie Slayer. I loved the story. And the awful truth is I still do…quirks and all. I’m proud of what it was – I may one day revisit it and edit it. But for now, it sits on a shelf…because I’m not the writer I used to be. And I’m okay with that.
Julia Maraton kicks butt…and I’m okay with that too. Sometimes we writers need a Zombie Slayer.
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I am Darlene Reilley. I’m a writer and teacher. My hands-on experience can help writers find inspiration and purpose. My love of adventure and well-traveled boots help readers find new best friends! I’m a humble writer who dreams of living on the bookshelf between Reichs and Riley. Come join me in my writing adventure at DarWrites.