Wannabe Writer-itis

I’m an author.  I create stories that are inspired, gifted, and brilliant, with characters who overcome challenges that no normal human could face, yet they do it with such grace and dignity that they will change the lives of all those who dare to read and process the amazing-ness that is my novel.

But you can’t read my novel because I haven’t written it yet, actually.

-or-

I haven’t queried to an agent or editor.

-or-

I have never read anything on the process of crafting a well-written story, because I don’t need to.  I’m good like that.

-or-

I don’t care for critical comments about my writing.  My stories are perfect the way they are.

-or-

It doesn’t matter what my query letter says, my novel is what’s important.

-or-

I’ll just self-publish so that I can avoid anyone who might want me to make changes to my work.


I am a wannabe writer.

I suffered from wannabe writer-itis myself.  Even though I had actually written more than one complete novel, even though I had taken the leap to establish representation, even though I had let several people read my novels and give me feedback, I was severely lacking in one area.

I had never read anything on the writing process.

I thought my stories were great.  I thought they were inspired.  Especially the first novel I ever wrote– a historical romance set in 1820s England.  Oh, how I love those characters I created!

But then I started getting feedback on it from people in the writing biz.  And I’m thinking, “no…no…how can they not like it?  It’s fabulous!”

My critique partner (God brought her to me specifically to help me grow in my writing and to be like, the soul-sister I never knew I had) gave me some feedback.  And it was horrible, rip my heart out, this-story-needs-tons-of-work kind of feedback.  But it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

And so, out of humility, because I know I need to constantly be growing and learning if I’m going to succeed as a writer, I picked up several books at the library on the writing process and ordered a few more from Amazon.

Keep in mind that I am a history major with a master’s in education, and the only writing course I took in college was my freshman year.  My professor had his own theories on writing and had written his own textbook, which of course, he required each one of us to purchase.  The only thing I remember from his course is that he would walk around the room and throw around the phrase, “damn zippy.”  Yeah, I didn’t glean a whole lot of info from him.

So with pen in hand, I started reading through the library books and taking notes.  (I felt like I was in college again, but I love being a nerd like that.)

At first I was excited.  “Yes! Yes!” I’m thinking as I was reading.  I realized that I am doing many things correctly as a writer!  Then I got to the “Things You Should Never Do” in a romance, and my stomach dropped as I read the list.  In my beloved first manuscript, I had made Every.Single.One. of the mistakes an author should never make.  From the characters to the plot, I realized that my first manuscript, the one that inspired me to become a writer in the first place, was complete drivel.

For two seconds I considered throwing in the towel.  I almost succombed to the worst of the wannabe writer-itis symptoms– discouragement.

And then I paused and asked myself a question.  Do I want to be a writer?

And the answer is YES. 

If you are suffering from wannabe writer-itis, here are a few tips for curing your condition:

1.  Own it.  As my wise and encouraging friend Colleen once said, “you aren’t trying to be a writer, you are a writer.”  Now be one.

2. Read books on the writing process.  Yes, God can inspire our words and ideas, but we need to learn how to convey those words and ideas correctly into a sell-able novel that will reach others.  Learning the craft will help you take the inspired words and ideas and turn them into a book that makes sense and conveys the messages and themes you intend for it to convey. Our brilliant and inspired stories don’t do any good if no one will ever have a chance to read them.

3. Join a writer’s organization.  Whether it’s a local group or a national one, being involved in a writer’s organization will put you in contact with people who know the world of writing and publishing.  It will help you network and make connections that could eventually lead to publishing, if that’s your desire.

4. READ.  Read books by authors in the genre in which you would like to write.  The more you read, the more familiar you’ll be come with the genre.  Don’t attempt to write in a genre you’ve never read.

5. Attend a writer’s conference.  I will be attending my first one this year, ACFW.  (American Christian Fiction Writers).  The wealth of information that will be offered in the classes is overwhelming.

6. Write.  Complete a manuscript.  I put this one last on purpose, because it’s actually the last thing you should do.  Most people think that this is the first thing that a writer should do, but if you want to write something that’s not “drivel,” I suggest you work on the other steps first. 

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some serious rewrites on one of my manuscripts.  I hope that when I’m finished it will no longer resemble “drivel,” and instead will be a readable piece of work that will inspire others.

Share with me:  What do you think is the most difficult part of the writing biz?

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Wannabe Writer-itis

  1. Love this post, Jenny! So much wisdom here. So, so, so much! You ARE a writer. I knew that the minute you emailed me back after I sent you my thoughts about your novel (with my nervous heart beating like crazy because I finally met my Be Fri and I was nervous she would tell me to never talk to her again). You are like a sponge, Jenny, ready to to soak it all in and I for one, cannot WAIT to watch you grow, grow, grow. It's going to be a beautiful, inspiring thing. I will say though, that I think it's important to write the drivel first. Think of how much you loved writing that drivel at the time. It sparked and encouraged your passion for writing. It's a good thing to write that first novel, unaware of how crappy it might be. Blinded by the biased loved of a proud mama. If we pay too much attention to the rules and all that before we write that first novel, we might paralyze ourselves with fear. All this to say…it's okay if a person wants to move that last tip to the top. 😉

  2. Katie- you make an EXCELLENT point. If I hadn't started with the "mess" first and the experiment of writing, I might never have done it at all!Thanks ST END! 🙂

  3. I followed Katie's tweet about your blog post — and I'm glad I did! I'll be at ACFW this year and I look forward to meeting you. :O)I find social marketing challenging–and that is part of the writing biz, like it or not.Personally, I left my well-known world of non-fiction and came over to the Dark Side (fiction.) Leaving the familiar to write the oh-so-unfamiliar was a challenge–but a worthwhile one!

  4. Advance apologies … posts on rules always manage to get my mouth running, so forgive the lengthy comment.Great post, particularly the bit about networking with other authors and people in the industry. It doesn't even have to be in person … online networking can be just as useful (though meeting those people one on one is priceless). Writing in a genre that you don't normally read, while sort of a crap shoot, isn't impossible. I don't regularly read fantasy, for example, but I know enough about the genre to know what to avoid and the standard tropes. I will admit that I think I got lucky with my first published book because I could have just as easily written something unmarketable (though whether Son of Ereubus is *actually* marketable or not, is still up for conjecture). And I do read some urban fantasy now (enough to keep abreast of the trends and avoid them). So, it's not like I stay totally in the dark on the genre.And I think some of that depends on the genre too. Romance has some serious guidelines … a mandatory happy ending (a sad ending is categorized as tragedy), etc. Knowing what those restrictions are, and how to avoid falling into the "formula" that SO many romance novels fall into, is critical for any kind of originality. Fantasy, Science Fiction and Thriller writers, while they have issues of their own, don't have to worry about that quite as much. I'm sure that's what you read about "what not to do in a romance novel," so I'm sure your script isn't drivel … but perhaps just fit the mold a tad too much? Don't be too hard on yourself for that. A large percentage of those who want to write, never finish their first novel. The fact that you not only finished, continued writing and then found representation is HUGE. For fiction writing, just knowing the general rules of how to craft a decent sentence will take a "wannabe" a long way. And that usually, as you pointed out, doesn't come through divine inspiration, but through a carefully guided study of the English language. Avoid overuse of to-be verbs, watch dialog tags, watch adverbs (unless you're British, in which case you can get away with more) … that sort of thing. There are a handful of authors who have gotten away with chucking these rules out the window–Neil Gaiman, for example–but not many. And until you've written a minimum of about a million words in drafts, I wouldn't press it. After that, you've revised enough to warrant taking the risk and in most cases you've built up the readership to provide a solid testing ground. But, rules can be stifling as well and they can paralyze a new author in particular. Critique groups can be just as dangerous if you're not totally comfortable in your own voice. They should be used to verify your own misgivings, confirm areas where you already sense there are issues. But most authors take every "solution" as evidence of a problem. Just because a reader says there is a hole or issue, doesn't mean there is. After all, take any number of well-loved books off the shelf and go look for something to complain about. You'll find something in every single one of them. So, my unsolicited advice is to be cautious with how you internalize outside input (unless it's literally from your agent or editor). When you said, "own it" you were on to something. Part of that is learning to trust yourself and the talents God gave you.

  5. I think it might be standard that the first one's "drivel". That way the next finished manuscript, and the one after, THEY are the ones you can compare to that first one. 🙂 Give yourself a boost seeing how far you've come before you suffer the standard 47 REJECTIONS. I'm a big believer in God growing us through the journey, not in getting so caught up 'arriving' at the destination that we miss the point.Thanks!

  6. Congratulations on not quitting, Jennifer. We've all either been there or never gotten started. Your suggestions are right on target.

  7. Thanks, y'all! Thankfully I'm still writing and certainly hope that my other manuscripts are better (they appear to be…)! But I still keep going back to that first one…someday I'm going to perfect it! 🙂 (I'll keep a copy of the original, though, so that I can go back and enjoy the fruits of my first labors and see how I've improved!)JS- Thanks for your comments! Loved what you said about being cautious of outside input. You are so right- any form of art is too subjective to take every opinion to heart. I agree that unless the criticisms come from agent, editor or trusted CP, take them with a grain of salt and trust yourself. After all, no matter what, the story is yours!

  8. I'd say the most difficult part of the writing biz is sifting through the many opinions on the "right" way to go about things and find the right combination of them for one's self. I went to school for creative and professional writing and I think I probably gleaned more from the classes about what not to do, than what would actually be effective. I spent a summer or two after college trying to pull myself and my writing together– every "rule" I'd learned was making me second guess myself.But I kept writing and eventually found my way. Were the pieces I wrote great initially? No. But time is a great teacher. Now the trick is to continue to trust in my own objectives and still not filter out true, logical advice.

  9. Jenny, I loved this post! I also loved what Katie said about moving the last step to the first…at least then you have a starting point. I also wanted to tell you that I love how you are breaking the blog down into Mon., Wed., Fri. topics. Excellent. I really hope all of this writerly stuff works out for you, but I also want you to oome back to teaching soooo much!!! You have so much to offer.

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