When I first started writing as a teenager, I never thought anyone would ever read any of my stories. The first ones were fanfic because I didn’t know how to world-build. I didn’t even have that phrase in my vocabulary. All I knew was that I loved Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. I wanted to ride a dragon queen and be a Weyrwoman, and I could do that by writing my own stories in McCaffrey’s world.
As I got older, I experimented with writing stories inspired by other books, but not in their world. Enter Anne Rice. My vampire novel phase began.
Along the way I would talk about these stories of mine but was always shocked when a friend wanted to read them. At one point I was posting a series of vampire novels onto my LiveJournal and had several people who waited for Tuesdays – the days I posted. It amazed me. People wanted to read my stuff? They liked it, too?
My characters talked to me in my head. I planned scenes before I fell asleep, and I wrote them down first thing when I woke. Writing was an incredible joy, and I never worried about improving my craft or even that I had a craft. I was simply writing because I had to. Because nothing else in the world gave me such exquisite happiness.
Becoming an author
I would probably still be writing my fantastical vampire novels if I hadn’t made a friend who was an editor for a small press. “Submit something,” she urged after reading an excerpt from one of these LJ vampire novels. “But it has to be an entire story in 100,000 words or less.”
An average vampire novel of mine easily reached 300,000 to 500,000 words. It seemed impossible to tell a story in 100,000 or less. I was just warming up after that many words.
Still, I decided to try because nobody had ever told me my writing was good enough to publish before. I wanted to see what would happen.
I started fresh with wolf shifters. I managed to tell an entire story in 100,000 words. I submitted this novel and I got published. I was elated. I could do it. I wanted to keep doing it because now my wolf shifters had hooked me. They talked to me at night. I planned their next scene before falling asleep. Before I knew it, I had three published books in the same series. I was writing from the heart, and I had an editor who looked out for me.
I wanted to see if I could get published without having an “in” with a publisher. I went back to my vampires and came up with a novel that wasn’t the same story, but it was one hundred thousand words.
I submitted it. Rejection. Another publisher. Rejection. And another. I tried not to be crushed. I still had my wolf shifters.
Then I received an R&R letter – rewrite and resubmit – from a small press that published mostly erotica. I rewrote it, focusing on the erotic elements. They accepted the novel and another one after it.
Between my two editors, I was learning I had lots of bad writing habits. An embarrassing amount. I never worried about stuff like that when I’d been writing my LJ vampire novels, but now I was consumed with the idea of becoming a better writer. I was consumed with publishing my novels.
Writing for everyone but me
I learned the rules. I could see my writing getting better, but for the first time the joy was diminishing. I began second-guessing myself. Still, I struggled onward.
One day the editor who edited my wolf shifter series left the publisher. I was passed on to another editor. Together we published two more novels in the series. Then the small press was sold to a bigger publisher who didn’t want books in a series featuring the same couple. The world could stay the same, but I had to shift to a new couple every book, and the emphasis would be on romance not the mysteries my original couple had solved. I couldn’t find the heart to do this, and my sixth book in the series was rejected.
I could have written a third vampire novel, and planned on it, but I didn’t want to write erotica. I’d tried it, and I think I did a decent job, but it wasn’t where my heart was.
Around this point, I got swept up into a lot of writers’ groups on Facebook and made some friends. I learned about box sets aiming at lists like USA Today and NYT. I was accepted into one box set featuring paranormal romances, and I had this gargoyle shifter novel lying around that no publisher wanted, so the box set became its home.
I learned how to promote and market box sets. So much work goes into it. Posting promo on forty Facebook groups a day. Finding free promo opportunities. Paying for some. Every writer in the set had responsibilities that were split between us.
I was so very lucky that the first box set I ever entered into made it to the USA Today’s bestsellers list. It was a wild ride.
I joined another box set. This time I volunteered to organize all the paid promo and took care of collecting money from the other box set authors. I worked my butt off. I was lucky again, and the box set hit.
After box sets, I decided to write in “worlds”. Instead of a box set, authors wrote in the same “world” and published their own novels. We teamed up on promoting each other and had landing pages on Amazon where readers could find all the novels in one spot.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that writing was barely any joy anymore.
Paranormal romance wasn’t what I wanted to write, but I wanted to write paranormal novels. I didn’t think there was a genre for what I wanted to write.
My author groups on Facebook were full of advice on how to write to market and what tropes were selling. All focused on the readers’ wants, not the authors’. In fact, to even try to say you wrote for yourself first was to be condemned as a “hobby writer” and not a “real” author.
Everything was geared toward selling, selling, selling. Sure, authors talked about loving their characters, and maybe they did, but I didn’t love mine. They didn’t talk to me in my head. I didn’t plan their next scenes when I was falling asleep.
So I stopped writing. For two years. Every time I thought about writing something, I had zero inspiration because I thought I needed to write paranormal romance or at least to market. I had to write for the readers, not me.
Rediscovering my voice
Last year my editor friend asked if I’d be interested in starting up a small critique group. We’d post chapters of our works in progress to a shared drive and read them. We’d do it for the joy of writing. Nobody cared what genre we were writing or if the books were “publishable” or 100,000 words or less.
And I wrote a novel. I went back to my wolf shifters. I rewrote book one in the series and used all the rules I’d learned over the past few years to my advantage. I broke some. I adhered to others.
We added another author to our group. We were all writing and sharing, and something wonderful happened. I found my joy again. Writing became a joy not a chore.
At this point, I learned of another “world” one of my author groups was starting. At first, I balked because I didn’t want to try to write to a “world” or to a genre, but it was vampires and it sounded intriguing. Also, I had my joy again. I wondered if I could do it.
I joined the world. I got a publication date. I decided to write this novel and share it with my critique group. I finished it in about a month and a half. I wrote a heart novel that was a paranormal romance. Two things I didn’t think I could do in combination. It releases in September.
About two months ago, I was going through all my writing folders to see what lurked in there. Novels started then abandoned. Short stories. Vague ideas. Things I had forgotten I’d ever written.
In a folder entitled “Here Be Dragons”, I found the first chapter of a novel I’d written ten years ago after waking up from an extremely vivid dream about dragon shifters. These dragon shifters were in a cage waiting to be released into an arena to fight to the death using their fangs, flames, and magic. I’d never gone farther than the first chapter because I didn’t know where to go after that one scene since it ended where my dream had.
I became obsessed with this little chapter. I decided to try to write another chapter. Then another. And I realized pretty soon it would need to be a trilogy, and it was epic fantasy – a genre I have never attempted before.
The characters talked to me in my head. I fell asleep planning their next scenes in my head.
The first novel clocked in at 155,000 words. I hadn’t let myself write past 100,000 in close to a decade. The second novel is cruising near 100,000 and I still have at least 40,000 to go.
I look forward to self-publishing these dragon novels. Or I might try to find an agent or a publisher. I feel a renewed energy and purpose again.
My writing journey is far from over. I always want to try new things and improve my craft. I’m grateful for the luck I’ve had with publishers and box sets, but by far the best thing that has happened to me in this journey is finding fellow authors who are also on their journeys.
My advice is to keep writing even if it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Find critique partners and have fun reading each other’s stories. Experiment. Follow the joy. Yes, most of us want to be published and have people read our stories and be moved by them, but put your joy first. Don’t let it be stolen away.
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