Until around three years ago, I was the kind of aspiring author who wrote surreptitiously. I didn’t tell anyone I wrote (thank you imposter syndrome). I wasn’t interested in the other activities writers do. And I certainly didn’t share my writing. For whatever strange reason, I honestly thought I could write in my little bubble and send my stories off into the world just like that.
Now, I’m the kind of aspiring author who is at least somewhat clued into the lay of the land. I’m trying to balance understanding craft and understanding the business/professional sides of writing. I know what critique partners and beta readers are, and why they’re valuable. And I’m perfectly happy to out myself as an aspiring author.
Reality checks aren’t always fun. Some of the things I’ve learned so far about writing as a career and the state of the traditional publishing industry have been disheartening. But it’s better to know the challenges of my chosen path, right?
Besides, lots of what I’ve learned is inspiring and motivating. And RWA has played a big part in the epiphany to date. So here are the top three things RWA has helped me discover on my ongoing journey to understand traditional publishing and what it means to be an author.
The Value of a Set Scope
First, a point mostly to do with writing craft. I’ve never really viewed tropes, formula or genre expectations as inherently negative. But there are so many resources floating around about how ‘formula’ is the antithesis to innovation that I reached a point where I struggled to find a counter to this rhetoric. My solution to that was to ask, so what if it is? Why should I have a problem with that?
To an extent, I still hold that position. But listening to authors at RWA events talking about tropes and how to use them has taught me that having a set scope or set of expectations in crafting a story is not necessarily restrictive in the way I’d accepted it to be. From the perspective of some authors I listened to, having a frame to work within opens up possibilities for creativity and offers the opportunity to play and innovate with what’s there.
I like this way of thinking. And learning about category romance from authors has provided a really fascinating example of how having a set scope can work for authors and the industry. I’ll admit that I didn’t have much of an idea about category romance before joining RWA, but I’m now intrigued by how it works and love to ponder this part of the industry with my PhD candidate hat on.
Community is Important
Okay, I doubt anyone finds it surprising to see me announcing that community or a ‘tribe’ is important. But I’m an introvert, and again, I was an introvert who wrote in isolation and had full intentions of proceeding in that fashion. Notions of the solitary author had a strong grip on me.
Even after I shook that grip and started to realise groups of authors existed out there, I thought I had no place among those groups and at their events because I am a mere aspiring author. I felt I had no legitimacy and nothing to show for myself, so it would be presumptuous to go around calling myself an aspiring author and acting as though I fitted in (thank you imposter syndrome).
But it’s kind of hard to avoid talking about yourself as an aspiring author in a room full of people whose go-to question is ‘what do you write?’. So when I started attending writing events, I got over my reluctance through repetition—the more I spoke about myself as a writer, the more comfortable I felt speaking about it. The fact that everyone was welcoming definitely helped, and continues to help. There’s something motivating about feeling like you’re a part of a community.
It’s not just the idea of calling myself an aspiring author that I’ve become comfortable with, either. I started off talking about what I’m writing in a stilted mumble, managing little more than an embarrassed sentence. But I’ve now realised (and this came as a shock to me) that I actually like talking about writing and discussing ideas or WIPs with other writers.
We’re All Human
As someone who’s spent a bit of time looking at publishing statistics and realities, I’ve had the odd moment of thinking that it’s all hopeless and everyone traditionally published must be superhuman. Meeting authors and listening to their stories is a great antidote to that slightly melodramatic thought process.
That isn’t to say that the authors I’ve met aren’t completely amazing (because they definitely are). I guess my point is that most authors seem to have got where they are through perseverance, determination and hard work (and sometimes, good old luck). These are things that a lot of us can find if we dig deep enough and want something enough. We don’t have to be superhuman.
For that reason, listening to authors’ stories of their writing journeys always gives me a boost of motivation. Giving up is easy. Defeating myself is easy. Following in the footsteps of authors who’ve come before me is hard, but not impossible.
There you have it! The last few years have been a steep learning curve, but very worth it. And there’s still so much to learn—I’m looking forward to my next discoveries.
Caylee writes young adult fantasy fiction with romantic elements. Her short story ‘Anywhere’ features in RWA’s Sweet Treats: Cupcake anthology. She is also a PhD candidate in English at the University of Tasmania. Her research sits at the intersection of popular fiction studies, publishing studies and children’s literature, and focuses on children’s fantasy fiction. She has academic work published in the Australian Humanities Review. Connect with her on:
Twitter : @CayleeTierney