There’s something magical about writing your first book – putting word after word down on paper and seeing it add up to something. Dreaming up characters and having them take shape in your mind. Falling in love with language and what it can do.
So, here’s my advice: don’t rob yourself of that magic.
There’ll be plenty of time later for learning about the frustrations and intricacies of the publishing industry; for realising that maybe your epic novel ought to be trimmed a little; for being told about limitations or that the market is saturated with your genre or that nobody will publish a book about x. For a start, the people who tell you this might be wrong. But that’s not even the most important reason. The most important reason is that the start of your writer’s journey is not the time for limitations; it’s the time for possibility. Writers are nothing if not dreamers.
So for now – write. Without those limitations, and without thoughts of logistics. Absorb good writing from great books. Let your imagination roam free. The other stuff can wait a while.
When you’ve put some words on paper, when it’s time to shape them more precisely, or if you feel like you need a hand getting started -- pull those books of prompts of your shelf and do some exercises. Read every book you can get your hands on about how to write – if you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend the Write Great Fiction series from Writer’s Digest: books that focus on character, plot, description, and dialogue (and revision, but that, too, is for later). But nothing about publishing! Nothing. Stick to the craft until you think you are done and ready to submit. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The writing of it. If you want riches and fame, or recognition, or approval from your parents – there are quicker, easier, and more surefire ways to get those. Nothing is guaranteed with publishing. If you don’t write because you love writing, or at least because you’re in love with the story you’re telling, chances are you’ll end up resentful and bitter.
Admittedly, I started writing in 2009, when the internet felt fully developed but actually wasn’t – Twitter was a novelty, podcasts about books were rare, and self-publishing was in its infancy. It was easier, maybe, then, to keep my head in the sand – or in a book. Whether that was my own book, a book on the craft, or novels that those craft books had recommended – when I wasn’t working, that was where my head stayed. And I’m so grateful! I wish I could recapture the magic of those early days when I was just starting out, writing a story I loved, awed at the process of putting it onto paper. It’s been a long and difficult journey since, and I wonder if what has sustained me is precisely that -- the buzz that told me that this is what I was born for. A buzz that may not have been possible if it had been immediately stifled with knowledge of the publishing world.
Fall in love with the process, and the results will follow, says one of my favourite people. Want to write more than you want to be a writer. I can’t guarantee results, and at times I’ve wondered if they would ever follow for me, but it’s solid advice. The publishing process, I am discovering, is largely joyless. It’s the joy of writing that will sustain you.
Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA, but actually, let's be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She was recently longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, and her journalism, poetry, and essays have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Bustle, Book Riot, Writing Magazine, and the Washington Post. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing.