Rather a grand headline, I know, but you’ll understand where I’m coming from as you read further.
Amongst other things, I am a writer. Those ‘other things’ include caring for an elderly parent (two, until recently), and running a full-time business that involves a lot of travelling. I class myself as a professional part-time writer, as I’ve earned part of my living from my writing for decades now, first writing for magazines, then two traditionally published non-fiction books, and more recently, from my self-published fiction.
I want to share with you how I’ve learned to accept the limitations my lifestyle puts on my desire to produce books at the speed of other authors – something I’m never going to be able to do because, well, I happen to love my other business and would never want to give it up.
We live in a world where everybody has advice to give, and now, with the internet, has the means to deliver their words of wisdom. Hmm. Or perhaps not such wisdom.
The writing world is full of rules – ‘thou shalt tell, not show’, ‘thou shalt not use adverbs’, ‘thou shalt pay for editorial services/book covers/formatting/marketing services’, ‘thou shalt write a first draft at high speed, and not edit as you go’, ‘publish at least 3 books a year, preferably more’, ‘write a blog post every day’, etc, etc. etc.
The pressure is on! Obey these rules, or suffer the frustration of obscurity, with published books that fail to sell, or gain negative reviews.
I have my own piece of advice to add: STOP! Take a deep breath and step back from the rollercoaster – take the time to think about how well these rules work for you.
When I first discovered self-publishing (as it is now, not vanity publishing), I spent a full year reading all the ‘how to’ articles, all the advice, learning the rules and setting up my platform. I have no regrets about any of that – jumping in with both feet before you know how deep the water is, is asking for trouble.
I had two novels ready to go – ones that had gained me two different agents, but not sold – but after I published those two, I had to start writing the next ones, and that’s when I came unstuck. I listened to all the advice, and tried to comply with all the rules. It took me two books and a couple of years to realise that lots of that advice is contradictory (I’m not normally a slow learner, but the hype around indie publishing tends to give you tunnel vision), and not all the rules apply to me.
I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, just that complying with all those rules doesn’t work for me. I am an individual, with individual circumstances that aren’t about to change, because I don’t want them to change.
I can’t produce a book in less than 18 months – mostly, I write epic fantasy; one of my books is at least twice the size of other novels, often 3 or even 4 times as long as some. My learning experience, writing that first one after publishing the two I had ready to go, was traumatic to say the least.
Self-imposed deadlines don’t work for me. They pile on so much pressure it stifles my creativity, and I get the nearest thing to writer’s block that happens to me (I can still produce non-fiction, no problem, but the fiction dries up). They might work for you – they do for a lot of people, but not for me.
I have also finally (now I’m writing book no.5) accepted that:
- I don’t need to pay for an editor – I work with a professional level writer’s group, and they cover the job for me, as I do for their work in return. My reviews bear out my confidence in this set-up.
- I can’t plot out an entire novel before I start writing – not only do my ideas not come that way (they grow organically as I write) trying to do so destroys my enjoyment of the project, and then I don’t want to write it at all.
- I can’t write a dirty first draft at speed, I need to edit as I go. Maybe this makes me slower, but I end up with a far cleaner first draft that doesn’t need a huge amount of editing before its ready to be published.
- I’m never going to publish books at a fast rate – not only are my books too big (and I won’t compromise on that, my plots don’t lend themselves to being split into smaller chunks), but because I have a lifestyle that doesn’t allow me copious writing time.
- My plots will come together at the rate they do – I can’t force them, or I miss things. I’m getting better at asking myself the right questions (what motivates a particular action, how will a character react in a certain situation consistent with their background, etc.) and outlining before I start, but those wonderful interlinked plot points and character developments come to me little by little, and those discoveries are, for me, one of the joys of writing.
So, we come back to my title – ‘be true to yourself’. This way lies satisfaction, not pressure, enjoyment, not stress, and these things come over in the quality of the finished product and the fact I am still sane and still wanting to write.
It’s all a matter of discovering what works for you as an individual, and then accepting that’s the way you are. I’m not suggesting you don’t try some of these things – you might find they do work for you, but feeling guilty because you don’t follow the ‘rules’ is counterproductive.
It just took me a couple years to realise this, and a bit longer to become comfortable with it. I hope by sharing this learning experience some of you might get there a bit quicker.
Perhaps you already have – out of interest, which rules have you discovered do/don’t work for you?
About the author
Deborah Jay writes fantasy and urban fantasy featuring complex, quirky characters and multi-layered plots – just what she likes to read.
Living mostly on the UK South coast, she has already invested in her ultimate retirement plan – a farmhouse in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands where she retreats to write when she has time. Her taste for the good things in life is kept in check by the expense of keeping too many horses, and her complete inability to cook.
She has a dream day job riding, training and judging competition dressage horses and riders, and also writes books and magazine features on the subject under her professional name of Debby Lush.
A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, she started writing her first novel aged eight, and has never stopped. Her first published novel is epic fantasy, THE PRINCE’S MAN, first in the Five Kingdoms series, and winner of a UK Arts Board award. #2, THE PRINCE’S SON is also available with THE PRINCE’S PROTEGEE due soon.
Her first urban fantasy, DESPRITE MEASURES, about a Scottish water sprite, is the opening novel of the CALEDONIAN SPRITE SERIES. Short story, SPRITE NIGHT is available FREE on most ebook retailers.
Find and follow Deborah
Books by Deborah Jay
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The Prince’s Man (The Five Kingdoms Book 1)
Think ‘James Bond meets Lord of the Rings’
Rustam Chalice, dance tutor, gigolo and spy, loves his life just the way it is. So when the kingdom he serves is threatened from within, he leaps into action. Only trouble is, the spy master, Prince Hal, teams him up with an untouchable aristocratic assassin who despises him.
And to make matters worse, she’s the most beautiful woman in the Five Kingdoms.
Plunged into a desperate journey over the mountains, the mismatched pair struggle to survive deadly wildlife, the machinations of a spiteful god – and each other.
They must also keep alive a sickly elf they need as a political pawn. But when the elf reveals that Rustam has magic of his own, he is forced to question his identity, his sanity and worst, his loyalty to his prince.
For in Tyr-en, all magic users are put to death.
Award winning novel, THE PRINCE’S MAN is a sweeping tale of spies and deadly politics, inter-species mistrust and magic phobia, with an underlying thread of romance.
The Prince’s Son: The Five Kingdoms: Book Two
This epic fantasy can be read as a stand alone story.
Nessa Haddo has been raised to pursue what every young noblewoman needs: a suitable husband. Unfortunately for her, as a younger twin, her prospects are limited. Things start to look up when she lays eyes on the handsome foreign envoy sent to escort her sister to an arranged marriage, but her romantic fantasies quickly entangle her in events beyond her darkest nightmares.
Compared to his last mission, ex-spy Rustam Chalice’s new assignment sounds simple: wrangle an unwieldy bridal caravan across a mountain range populated by bandits, trolls, werecats, and worse, try to cajole a traumatized princess out of her self-imposed isolation, and arrive on time for the politically sensitive wedding. What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, Lady Risada—the woman who haunts Rustam’s dreams—is struggling to adjust to a normal life. All her carefully honed assassin’s instincts scream warnings of foul play, yet she can find nothing obviously amiss.
And deep in the halls of a mountain clan, an old enemy plucks his victims’ strings with expert malice.
Desprite Measures (The Caledonian Sprite Series Book 1)
On the surface she’s a cute and feisty blonde, a slender pocket rocket fitness coach. But Cassiopeia Lake has a secret; she’s really a force of nature – an elemental.
Water sprite, Cassie, has lived undisturbed in her native Scottish loch for eons. Now, one encounter too many with modern plumbing has driven her to live in human guise along with her selkie boyfriend, Euan. It’s all going fine – until a nerdy magician captures Cassie to be an unwilling component in his crazy dangerous experiment.
Escape is only Cassie’s first challenge.
She’s smitten by her fellow prisoner, the scorching hot fire elemental, Gloria. But how do you love someone you can never touch?
And what do you do when your boyfriend starts to hero-worship your persecutor? Not to mention that tricky situation of being the prize in a power contest between two rival covens of witches.
So when Gloria’s temper erupts and she sets out to murder the magician, can Cassie keep her loved ones safe from the cross-fire, or will she be sucked into the maelstrom of deadly desires and sink without trace?
Sprite Night: A Caledonian Sprite Short Story (The Caledonian Sprite Series)
Discover a unique eco-urban fantasy with a touch of romance.
When Scottish water sprite, Cassie, volunteers for an anti-fracking protest, the last thing she expects is to find herself at odds with a druid. But with time running out for the local environment, she can’t afford to be distracted by the handsome hunk of a Highlander.
Intent on a minor act of sabotage, Cassie is totally unprepared to be caught in the cross-fire of a magical battle. Can she avert catastrophe? Or will she become the very agency of an ecological disaster?
A Caledonian Sprite short story.
THE WORLD AND THE STARS: Dazzling Science Fiction and Fantasy
Twenty-four of the most exciting voices in genre fiction bring you the world and the stars, each in their own individual way.
Stories that explore the vast grandeur of the universe, worlds close to us, worlds far in the distance. Alternate Earths, colonies in the sky, engineered worlds, mystical battlegrounds, pirate seas, underground caverns, journeys in time and across the stars.
In ONDRALUME (Tanith Lee) two sisters, Ondain and Unniet, plead with the gods to bring rain to their parched and dying land. But can their sacrifice save their people? The answer might come from another world, or from the stars.
In SUBSTITUTES, (Colin P. Davies) offworlders have come to Earth, and Melinda and her Dad are on the run. She sees patterns everywhere, in the stars or in the bubbling water of a stream — but what does this signify, and where will it lead?
GLITTERING SPIRES (Elizabeth Counihan) merges Science Fantasy and Austen sensibilities to playful effect. A young princess might well have to navigate not just the mores of her society, but also the wild, fabulous rogues and creatures that inhabit her world.
In THE BATTERY CAVERNS, (Nigel Brown) Jak is a member of a clan living within the labyrinthine tunnels of his ‘world’. Conditions are worsening, and fearsome raiding parties from other clans are scavenging for the precious battery pods. To survive, Jak must learn the true nature of his environment, and the cause of the seismic tremors that threaten to tear it apart.
In DUSKING, (Liz Williams) a young girl, Emily, longs to escape the watchful gaze of her aunt. But if she goes out into the woodland at night, to see what can be captured there, she might find something darker and more primal than she bargained for.
GOLTY’S BURROW (Paul Laville) is found on an engineered world that has suffered through a technology Armageddon. Races clash in the ruins, fighting for survival. An evolutionary stalemate needs to be broken if things are to change. But as Lorni and her twin, Prilly, discover, everything has a cost.
PERFECT FIT (Deborah Jay) follows a starship travelling to a planet to colonise. But as time passes and resources dwindle, the promised world has not been found. The ‘splicers’ rely on genetech to keep the ship going, but for how long will the inhabitants of the ship tolerate their rule?
In TEN THOUSAND MOONS OF HOWLING, (Gareth Caradoc Owens) the Warchief Olambur stands with his army and priests at the border of the mortal world and the land of the dead, Nuji Giya. To repel the rising dead, Olambur is commanded to give up the Lord of Wits, Din Yirgish. Alliances are forged and battles fought, but in a war between gods and mortals there are bound to be casualties.
THE DISAPPEARED (Sarah Singleton) presents us with Britain preparing for war, with paranoia all around. An invitation to the Blue Cat café might well be an enticing proposition, but a reporter should be careful where his curiosity might lead.
In MICRO EXPRESSIONS, (Stephen Gaskell) a woman asks to cross a border, to pay homage and pray. But is that her true purpose? A decision must be made to grant or deny her passage. Might the first tentative steps towards a better world be there for the taking?
THE COURT OF HIGH RENOWN (Cherith Baldry) takes us to a mysterious enclave, shaped by its Queen and her Court. But is everything within the castle and the surrounding forest as unreal as it seems? And is there anything beyond the fading horizon?
THE RETURN OF ODYSSEUS (Peter T. Garratt) reinterprets the events of Homer’s epic poems to tell a somewhat different tale of Odysseus’ journey, of what happened when he failed to return, and what happened when he did return.
Perhaps the harrowing WE SHELTER (Leigh Kennedy) occurs in the future, or maybe its story is universal and timeless. It is all too easy to imagine that the sick and dying are somehow less than human.
Plus many more…