Half a month ago, on November 30, I listened to Walter Mason speak at Sutherland Library. I hadn’t heard Walter talk before… I must grudgingly admit that I was itching to get back to finishing the last 800 of my 50,000 NaNoWriMo words. I am so glad I didn’t slink away.
Walter, author of the travelogue Destination Saigon (and more), writing guru and generally great human being, opened up the premise that to be an author today, there is more to be done than simply completing and polishing a manuscript. At first this seemed completely contrary to the basic advice we fledgling writers receive, which is often in the vein of “stop putting it off”, “writers write” and so on. In the contemporary publishing landscape, writers must be more than anti-social scribblers (guilty) who wait for publicists and agents to promote them to the world. Some desperate part of me wanted to remain naïve to this part of the writing puzzle.
On that day, at the back of my mind I was thinking about a mentorship with a notable program I’d applied for. Surely, I told myself, my writing was good enough – it would get me noticed, get me in the door. But the Monday after hearing Walter talk, I’d discovered I was unsuccessful. Even if it was a relatively small dent in the confidence shell (I keep telling myself it’s only going to get harder from here and that it doesn’t even count as proper badge of rejection), the reality of the road ahead was laid bare. Writing compatriots have since shared with me their own tales of woe, and tried to keep me encouraged by reminding me of the subjective nature of strangers reading your work – whether a publisher or a mentorship judge. In any case, I realised that the advice imparted on the night of November 30 needed to be followed. Luckily, I took notes.
These are three takeaways from the talk, they’re not extensive at all, and if you ever have the chance to hear Walter speak make sure you do!
Call yourself a writer
Aka: believe you are. Get professional business cards printed attesting to this. I don’t know if I will comply just yet, perhaps for the very reason that Walter recommended it – I am reluctant to talk about my writing in public.
Go to author talks
Aka: be a good literary citizen; aka pay it forward. As a librarian I’m often devastated for the talented debut authors who come to speak about their novels to a sparse crowd. They’re good – they’re worth supporting and they’re our future literary stars! One of my best firsthand examples is Candice Fox, who spoke at Cronulla library only a few years ago. The turnout was not great. Now she’s a huge crime sensation, co-writing with James Patterson. Members of the public have asked if she’ll ever come to speak at the library… too late! As readers, but especially as writers, we need to support authors at all stages of their careers.
Be an admirer
Follow three writers who write in your genre. How did their careers come about? What are their strategies? Walter suggested reviewing their books, interviewing them, going to their events. This relates to the previous point – add to the writing community!