A lot of emerging writers ask, ‘Can I do this? Should I keep going, or am I wasting my time?‘
I asked it all the time during my many years as an aspiring and emerging writer, and I kept sending my work to people hoping someone could give me a definitive answer.
I used to think someone could tell me whether or not to move on, but here’s a secret I learned: whether or not you will succeed as an author isn’t actually about your writing.
It’s about your willingness to take feedback and keep going.
My first publication happened when I was seven, which is to say, I peaked early. As a result, my underdeveloped brain believed I was going to be a writer.
During my first university degree, I took a couple of creative writing classes, and entered a few writing competitions with lofty names like the Carol Shields Creative Writing Award (Shields was a Pulitzer-winning Canadian author).
And I won.
I got so confident, I didn’t even bother to write for several years – I was going to be a writer, and I clearly knew what I was doing, so what was the hurry?
This break from writing was one of my smarter moves; I had some growing up to do.
In 2010 I applied for an arts grant and received that too. I’d had a few knockbacks by then, but now I had My Big Idea, and the grant application was the first time I’d sent that idea out into the world.
Grant received, I assumed I had the universe’s stamp of approval on The Big Idea.
After five years of hard work, I sent The Big Idea – now a gigantic, 200,000-word manuscript – to publishers, and began racking up rejections.
After working through two full manuscript assessments on that project, I realised the key problem: I didn’t actually know how to write.
Two years and another failed manuscript later, I still didn’t know how to write. I asked my friends to read my work. They were thoughtful, smart readers, but they didn’t know how to write any more than I did.
The feedback I received from experienced writers, in writing classes and through the occasional manuscript assessment, was more valuable.
Then I had a stroke of real luck. At a networking event, an acquaintance introduced me to another writer who was planning to form a writers’ group.
I’ve been with that writers’ group for seven years now, and taken over as coordinator since its founder moved overseas. (And it’s since split into two groups.) It’s become one of the most valuable parts of my writing process.
It was the skill development I undertook through the group that led to my first book publication, My Name Is Revenge.
So for those of you playing along at home – I started writing when I was seven. I wrote my first novel from ages 14 to 17, and my next novel from ages 18 to 21. I took a break, then started my Ginormous Doomed Manuscript in 2010, and got it published (in a very different form) in 2019, after writing a fourth unpublishable book in the process.
But after I learned what makes good writing – and how to take feedback – the next book I wrote, How to Be Australian, came out in 2020.
And the novel I wrote after that, Dark Mode, is coming out in March 2023.
Each book has attracted bigger publisher attention and investment. Ultimo Press, my publisher for Dark Mode, has already had me visiting booksellers with advanced copies. It’s also my first book to come out internationally, in the UK and in translation in Germany.
I joke about peaking at age seven, but I really believe all the years I struggled to get my work published helped me to become a much stronger writer. And I’m much more appreciative of where I am now because I had to work so hard for it.
I’m so, so grateful to everyone who’s put in hard work on the book, not just the publishing team, but the sales team, the booksellers and other authors who’ve shown interest (and provided endorsements), all the wonderful readers who’ve supported by earlier books. I can’t wait to share Dark Mode with fellow crime fiction lovers!
So if you’re a writer, or any type of creative wondering if you’ll ever achieve what you hope to with your work, I’d say this: as long as you’re enjoying it some of the time (nothing is enjoyable all of the time, especially not creative work), then yes – keep going.
Dark Mode is out in March! Sign up for my monthly newsletter to hear about upcoming events, courses and giveaways.