The Writing Life

Six Lessons for The Unpublished

Another half year of being an unpublished novelist has passed and I’ve learned a few things that might help others who are counting down the months.

1. Grab hold of anything smacking of encouragement.

After three years and three completed novels, discouragement began to take over my thinking. I seemed to be getting nowhere and asked myself if I had what takes to write a compelling novel. Then I learned my third book finaled in the NTRWA Great Expectations Contest. It went on to score second. Since then, it has placed second in Novel Journey’s Out of the Slushpile Historical Category and made the semi-final round of the ACFW Genesis Contest. These contest finishes have given me hope that I am headed in the right direction.

When doubt sneaks in, take extra care to find that bit of encouragement you need and grab hold. Let it carry you to the next step. 

2. Good ideas don’t always pan out.

After finishing my third book, I began researching ideas for a fourth story—another historical. I had the characters in mind, the romance, and setting ideas. I had even done research. But for some reason, not one of my characters would let me in on the whole story. I had the who, the where and the when. I was missing much of the what, why and how—the crux of the story. After several weeks of silence, I stopped asking. One day they will tell me their complete story. 

Don’t force your story because you think it’s now or never. If it doesn’t come easily, maybe it’s not the right time and you should consider moving on.

3. Never throw anything away.

Did I just send a shiver down the backs of non-packrats? I began a piece several years ago. Only a few pages were written, but it remained on my old computer. With a fresh perspective on the characters and the basic idea, the story flowed into synopsis form. Now it’s my next project.

Don’t ever throw your ideas away, even if they seem foolish to you right now. Down the road, a fresh perspective or new twist could turn that idea into a compelling novel.

4. Try something new.

My previous novels have been 19th century historicals, but I see my brand revolving around romantic suspense, not a particular era, so I decided to try a contemporary this time. It’s also a shorter book than I’ve done to date. Being unpublished in the area of novels, I have the freedom to try different things. 

If you are unpublished, now is the time to find your niche, to discover what genre/time period interests you most. You might try your hand at articles or short stories and build your publishing credits.

5. Write!

I’m a half-plotter/half-pantser and find myself itching to start a new project. Brainstorming and writing synopses fuel my creativity, but I need to delve into new lives. While my character sketches may be complete, I learn even more by letting them speak and move around.

While you’re brainstorming, it’s okay to satisfy that need to write. Even if you what you’ve written never makes it into your new work, giving your characters motion may be the best way to get a handle on them.

6. Don’t let time discourage you.

People ask me how my books are coming along. After three years, I think those who aren’t writers are getting tired of me telling them it takes time. But it does take time. While I wait for that first publishing contract, I’m building an inventory of books that someday may actually earn a cover. I’ve heard numerous stories of writers who waited years for their first book to be published. They never gave up and their dream eventually came true. Over the years, they had amassed an inventory of several books that just needed additional editing to become that second, third or fourth published novel.

Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep collecting that inventory of future books.

What about you?

What have you learned in the first six months of this year that has helped you keep going in your writing? Maybe you are already published. What have you learned that can prepare the rest of us for THAT DAY?

As an author of heartwarming historical and contemporary romance, Sandra Ardoin engages readers with page-turning stories of love and faith. Rarely out of reach of a book, she's also an armchair sports enthusiast, country music listener, and seldom says no to eating out.

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