How to Start Following Your Writing Dreams TODAY!

Today, the WordServe Water Cooler, is hosting a blog parade. Twenty WordServe authors will share our personal “How We Did It” stories in hopes of encouraging YOU to follow your dreams.

We are represented by WordServe Literary Agency and encourage you to check out their website.

So, as we were discussing this parade, one of my writer friends teased me that I should tell readers how I went from being a nobody to a “New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling Author” overnight. (Insert blinking marquis lights. Imagine me in Hollywood. And, while you’re at it, please make me skinny….and, what the heck, add Johnny Depp.)

Well, after reminding my sweet friend that I’m still a nobody, (and that “my Johnny” has no idea I exist), I assured her the bestseller status didn’t exactly happen overnight. And secondly, if you ask me who I am, I won’t throw a crass title at you.

So let’s talk about TODAY, and how YOU will put aside every excuse and sit down to write the next bestselling novel. Here’s how.

  1. Read to Learn.  Avid readers make the best writers, so whip out that dusty old library card and immerse yourself in literature. Make reading a big part of your life, and learn from the masters. I’m always reading about seven books at a time. I leave them all around the house, in my car, in my purse, etc. Minute to spare? Story to snare.
  2. Develop a Goal. I suggest you keep it simple: write a novel. Don’t worry about a specific market, agent, publisher, word count, genre, etc. Just tap into your creative energy, finish that first draft, and then worry about the details. At least that’s what worked for me.
  3. Set a Timeline. What’s a realistic timeline for you to finish your manuscript? Set daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly goals. Some people write outlines, others wing it. Some aim for a certain number of words a day until they reach the end, others edit as they go. (Tip: Most adult novels range from 80,000 – 100,000 words.) I gave myself three months to write a novel (first draft). It can be done.
  4. Keep a Steady Pace. The only way I was going to meet my three-month deadline was by forcing myself to put writing first. For three months, I wrote between 3 AM and 5 AM, sometimes pushing it to 6 if I was on a roll. Then, we started our busy day. Short on sleep? Yes. But it was the most beautiful personal experience I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. There’s something sacred about those silent still hours pre-dawn. Find your “sweet spot” and commit those hours to putting ink to page.
  5. Snip and Clip. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect draft at all, even after extensive edits, so take your time and edit your manuscript until it’s at least as close to perfect as it can be. Ask trusted peers to trade critiques, or join a critique group within ACFW or RWA. Study the craft until you understand the ins and outs of plot structure, pacing, character development, voice, etc. You don’t have to follow all the rules…but you should at least understand them. You may even want to hire a professional editor, just be sure to check references and don’t pay a fortune.

So now you’ve written that book. Congratulations! You are a true literary artist, and your creativity is a tremendous accomplishment. You’ve already met your goal!!! Don’t forget that…too many people get caught up with needing to reach the next milestone, and the next, and the next, never really celebrating the process. Find your joy.

Now for Part Two…the business side of the journey. (The part we don’t like.)

  1. Share the Story. Once you have a strong, well-edited manuscript, begin researching literary agents. Look at your favorite books and find out who represents those authors/titles. Research Publishers Weekly for action in the publishing world, and keep an eye on agents who represent key titles within your genre/market. Also subscribe to Chuck Sambuchino’s blog with Writer’s Digest.
  2. Query Agents. Make a wish list with your dream agent entered as Number One. Start at the top and query three agents at a time, following each of their specific guidelines (varies for every agency).  Keep track of responses using a spreadsheet, and if you cross one off your list, move on to another until an agent takes the bait. Here’s a free downloadable spreadsheet from Michael Seese.
  3. Plan a Proper Proposal. If agents become interested in your idea, they will ask for your manuscript. Be ready to send them a polished draft. No excuses. Many will then request a proposal (some have specific templates they will provide). Be sure to take your time with the proposal and make it SHINE. Insider’s Tip: Don’t overlook the marketing segment…many agents say this is the most important part of the proposal. Here’s what Rachelle Gardner has to say about writing the perfect proposal.
  4. Sign that Contract. Once you sign an agent to represent your work, sit back and let your agent pitch the book to editors. An experienced agent has built relationships with editors and will keep you updated on the progress of your manuscript as it moves through the various channels.  Soon, you’ll be signing a publishing contract and that’s where the REAL WORK begins.  (Steve Laube’s blog is an excellent resource for contract questions.)
  5. Hold on Tight! The publishing journey is a unique adventure, one that some folks enjoy more than others. I’m reminded of the roller coaster rides at our favorite theme park, warning riders of all the reasons they should get out of line now before it’s too late. If you watch the exit gate, you’ll see riders with a full range of reactions to the experience. There will always be an excuse, a person questioning your choices, a reason to do anything BUT what you dare to do. But I stood in that line and I took that ride. Like a teenager running from the cart, I’m here to say – “That was awesome! I’m getting in line again!” This time I hope you’ll come with me.

Comment on this post for a chance to win a signed copy of my debut novel, Into the Free. And while you’re at it…you might as well skadoodle on over to my facebook page for updates, fun contests, and behind-the-scenes confessions about my life as a bestselling author (aka overworked, sleep-deprived, mother/teacher/farmer/literacy advocate/spaz).

Best of luck with your writing journey, and if you are friends with Johnny…please tell him I’m ready to talk screenplays.

38 thoughts on “How to Start Following Your Writing Dreams TODAY!

    • Thanks Beth! I’m thrilled to hear you’ll be publishing soon. Some folks may give you slack about taking the ‘self-publishing’ route. Remind them of these famous authors who started out by self-publishing: James Redfield (The Celestine Prophecy), Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box), John Grisham (A Time to Kill), Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass) and Beatrix Potter (Tales of Peter Rabbit). For less financial risk, you may even want to consider a self-published e-book (as E.L. James did with the blockbuster 50 Shade of Gray series). My only advice is …. be sure you edit the work very well. Once your name is on it, you claim it for life. Happy writing! I look forward to reading your stories.

    • Thanks, Summer…and I still do write between 3-5 most days. Teaching, farming, parenting, volunteering…leaves little time for splurging on writing. I just can’t not write, so I squeeze it in any chance I get. Wish I could say the same for exercise (sigh). Fiction has made me fat :)

  1. Truly inspiring post, Julie! So you gave yourself three months to write your first draft, and you made your goal! Wow. God rewarded your perseverance.

    I’m not surprised you’re well-read, when I look at the beautiful use of language in “Into the Free.” Man, I still love that title! Ok, I better stop gushing.

    I pray many people are helped through this post. Good stuff!

    Oh, and I can’t wait to read that next bestseller!

  2. I think the hardest part (at least for me) isn’t so much the writing; it’s the commiting. Once I commit – force myself into a regimen and stick with it – things get done and because I’m writing regularly, the writing’s not bad either.

    Thanks for the post. Oh, and if I ever run into Mr. Depp, I’ll point him in this direction.

    • Oh, see now, you’ve gone and gotten my hopes up about meeting Johnny. Man, oh man. I do dream of the day. I also totally get the regimen thing…that’s my problem with exercise. I find every excuse in the world to avoid it. Writing, though, well I’ll give up sleep and sanity for another dose. I think my first child, a non-sleeper, trained me well for the wee hour storytime. I’d rock her and nurse her while I talked or sang to her (a speech-language pathologist determined to make the most of every language-developing chance I got)…so I kind of do the same thing now, I just tell the stories to a broader audience…still in those sleepless hours before the dawn. You’ll find your rhythm…stick with it and see where it takes you Thanks for chiming in, j

  3. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Julie! I’ve seen your book and find the cover and title interesting … it’s just the sort of book I would pick up to read myself (and I’m not just saying that)!

    I’m a writer as well, and in that spot where it’s written, and I’m just looking for the agent with whom it strikes a chord …

    Would love to win a copy of your book!

    • Hi Angela, Thanks for the kind feedback about my book. I”m glad you are interested in it, and I have to agree … I LOVE the cover design. I owe that to the fabulously talented designers with David C Cook who really went out of their way to make a beautiful scene. Their names are Amy Konyndyk and Jeff Miller. Super folks, and I’m thrilled you recognize the power of a well-designed cover. I hope you find the perfect agent very soon. I am honored to be represented by Greg Johnson with WordServe Literary, and I do believe it’s one of the most important choices you’ll ever make as a writer. Keep me posted as you embark on your publishing journey. Cheers, j

  4. Love this, Julie! Into the Free is one of those books I’d keep around for when I want to be inspired to write my own masterpiece—it’s that good! But I read it on my Kindle and I would LOVE to have a “real” copy. I know, old school. But when I love a book, I want paper, lady! Thank you for giving us a peek into how you made it happen “overnight”–hahaha.

    • Oh look…it’s the author Katy McKenna! By the way, Katy McKenna, yours is a name I’d use for a super sweet talkative friend who bounces around wearing bright colors and a big smile all the time. That’s how I like to think of you. Bubbly, bright, beautiful, and always supportive. I’m honored you read Into the Free and would be honored to send you a “real” copy. I am probably the last person on the planet who has never read an e-book….but I do much prefer tapping the senses with ink on paper. The smell of the binding, the sound of the pages turning, the weight of the manuscript in hand…all help transport me to that other place in a way a computer screen just can’t do for me. So glad to be getting to know you a bit online and hope our paths cross in the real world someday soon. Cheers, j

  5. Thanks for all the great information! Much appreciated. I’m at the VERY beginning of my writing journey. I just had a poem and a short piece published in a chap book with my creative writing group. So exciting!

    • Hi Kathryn – Congratulations! You’re now officially a published author. That’s HUGE! It’s one thing to write and never show a soul. It takes real courage to share it with the universe. I’m very proud of you. My first publication was a poem. I earned $50 for it, and it ran as part of a book published by MOPS, International. But…that led to my first freelance gig, which led to more, and more, and eventually…that led to children’s books…which all gave me the courage to go for a novel. This is only the start for you, Kathryn. I can’t wait to see where your journey leads you. I also love that your creative writing group is publishing a book — absolutely fabulous! Happy writing, j

  6. Great advice, Julie! I know you will help a lot of other writers with all of your tips. I think I’m going to try to implement your timeline idea for a project that I’m struggling with right now. Maybe if I can visualize my daily, weekly, and monthly goals toward the ultimate goal, I can see some progress. Thanks a million!

    • Thanks, Karen. I’ve always been a list-maker…and nothing feels better than crossing something off that list. I like positive reinforcement, so to be able to see some concrete sign of progress at the end of a day/week/month/year…well, I’m a sucker for such things. Good luck and keep me posted!

  7. Hi Julie,
    What a roller coaster ride! I’m so glad you stood in line and bought that ticket so that you can bless others.

  8. This is a fine primer of becoming a published writer, Julie. It should be very helpful for new writers. Nice! Oh, and I imagined you skinny, too….

    • OOoh….Hooray, Jan! I love knowing that somewhere, in some fantasy world, I can still fit into those size six jeans. I don’t shoot for a zero…just a six, heck an eight. Put me right there, and I’m happy. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: Find an agent for your book | Gillian Marchenko

    • Gillian…please do. I keep thinking, somehow, if I talk about my obsession with “my Johnny” enough…I’m bound to meet someone who knows him, right?! Hmm…The thing is, he’ll never be able to live up to my fantasy, so it’s probably better I never meet the real guy. I stick with the perfect pretend fella instead (and my dear hubby, of course.)

    • Hi Gillian – Congrats! My daughter pulled a name from a box and you are the winner of a signed copy of Into the Free. Please email me your mailing address and we’ll get a book to you soon. Thanks for joining the fun. Cheers, julie

  10. Greg gave me a copy of your book, and then I gave it to a friend, so now all I have is the Kindle version. Would love to have the hard copy again, especially signed! :) Hence, I am leaving a comment.

    • Sarah Joy…you always bring JOY! That’s the best thing for an author to hear…”I gave it to a friend.” Happy dance! Really, really, really big smiles. Thank you for sharing Millie’s story! Cheers, j

  11. Read to Learn. <– How true. A writers home work is reading good books. And some say, reading bad books to. But good books are more fun to read. sharonalavy (at) gmail (dot) com

  12. Pingback: How to Get Published: What Writers Can Learn From Babies « Live Write Breathe

  13. Hi Julie…I so enjoy your musings and look forward to your book as well. I am in process of self publishing my first book and it has been quite a journey…I can see that writing the book was easy compared to what comes now…the marketing is nothing to shake a stick…(would be good if we could get Jonny to endorse them for us, and yes if he does it for you I want to be there too.) I will glean from your advice and any other thoughts on the subject….we could be best friends!! Seriously, thank you so much!!! (BTW: My book is called, “Climbing Out of the Box” My Journey Out of Sexual and Spiritual Abuse Into Freedom and Healing… is my story….I am also a blogger….actually you commented on one of my posts and I was thrilled…….♥

    • Hi Dixie, Thank you for your kind post and for being brave enough to shard your own journey with others. You give voice to all the Millie’s for the world, no small thing! I look forward to reading your book and wish you tons of joy as you pursue publishing. Best, j

  14. I too read multiple books at one time, often as many as a dozen or better, so I was delighted to know you also have books in many places. (I almost feel panicky if I don’t have a book with me in case of a traffic jam or to fill delay time while I wait for a doctor’s appointment.)

    Into the Free is one of those books that slides you into another world, but alters your view of yours in the process. I’m so thankful you got on the roller coaster, and can’t wait to share the next ride when you finish.

    • Hi Anita, Thanks for the incredible comment: “slides you into another world” and “alters your view in the process.” WOW! You’ve just delivered a big happy smile to this Mississippi girl. Best, j

  15. Julie…thank you so much for your gift…Into the Free. Both to me and the world. I received the book yesterday which was perfect timing. As I sit in south Louisiana hunkered down for Hurricane Isaac, I just completed Chapter 1 and could not wait another minute to thank you and to learn more about your work.

    This posting on the steps necessary to follow “…your Writing Dreams” is so very helpful for someone like me who has been called to write…to share…to give…to influence…with complete transparency.

    We are all blessed with gifts to positively impact other peoples lives. Mine, up to this point, mostly through my vocation. Writing and publishing though, allows one to multiply their sphere of influence more than any other method and I congratulate you for doing so with such great compassion and creativity. I hope to do the same.

    My journey has already been enchanced by being introduced to you and discovering your work which clearly shows your heart. Thank you for your generousity and I look forward to sharing in the journey. Be Blessed! G. Fulcher.

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