How It Started, How It's Going
Let me catch you up on my writing journey
When I say I’m a nobody, I mean it. I dipped off social media in 2016. Up until that point, I had a couple hundred friends on Facebook, and even less on Instagram. I created a Twitter I never posted to. I missed the whole Vine and Snapchat craze. I went to school for six years, and I had two kids and jobs throughout that time, so let’s just say I was off grid for the most part.
Deciding to write was an emotional choice for me, and I detailed it in my first post here. Oh, did I mention? This is my second newsletter. The other one I write is Kindling.
Some of what I’m learning is based off my efforts to get that off the ground and running. (Note: it ain’t yet).
So for full transparency’s sake, I thought I’d start with some confessions, tell you the inspiration behind this newsletter, and for all you data people, run through the numbers with you.
Kindling was started in August. I had four friends (including my husband) who I reached out to and asked if they would like to receive my newsletter. They graciously accepted, and honestly, I was thrilled. My first post linked above, How Stephen King Saved My Life, was sent to those four people. They gave me pretty good feedback, and I was excited. No, beyond excited.
I got to work writing, covering some paranormal stories, publishing one of my universally rejected short stories, and reviewing books. Is it ecclectic? A little. But I organized it with a purpose.
When it comes to writing advice, I’ll take anything I can get. But I’ll be honest. A lot of it is boring. There are two people who sum it up for me, who genuinely make me want to get up in the morning and write my heart out. Those writers are Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. Their advice differs at times, but there are intersections that amount to the same thing. The most important being that to become a good writer, you have to read and write everyday.
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Bradbury gives budding writers an assignment of sorts. He tells them to write one short story a week for a year, and to read every night.
“I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program.
For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry…Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field.
On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay—at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?”
-Ray Bradbury, from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001
I took that advice seriously. I haven’t succeeded exactly, but I’ve read more than I ever have in the last two years. And it’s made a difference. My writing is better. My understanding of what a novel can be is better. And I’ve finished some stories! A miracle in and of itself.
Kindling was in part, a chronicling of that. I read and wanted to share about the books I loved. How they impacted me, swept into my life and changed my thinking. And I’ve loved doing that. I’ll continue for a long time.
But there’s a non-magical side to writing for those who want to make it a career: the business side. I hate it to be honest, but recognize it as a necessary evil. On the one hand, there’s never been a better time to be a writer. You can self publish, become an indie author, go the trad publishing route (Elle Griffin of The Novellist wrote some stunning statistics on why not to do that here). The summary? You can’t make money writing fiction.
She serialized her novel and spent a year talking about making it as a writer in the digital age. And she found you can make more money online than you can following a traditional publishing route. The problem? That involves building an audience.
I feel that reality keenly, especially as Elle came into Substack with over 1,000 subscribers from an old blog. I get that it’s not a ton, but it’s certainly more than most people. So she’s making it as someone without a huge audience, but if you look at most other successful writers monetizing their newsletters on Substack, you’ll find nearly all of them are names, people who already have an audience out there eager to follow them over to whatever platform the land on.
Where does that leave the rest of us? The people who decide mid-thirties that they’re going to attempt to live their dream? Well…if you’re like me, it leaves you here. Writing to an invisible and unknown audience, hoping you’ll make it or find the secret to growing your newsletter or getting your book published.
To date, I have 86 subscribers. That’s down 2 from earlier this morning when I published the second chapter in a supernatural suspense novel I’m working on. That is a huge audience for me! I can’t imagine sitting in a room reading something I wrote to 86 people. This is already a dream.
I plan to get paid at some point, and 86 is not a money making number. (Back to those old things again). So this month I’ve been exploring options. I took out a paid ad in Anne Friedman’s December 30th newsletter. That got me around 40 subscribers! But it cost me $124, for something I currently don’t get paid doing.
So I turned to TikTok. If you didn’t know, TikTok is the new future for creators of all types. Their algorithm excels at putting you in front of an audience who likes what you have to say. I have had an account for over a week now, and I have over 200 followers. For posting my random book thoughts for anyone who will listen.
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Yeah. In some ways it feels like I’ve stooped to new lows as a human. But I have to admit…it’s kind of fun. And way more accessible than the slim chance of making money getting published by a big publishing house. Though at this point that’s still on the agenda for me.
I tell you all this to invite you along my own journey trying to make writing my career. I want this to be informative, valuable for the people who read it every week. I want it to be high quality information, as opposed to the top ten lists and gruesomely SEO’d sites I find when trying to learn how to leverage these social media sites. And I want it to be collaborative, a place where others can share their own advice and experiences to help someone else in the community out. It’ll probably be funny, because I have to say, I feel ridiculous trying to hop on the trend train. But if it helps me write, I don’t really care.
Here goes nothing.