“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
~Charles “Tremendous” Jones
Five years ago, I wasn't a novelist. I wasn't even writing online. This week I sold my first three ebooks in Germany (all on the same day) via Amazon Kindle--putting my book sales across four countries just before my 28th birthday. I can remember this same rush of amazement and excitement when I earned my first fifty-cent residual from an article--realizing the potential of what it could become.
I'm very grateful for everything that's happening in my life, and I don't ever want to take any of it for granted. Looking back on the resources and people that have helped me along the way, I want to share what I hope will be useful to other people, too.
I'm going to do this post in several parts because I want the time to go into depth with it.
Doing a quick tour of our house, I currently own a little under a hundred writing guides. Have I read all of them? Honestly, no. In fact, almost half are from a stage where I thought if I just accumulated enough writing guides (without ever finding the time to read them) I'd somehow become a novelist through osmosis (I've had science friends tell me it's technically diffusion, but osmosis is still a funnier word). Since I wasn't even sure where to begin, the amount of available information was actually overwhelming--to the point I procrastinated on diving into any of it. It was a cycle of browse-buy-forget.
Around early 2007 however, I got a breakthrough. One day my husband and I were just driving around, and he played the audiobook version of Sol Stein's Stein on Writing--a free download he'd gotten out of curiosity when he'd signed up for an Audible trial. Some things started to click for me that had been confusing before--especially about novel story structure and developing a writing process. It turned out that we already owned the paperback of the book--which had been sitting on our bookshelf for who knows how long--but the combination of hearing it first (during a time where I could focus on it) and reading it afterwards made things easier.
Based on this experience, I would suggest first reading just 1-3 general writing guides that fit with your learning style. What you're likely going to find after that is information starts to become repetitive--there are constants in writing that are almost like math and other areas where you can bend once you have an understanding of the original rules. This doesn't happen overnight. I know I'm still learning.
Writing guides that I buy now--and would be willing to read just for entertainment value--are about very specific topics. I really like the detail level in the How-dun-it series, which deals with police procedure and forensics topics. Even though my primary genre is sci-fi, I try to stay well-rounded and use information often geared toward other genres. I've found it helps my creativity, especially with plot ideas.
For free ebooks on a wide variety of background topics, Project Gutenberg is great. You can get copies of a lot of classics there, too.
Business, Financial, & Life Skills Books
If you're seriously pursuing writing, there will come a point where you're going to need some outside help. Talking to the person who does your personal taxes--long before you're making a significant income--can help you in what records you need to keep and make the process easier for you as things grow. I'm not an expert in that area, but I know it's worthwhile to seek one.
One event that really impacted me when I was a kid was when my dad got laid off from a manufacturing job he'd had for eighteen years. From a child's perspective, it just didn't make sense at first. My dad worked very hard and was a nice person--and yet his job and our family's only source of income were one day just gone. As a family, we struggled financially for a long time, but out of that I became very driven and willing to learn how money and businesses actually work.
When I was around 16 or 17, Dad gave me a copy of Chad Foster's Teenagers Preparing for the Real World. It was my first exposure to the importance of networking and seeking out people who could help you succeed. Though technology and social media have changed a lot of how we communicate, I would still recommend that book to even college students and adults. Face-to-face people skills are still important, and finding friendly mentors in your field can help you progress faster than the trial-and-error method.
I went to a state university on a combination of scholarships and student loans, and I thought I was brilliant because I had a 11% credit card while a bunch of students around me were signing up for a 22% credit card for a "free" t-shirt. I bought food and various small things on my card when my cash ran low and only paid the minimum payments. At the end of the four years, I had $16,000 in student loans and a nearly maxed-out $5,000 credit card. I was newly-married (Cory having debt as well but less than me), had a bachelor's degree in psychology and broadcasting (double-majored), and still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life...so I applied to grad school in what would have likely resulted in a journey into even deeper debt. Fortunately, Cory got a good job offer two hours away in Knoxville, TN (where we now live), and I cancelled my application.
I don't regret going to college, but I'm amazed how much money we spent compared to what we spend now on weekend conferences, 1-2 day classes on particular topics, etc. Education is important, but there are more sources out there than just the traditional route. I've also realized that a degree isn't a guarantee of success--it's mainly just a qualifier to get you more opportunities, but you need practical knowledge and skills to back it up. This often means doing more outside of your classes at your own motivation--make learning the priority, not the piece of paper at the end.
Around late 2006-early 2007, Cory started listening to Dave Ramsey's radio show while he was at work, and when the opportunity came up he bought us two tickets to a live event in Knoxville. What we learned was another turning point for us because we realized not only a lot of money mistakes we'd been making but how to realistically fix them. Dave has a lot of free videos on YouTube and resources on his website. This one is a nice overview of how he thinks and the system he teaches to help people:
Dave Ramsey's show also led me to another author named Dan Miller, whose focus is more on career development. 48 Days to the Work You Love and No More Mondays are both great books, and the combination of the two helped me form a plan on developing a long-term plan for my writing. Another author to team up with Dave more recently is Jon Acuff--the book Quitter is his story of how he transitioned from a day job to his dream career of writing. I enjoyed it and thought it had a lot of practical advice.
Online Writing Communities
Like writing guides, finding writing communities should be more about quality than quantity--otherwise your time is spread so thin between them it's almost the same as not being involved at all.
I personally got my start online with Writing.com in 2006, and I'm still active with them. They have more of a portfolio system (you can look at mine by clicking here) and have the advantage of different privacy settings and an organizational system for your work. The community structure is also different--less conversation-based, but you're going to have a greater chance of detailed (including grammar/typo) reviews of your work. The owners and moderators of the site are very encouraging and just really nice people. Entering contests helped me learn a lot, and there's a fun gift points (GP) system for thanking reviewers and promoting your work. I wouldn't have made it this far without that kind of initial environment to learn and get started in fiction.
Writing Resources Websites
Lately, I've been very impressed by some of the free articles produced on Writer's Digest's website. I like that they also have a sorting method by writing level--from beginner to published author.