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Feb 132013

 Should I or Shouldn’t I? The Writer’s Dilemma

by Elaine Cougler


We writers are slaves to self-doubt, and why shouldn’t we be? There are about as many gurus out there telling us exactly how to be successful as there are writers hungry for the secret formula.

Along the road to publication are lots of potholes and bumpy stretches. We get passed by transport trucks and smart cars alike as we try to read the map, make the right turn, and keep up with the traffic.

10 pitfalls and aha! moments I’ve encountered on my journey:

  1. Should I join a critique group? I believe the answer is yes but there is one caveat which I mention here because of personal experience: make sure the group is serious and understands your genre. I have been told by crime writers never to have long sentences or paragraphs. Since I write historical fiction this advice was useful to me only to a point. Much of historical writer Margaret George’s charm for me is her skilled use of language and at times that includes long sentences.
  2. Are conferences worthwhile or would I spend the time better at my computer spinning out my word count? Every conference I’ve attended has been useful and enjoyable, some more than others. Meeting other wannabe writers and talking with workshop presenters as well as keynote speakers has been a joy for me. And I’ve made invaluable contacts. I do make sure the conference ties in to my areas of interest and that it is a sufficient draw for known writers and speakers. Finally, don’t go if you are not prepared to step out of your shell and talk to everyone you can. Get over your nerves and go for it.
  3. Is hiring an editor worth the considerable fee I might spend? Of course this depends on the editor but getting someone else’s view about your work, while it may shock you, is much more useful than having your friends read your manuscript. I’ve done both. The second was wonderful for my ego in the early days of my writing but the first was so much more. I hired someone I didn’t know, sent off my deposit and my manuscript and waited. When the editor’s comments came back, I learned a lot and looked at my work from a different perspective. She told me what was good and what needed more consideration. I felt like a real writer.
  4. Should a writer embrace social media and build platform as a springboard to making sales when her book is ready to make the plunge? Well, of course. Everyone knows that, unless they’ve been on the International Space Station and incommunicado for about 10 years!
  5. When do I put “Finished” on my manuscript and move ahead? I never thought this would be hard but it is, especially for a perfectionist such as I. At first writing, my manuscript in its wondrous-words-on-white-paper glory just seemed stupendous and I couldn’t imagine changing a word. After a few months of letting it lie while I took courses, wrote other things, and generally just ignored my 400 pages, I did a reread. OMG! There was so much that needed rethinking and reworking. Now, though, I am finding it hard to say it’s done. Ironic, isn’t it?
  6. Every time a new or different book on writing jumps in front of me saying, “Read me, read me!”, should I? One of my writing friends put it well. Once you’ve read a few of these and taken a few courses, you just have to trust your instincts and spend your time writing. Still my iPad and my bookshelves sport many great titles written by masters and I consult them when I need a shove in the right direction.
  7. How many query letters should one writer write before saying “Enough!”? This one is personal taste but I’ve written and sent in over thirty and had one nibble, so far. I keep on keeping on. Terry Fallis, the first self-published author to win Canada’s prestigious Leacock Medal for Humour, mentions he sent out 50 query letters, had one reply—which was a no—until he submitted The Best Laid Plans and won the contest. Then publishers took wooed him.
  8. And the really big question, then, is should I self-publish? I don’t have the answer for others but I am a member of several LinkedIn writers’ groups, a couple of which address this very subject. If you are wondering the same thing, try joining and watching the chatter which is laced with all the goods and bads of the self-publishing and e-publishing world.
  9. Should I spread my wings and guest post on others’ sites? Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing is a great proponent of this technique for building an audience and I learned a lot from his course. (Yes, writers have to be marketers.) I must confess I don’t follow his advice as much as I should but I intend to when I get over my procrastination phase. Oh, wait. Here I am on Writania so I guess I am a convert.
  10. Will I ever grow some guts and follow my dreams? There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I would have shied away from this one. Remember, I grew up in the days when nice girls crossed their knees and sat quietly waiting to be asked to dance. Well, no more. Now I am out there dancing up a storm with whomever will join me. And all those fears have evaporated as I realize that most of us are the same, afraid to step up, terrified of rejection, afraid to try something different no matter what might be the eventual reward. The answer for me now is, YES!

Imagine your writing journey as a continuum where you edge from left to right as you take the writing courses, write every day, gain confidence in your own voice, and join the amazing writing community out in the real world. Working, trying, talking, you will get to the point of confidence. Oh, not perfect, never-question-yourself confidence, but you will come to trust yourself and focusing on what is necessary will become easier.

It took me, an English teacher, a lover of words and books and ideas, a long time to gain the confidence to step out into the world. First I had to get comfortable calling myself a writer and then I had to act the part. Now, I say it just as easily as telling people I am a teacher. Or a mother, or a wife, or a friend.

My final words on this subject? If you don’t think and act like a writer, no one else will believe you are. Just do it!

Also from Elaine: Five Steps Out of the Writer’s Closet: an Author’s Journey

Elaine Cougler taught English in Ontario schools for 25 years, has read historical fiction all her life and now blogs about her writing journey. She has published two books of family history and is currently working on an historical fiction trilogy based on Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War. A love of language and the beauty of well-written stories led Elaine down this path. She particularly enjoys interaction with other writers and readers.

Connect with Elaine –


Twitter: @ElaineCougler




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