In the age of Instagram, writers have a platform to show their work to more people, faster than ever. But in this rush to share and be seen - are aspiring authors falling into traps that are stunting their growth and potential influence?
I asked some of my favorite authors and poets the most common trap aspiring authors fall into. These women are doing great things in their communities and I am so grateful they graciously shared their wisdom.
Q: What are the common traps of aspiring authors? And how do they avoid them?
Roxane Gay - essayist, feminist extraordinaire, author of untamed state
The trap is "my story is enough." And what I mean by that is like "the facts of my story are enough." That's not the case in terms of thinking about an essay or a book. It has to do more. It has to be interesting. It has to be well-written.
The key questions I think anyone should ask for any piece of writing is "Why should someone care? What is a reader going to get from my story? What are they going to take away?"
I don't think everything that we write needs to be educational. But I do think it has to give the reader something. They have to walk away from having read your work knowing something different about the human condition, about the world, about what it means to be someone like you in the world. So I think you have to start from there.
Then you have to think "What am I doing with language here that's interesting? What am I doing with structure and form that's interesting? Am I organizing this in an interesting way?"
And sometimes you are going to write a very straight-forward essay. But you're going to do so with beautiful language. And sometimes you're going to create an essay with unique structure but very ordinary language.
You don't have to do everything exceptionally well. But you have to do one thing exceptionally well and original at least.
2. Lori L. Tharps - journalist, blogger at MyAmericanMeltingpot.com, author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America
Today's reality is that everybody can become a published author thanks to the proliferation of self-publishing resources. It almost feels like everywhere you look someone is promoting their book on social media, or talking about their big book deal or thanking Black Jesus for the monetary success that came from publishing their book. As a result, aspiring authors may feel that success is just around the corner for them too, so they start planning their promotional campaign before they even finish chapter one of the book.
My advice to aspiring authors therefore, is to slow down and focus on the work. You can't sell or promote a book if the book isn't written. And at the end of the day, if you're going to spend the rest of your life promoting your book, you want to make sure it's the best book you could have written. Invest in writing classes, join a writing group, hire a professional editor if need be to review your work with you. Put promotion on the back burner and turn all of your attention to creating an original, well-written, compelling book.
3. Ayesha K. Faines - speaker, Founder of WomenLovePower.com, author of Smoke: Poems of Love, Longing & Ecstasy
Synchronicity plays a major role in the creation and publishing process. Sometimes the inspiration to write a book, a play or even an article comes to us long before we are ready to write it. It's not a matter of talent or being good enough, as aspiring writers often convince themselves that they are not. It's a matter of surrendering to the creation process, and carrying that idea to term.
There are defining experiences, conversations, chance encounters, and even 'aha moments' that we need in order to best tell our story. So if there is a common trap for aspiring writers it would be both waiting too long, and not waiting long enough.
We have to rely on instinct to know the difference. I thought about writing a volume of love poetry throughout my twenties, but it wasn't until a life defining incident occurred at 29 that I knew it was time. It took three months to publish my work, and a third of the volume was written during that time. I wrote non-stop. 'Smoke' is a poetic memoir influenced by a decade of romantic experiences, and by waiting, I allowed my personal story to come full circle. The result was a far more nuanced and mature commentary on romance and sexual politics than I ever could have completed prior to that point. In the grand scheme of things, trust the timing of your life and your craft.
4. Elisabet Velasquez - poet, performer
Pay attention. Pay attention to the writers who came before you. Pay attention to your peers. Pay attention to your ancestors. Pay attention to your mentors.
But most of all...pay to what pulled you to writing in the first place. Because there’s going to come a moment when everything is going to disappear - if just briefly. And when everything goes away - all you have is your truth.
So pay attention to that.
5. K.M. Weiland - Founder of Helping Writers Become Authors, author of 5 Secrets of Story Structure
Not writing every day - or at least on a regular schedule. If you don’t make your writing a priority, no one else will. It can be difficult not to feel guilty about spending time writing, when you could be spending it doing something more “productive” (like vacuuming the house). But don’t allow yourself to use guilt as an excuse. If your writing is important to you, don’t let anything stand in its way. Set aside a specific amount of time on a regular basis (whether it’s twenty minutes or five hours) and make sure you’re at your desk at that time, no matter what.
As an aspiring author or artist, have you made any of these common mistakes? If so, how did you find your way back to success? Head over to Instagram and let's talk!