Everyone has a story of their journey, from birth to reading this blog post. Such a journey might be fascinating, but if it’s like most people’s journeys, it’s repetitious, with lots of lulls interspersed with some heights and some depths. The journey I’m really speaking of is your professional journey as a writer.
A Very Public Journey
Writers write. But more importantly, writers publish. Nowadays, saying you aren’t published because you’ve been rejected by traditional publishers is just an excuse. Anyone can publish through Amazon or other sites. Publishing releases your dream and your words and the results of your craft out into the world, to inspire and enthrall and scare and titillate others. Not everyone will love your book with the same intensity, but those readers who accept you into their private world become part of an intimate circle of trust and sharing. And they want to know how you got there.
To be sure, this journey is a public one. They will draw inferences based on what you’ve written, particularly if it’s fiction. Did she write that relationship in that particular way because she was divorced recently? He writes so confidently about boats; is he a boat owner or a good researcher? They may speculate endlessly about your journey–or you can present it to them.
Setting Mile Markers
I’m not suggesting you manufacture the story of your journey out of whole cloth. That’s dishonest and not at all what your readers want. Instead, be clear in your mind what your journey is and hone it, just as you would any other story you write.
Here’s an example using my mile markers:
- Avid reader as a child
- Avid writer of stories for my friends, as well as poetry
- Desire to write, but not sure how
- Genealogy leads to ideas and ruminations
- Injury from a fall at work leads to mental image from story
- Finished first novel after at least 12 drafts (pantsing it)
- Had it professionally edited
- Shopped it around without success
- Wrote second novel and some short stories along the way
- More rejections
- Went on with my life
- Demoted from my job
- Re-evaluated my life
- Self-published my books
- Time off work for several surgical procedures
- Discovered book marketing through my amazing mentor, D’vorah Lansky
Doesn’t sound very exciting to me. But as I look these over, I see some mile markers that indicate turning periods of pain into triumphs, or at least breakthroughs. I think that’s something readers can relate to and be inspired by.
The Message of Your Journey
Create a tagline from what scriptwriters called the “throughline” of your story, based on the mile markers. A throughline is the theme running through your novel. A little bit of brainstorming by writing a list of possible themes on paper leads me to this: “My journey is a progress through pain to purpose.” I like the alliteration, and I think it describes the journey without any histrionics. Tragedy to triumph would be an obvious choice, but I don’t think my suffering rises to the level of tragedy. Be careful about choosing words that are too over-the-top. Keeping it modest gives it more impact. Don’t spend too much time on it, though, or the words will lose their freshness.
Weaving Your Story
Now that you have a tagline or throughline or theme, weave those milestones into a story. Make sure every word hearkens back to your theme in some way. Keep the writing as tight as possible. You may want to have versions in various lengths for various purposes. Use the short or medium length version for your Amazon author page or the back of your book cover. A longer version is perfect for the About page on your website.
I thought about not including my final story, in the interests of time and space, but since I’ve shown you the steps, I think it only fair to show you the end product. Or at least the journey so far.
Donna’s Author Journey
I wrote my first novel because of a wardrobe malfunction. Yep, treading on the hem of my palazzo pants (I’ll leave you to guess the year) and falling into the wall of my office turned my childhood need to write Star Trek fan fiction, derivative murder mysteries and predictable gothic romances into something more substantial. The time I spent in physical therapy for a sprained ankle and dislocated shoulder gave me time to think. From my subconscious arose an image of a Civil War soldier gasping for breath as he dashed through the woods from an unseen attacker. That image, combined with genealogy research and the untimely deaths of my father and my aunt within less than a year of each other, was the springboard for Second Death.
Muscles heal and sinews knit and life goes on. The pain of rejection while shopping around my first novel was real, but mainly injured my pride. I kept writing–a novel, a novella, some short stories. Someday I’ll be discovered, I thought. Someday.
A lance through the heart wielded by a medieval knight on horseback wouldn’t have shocked me as much as my boss calling me into his office–along with the head of human resources–to deliver an ultimatum out of the blue. Take a non-management position (same salary, thankfully) or leave with severance pay. I was embarrassed, wounded, angry. I accepted the position.
The result was freedom from meaningless meetings and responsibility for the well-being of the department. I kept my head down at work, but at home, I discovered the concept of self-publishing. I designed my cover, learned how to publish to Kindle. I met fellow independent authors, started blogging. Marketing was a new and fun challenge. During a year in which I had surgery for three different purposes, I discovered my mentor, D’vorah Lansky, and the Book Marketing Challenge.
Through this process of discovery, I found my purpose. I love writing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, and I love helping authors with their journeys. My journey continues. I hold my purpose in my head and in my spirit. Helping other authors makes it all worthwhile.
Does This Resonate With You?
I’d love to know what you think of the process of defining your journey. Let me know in the comments!
4 indie-published books
3 degrees (MCert, Web Design & Development, University of Denver; MLS, University of Alabama; BA, Art, University of Alabama in Huntsville)
17+ years professional experience in university web design and editing