At this point, you now know what 99% of the world doesn’t: writing is hard. Whenever a person in your life tells you “Someday, I’m going to write a great novel” you get to silently laugh, just like the rest of us. It’s not so much that you’re laughing at them; the laugh is out of pity, knowing just how much work it takes to do that, and how easily they brush it off as though anyone could do it. You’ve seen how much work, how much investment and how much time goes in to writing.
The thing is, most people who “want to write” are the person who “wants to write a novel” and ended up attending a single writer’s group meeting before checking it off their list, as though they had accomplished something. That’s where the vast majority of those “I’m going to write a novel” people end up: exactly nowhere.
You’ve shown, by finishing that project, that you’re not like those people. You have demonstrated a very rare kind of commitment in finishing your first draft, Your writing skills have improved immensely just in this first completed project, and I’m sure you’ve seen it.
When I wrote my first NaNo in 2005, my storytelling craft was probably around where yours is now. It took me six years from that point — my first “finished” novel — to develop into a professional-level writer.
Unfortunately, despite the great leaps and bounds you’ve made in improving your skills, you’re not there yet. Watching your expectations is important. Storytelling is a craft, and contrary to what many people think, it’s not an easy one. Writing as a career, without a secondary job to pay the bills, is something very, very few people ever accomplish. Expecting your first novel to be a publishable bestseller and giving up when it’s not is like picking up a golf club for the very first time, standing on a Par 4, hitting the ball, and then deciding never to play again because you landed 50 yards short of the green instead of getting a hole in one. (Sorry for the golf metaphor; it was the best one I could come up with).
I hope that you followed your passion when you wrote this book. Readers are looking for passion and sincerity in a story; they are most engaged when the author is most engaged. This is what the “write what you know” platitude comes from. On the surface, you may wonder how a fantasy or science-fiction author could possibly “write what they know”… who’s ever seen a dragon, cast a magic spell, or entered hyperspace? What it truly means is to tie in your own personal experience, to tell the story that only you can tell with themes that speak to you and matter to you, as the author, regardless of the trappings (dragons, hyperspace, etc).
I know this is a bit rambling, so I’ll get to the point. There is potential in you to make a good, or even great storyteller. The rub is that it’s going to take a lot of time, work, sweat, discarded words, investment, and despair before you make it there — just like it did for me.
Last year, just after I published ELEGY and made my first forays into this world of professional writing, I wrote 50,000 words on the sequel (then entitled PROPHECY) before I realized that something was wrong. I backtracked (erased 10,000 words) and wrote 25,000 more before the truth hit me: I was telling the wrong story. I put the entire thing away on my hard drive and then cut it up into pieces when I finally wrote LEGACY several months later, which was the right story.
I share this anecdote because it sheds light on a personal truth that I’ve discovered about writing. Not every story works. Not every project is a home run, or even a single. Some of them look great, but they edge over the foul line just before they land (baseball now, apparently).
The point here is, writing is a skill. It’s a passion. If you were hoping solely to make it into a career, I advise you to revise those expectations. Most people who write full-time scrimp, compromise, freelance and otherwise don’t do much writing of their own. The very rare bestsellers, especially on their first time out, are like lottery ticket winners. The odds of not only having enough talent to produce a killer story on the first try but getting recognized by someone are even more astronomical than the Powerball.
Right now it would be easy to get discouraged, and I know that. These things aren’t easy to hear, and they’re not easy to say either. It would be easier to tell you that everything’s going to be okay, that you’re great and everyone will think you’re great, but that’s not how the world works. It would be easy to quit, to call it a day, pack up and go home.
The thing is, I’d prefer to see you keep writing, because the commitment you’ve shown tells me that there’s a writer in you — but the investment of time and emotion to become even a passable author is a large one, and it’s not for everyone.
Whatever you choose, I wish you the best of luck. May the stories in your head keep you entertained.