5-18 Powell's City of Books, World's Largest Indie Bookstore by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Year of My Way

And so, the end is near...

The end of 2017 that is. So many writers will be publishing their Best and Worst of 2017 articles in the next few days and sadly it seems I’m a cliche too. Or maybe not, because I’m not exactly following the herd. I’m hereby naming 2017 the Year of My Way.

My way or the highway

There’s an expression here in Australia, “My way or the highway” meaning get on board, or hit the road and get going. There’s a bad case of this syndrome going around. Writers, publishers, well-meaning friends and others who have no idea about how to write a book, actually telling people how it must be done.

Apparently, depending on who you listen to, If you don’t do it their way, or whatever way is the professed wisdom of the moment (since it seems to change quite often) you’ll never be able to understand your characters, plot a book, finish a book, get a book finished quickly, write quality work, get a publishing contract, promote a book properly or have a bestseller. Whatever.

I decided early on this year to block my ears and metaphorically say “Lalalala, I can’t hear you” to all of them. You say, you have to write to the latest trends? I say, “Lalalala” I need to write the story that’s calling to me right now. You say, you must write every single day or you’re not a real writer? I say, “I can’t hear you…”

Meanwhile I’m busy not writing every day, since some of my days are devoted to purely Mum-related tasks. Some days ill health gets the better of me, and it’s all I can do to get through the bare minimum daily tasks.

Write what you know...or what I tell you!

I have a particular pet hate for other people telling me what to write, since they know (somehow) that’s what will sell, or get me noticed, or make my sales take off. I can tell you, these days I know a lot of writers. If I haven’t tried something personally, I can probably name someone off the top of my head who has. These ideas or snippets of advice are simply not right for everyone.

For example, a couple of years ago, Rural Romance (or Ru-Ro) was the hottest thing in Australian publishing. If a book couldn’t have a girl in a cowboy hat on the cover, it probably wouldn’t interest an Aussie publisher. If you knew all about horses or farms, or even outback police, more power to you. But otherwise, you were on the outer.

The thing is, no matter how many people told me to write an outback romance (and there were quite a few), I knew I couldn’t, and I didn’t want to. Probably because I have zero experience living in the outback. None. Zilch. Diddly.

I know it may surprise some US and international readers, but about eighty percent of Aussies actually live in cities or by the coast. Personally, I live in Melbourne, a city of about four million people. I worked in the central city for years in a high-rise office building. I occasionally took holidays, usually to the beach. I didn’t know the first thing about a muster, or a cattle station, or any of the other vaguely country-ish things in the rural books. And yet, people were dead-set that was the way to publishing success.

Guess what? It wasn’t. At least, not for me.

Wrong way, go back

Many people tried to advise me that what I needed was to finish about five or six books in quick succession. This wasn’t going to happen. First of all, it doesn’t seem to suit the way I instinctively work. I can work quickly, for a while. Then it just...comes to a grinding halt. I know this because I tried it. I have at least two or three ‘partials’ sitting there on my hard drive, not moving, not even uttering a sound. Seriously, not even a peep of voices in my head from the characters. Working fast has generally failed me so far.

On the other hand, there are writers who labour over every sentence, adding and deleting a single comma over hours of exhausting time. I’m not one of them either. Sometimes, I can dash off a scene that’s in my head and know, instantly, that it’s good. Other times, there’s nothing. This doesn’t mean I don’t try, it’s just a whole lot of nothing words that don’t advance the story or add much of anything. I need to allow myself time to think and brew the story like a strong cup of tea.

I also know that I want to write the type of books that entertained me as a commuter, reading books nearly every day on the train. Romantic comedies and sexy romances, not the hard brain-straining literary matter that yet other people advised me to write. You know, the type I don’t really even want to read. Sigh. So, I followed my instincts.

My Way

This year I wrote a shorter novella, Heart Note, that was calling to me. I didn’t think it would fit with what my publisher was looking for, it wasn’t a full-length novel for starters, and frankly when I went to the Romance Writers of Australia conference, publishers and agents were all saying they didn’t want novellas.

I didn’t care, since I knew this was the next thing I had to write. I’d self-publish it. I’d work out the timelines and everything else, because that’s the way this particular project needed to be done. Now it’s complete, published, it’s been moderately successful already (hitting the top 100 Humor Fiction lists on Amazon in a few countries, thanks very much!), I can breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction.

I'm heading in my own direction. I’m doing it my way, and it’s going just fine.

Don't talk to me about making detailed plans or road maps, or new year's resolutions, but bring on 2018!


Judith Ashley said...


Congratulations on "Heart Notes."

I spent a couple of years (yep, I said "Years") writing the first 5 - 6 chapters in "Lily" the first book in my Sacred Women's Circle series because I belonged to a critique group and was trying to make the story fit what they were advising me. I was the only romance novel writer in the group so the two who wrote memoir, the poetess and the YA writer certainly had advice for me. Some of it was useful but, for the most part, the final version bares little resemblance to all their advice.

So "Hats Off" to you for finding and honoring your process. It's freeing and inspiring to know what "My Way" is. Looking forward to sharing 2018 with you!

Maggie Lynch said...

You are absolutely right to go your own way! In my mind there are three keys to being a successful writer:

1. Write what you love. If you don't write what you love it will show in the writing.

2. Get to know and embrace YOUR process. No two writer's are alike. Creatives each have their own way of being creative. Understanding what your process is becomes 1/2 the battle. The other half is doing it consistently.

3. Finding YOUR niche in the market. It sounds like you may have done that with your novella. There are plenty of stats pointing to novellas being good sellers because there is a market niche that likes to read shorter stories. There is also plenty of stats pointing to longer novels. Again, there is a market niche that likes long books. With over 7 billion readers in the world (that can be identified in stats), it is likely there is a sufficient niche for whatever you write. The key is finding them.

I truly believe that those who write what they love and then find readers who love the same thing have much longer and more profitable careers than those who chase trends or write to tropes in a huge market. Those who chase trends tend to burn out. Those who write to tropes in a huge market have difficulty competing.

By the way, "My way or the highway" is an American term as well. I heard it from people growing up all the time. Congrats on sticking to your voice.

Cassandra O'Leary said...

Thanks for the comments! Judith, I had this exact experience with a couple of writers I met a few years ago. They were more literary focused and didn't 'get' what I was working on. It took me a few months to realise their feedback was more harmful than helpful.I just didn't want my heroine to be a broken person and have a heartbreaking ending to my story.

And Maggie, I'm glad you understand. I think you're right when you say there are so many niche audiences out there. I'm still in the early stages of my career but I don’t want to go too far down the wrong highway!

Michelle Somers said...

Great post Cassandra!
I’m a firm believer of listening to the voices in my head and writing what calls to me. If we as writers don’t write with passion, it shows and our story is less likely to inspire our readers.
Good on you for sticking to your guns.
I loved Heart Note by the way 😊
Michelle xx

Cassandra O'Leary said...

Hi Michelle, yes I need to remember to listen to the right voices! I'm so glad you enjoyed Heart Note too. I had barrels of fun writing it, and now I need to get inside the head of my next heroine and get back into writing again.

Barbara Rae Robinson said...

Great post. Yes, we definitely need to do our own way. This is not a "one-size-fits-all" career we're embarking on. I like Maggie's list. I'm looking for my own niche. I'm assuming there are readers out there who like what I like and will read what I write. I just have to find them.