Angela Looks Back: Why We Must Invest If We Want a Writing Career

One thing I am terrible at is taking the time to glance back. You know, pause and think about how far I’ve come on this writing journey of mine. Usually my gaze is fixed ahead on whatever is next and figuring out how to juggle the load. But today I want to take a minute to do this because there are some important lessons there.

I started just like anyone else…green.

I didn’t know it of course; I thought my writing was awesome…but okay, maybe it needed a touch of polish. So even though it terrified me, I stepped outside my comfort zone to find other writers. I made my first investment in my career…a critique group.

Well, it didn’t take too many critiques at The Critique Circle to see I had a loooooong way to go. I dug in, investing my time and energy, losing count of the critiques I wrote online and off somewhere after 1000. Boy, did I learn a lot.

During that time I made a financial investment, moving up from a free plan to a paid one, but it was so worth it because I could submit work quicker and therefore improve faster. The price wasn’t huge but I agonized over it as I wasn’t making any money from writing and so felt guilty spending it. Any of you feel that way? Looking back, I wish I hadn’t beaten myself up so much, but more on that later.

FUN FACT: Becca and I met online at The Critique Circle. Can you imagine if I hadn’t taken the leap to try something outside my comfort zone? We would have never met!

The next big investment came when I reached that magical point all writers reach: you have grown enough to fully grasp just how much you don’t yet know. So, Becca and I took an entire year away from writing fiction to study the craft. We devoured writing books, everything from Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey to Snyder’s Save The Cat, to Wood’s Description. I don’t know how many books we read in total, but it was a lot. Switching gears was such a smart move for us as we grew a ton that year.

Another investment? Attending my first conference. Oh, the GUILT! A stay-at-home mom, I certainly saw no income from my writing. My husband was starting to prod, suggesting maybe it was time for me to try something else. But I knew this was the path for me, and part of that road is seeking out learning opportunities. So in 2005, off I went to SIWC (Surrey International Writers’ Conference) to listen to gurus like Donald Maass and Diana Gabaldon. My hand cramped from all the note-taking. I had to navigate the social events, too. *cue introvert terror* But I had to figure out the networking thing if I wanted this as a career.

FUN FACT: In October, I will be returning to SIWCas a speaker. (Donald Maass and Diana Gabaldon will be there, too. Life is crazy, right?)

Fast forward a bit, and Becca and I were basically joined at the hip. We’d started submitting our work to agents and editors and this mysterious word, Platform came up. Ugh, MORE to learn? Oh yes…that’s the writer’s life, isn’t it. So, we started a blog. Totally clueless, no idea what we were doing…but we did it anyway.

FUN FACT: Since May 2010, The Bookshelf Muse blog has accumulated 4.2 million hits. In 2015, we moved and became Writers Helping Writers. It’s accumulated 2.6 million more.

The time investment in building this site into what it is now? HUGE. But worth it? Oh yes. This is where we connect with all of you and it allows us to follow our passion of helping others.

Many more investments followed. Paying for online classes, more conferences, books on writing craft, workshops. Taking the time to learn how to build presentations and give them. Spending time with publishing experts to learn the industry to increase my chances of success. Investing large amounts of time to learn how to market, run a business, and self-publish. And finally, a crazy leap into the world of writing software to build One Stop For Writers, which for me, has been the biggest energy investment of all, but unbelievably  rewarding. I love One Stop, and love knowing something that I help to build is in turn helping others.

FUN FACT: I started this journey in 2003.

Maybe you think after 14 years, I’d be done with investments? Nope! I’m attending my first 5-day writing retreat this fall with Margie Lawson. I am always learning and strengthening my craft, and this retreat will give me more valuable tools for my toolbox. I’m determined to never stop growing.

NOT-SO-FUN FACT: None of this was easy.

Sometimes I wanted to quit. Especially in those hard, discouraging times. I could have said, No, this is just too much to invest or let the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) suggestions to move on get to me. But I kept believing in this path, and in myself. I kept investing. And now?

So please, wherever you are on the writing road, no matter how frustrated you might be or how unsupported you feel, keep going. Do whatever you need to to learn. Find mentors, read, write, rewrite, work. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep investing, it will happen. Don’t let guilt or anything else stop you!

I’ve written a post on ways to elevate your craft here. Have a look if you like! One of the items on the list is to attend a retreat which I mentioned I’m doing this November. But believe it or not, I’m also teaching at a retreat in September (10-17th). So if you think this might be something you might wish to invest in, please check it out.

The location couldn’t be better: a cruise ship headed for the Caribbean. And the speakers? Wow. Not only will you learn a ton, you’ll also build personal relationships with industry folks like Michelle Grajkowski, President and Literary Agent of 3 Seas Literary Agency and Deb Werksman, the Editorial Director of Sourcebooks Casablanca. Then there’s Lisa Cron, who is amazing. Have you read Story Genius? (If not, go do that–it’s terrific).

And I’ll be there. I’d love for us to meet in the real world.  🙂

How have you invested in your writing career? Let me know what some of your best investments have been in the comments!

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

A big CONGRATS to Isabella, who won a Freewrite Distraction-free Smart Typewriter!

I am so excited for you and all the writing you will accomplish with this terrific tool. We’ll be in touch by email, so watch your inbox. Thanks to Astrohaus for this terrific prize. To find out more about this go-anywhere writing tool, visit the Freewrite site.

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About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in About Us, Critique Groups, Critiquing & Critiques, Motivational, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons, Writing Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Angela Looks Back: Why We Must Invest If We Want a Writing Career

  1. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-20-2017 | The Author Chronicles

  2. Lois Simenson says:

    I almost gave up on my novel today, after being told it’s one giant cliché. I had a good cry, then I read this blog. Like Karma…so I climbed back in the saddle and jumped into my first 10 pages to ready for manuscript review to the Anchorage Writer’s Conference. I almost cancelled out on that. So I have a cliché. Now my challenge is, what to do with it? Because I’m sure as heck not throwing out my story line and plot! Also, I am interested in the Surrey writer’s conference. Would I fly into Vancouver? I’ve been dying to go to one with Diana Gabaldon in attendance, OMG! Thanks, Angela. You always come through for me. Wish I could hug you or something 🙂

    • I am SO GLAD you didn’t give up! Cliches can be overcome–be it a character, a plot, description, or anything else. All we have to do is dig a bit deeper, expand our knowledge (especially in this particular area), and keep working. I would say probably 90% (if not more!) of writers have written cliches. It’s part of the learning curve. 😉

      The SCBWI conference is in Surrey, BC, and so yes you would fly in to Vancouver. Here’s the website if you want to look into it further, and do let me know if you end up going so I can say Hi in person. 🙂 https://www.siwc.ca/

      • Lois Simenson says:

        The Surrey conference is sold out! Rats! Had I known earlier I would have registered right away. Now that I know about it, maybe I can go to the 2018 one 🙂 I am going to try to get into the Erma Bombeck conference in Iowa in 2018. That one will be hard, sells out within an hour. It will be like trying to get tickets to the Elton John concert that sold out in Anchorage in 15 minutes, haha! I know, I want to meet you in person. It will happen one of these fine conferences 🙂

        • Oh bummer! That’s too bad–I hadn’t realized. The one here in Calgary that I’d recommend is too. And holy cow on the Erma Bombeck one–I will have to look into that one to see why it is so popular. 😉

  3. Laurie Evans says:

    Thanks for all your hard work over the years. I love your books, and recommend them to everyone.

  4. Sacha Black says:

    Do you know what one of the early investments I made was? The Emotion Thesaurus! I’ve invested SO much, both financially and mentally. I’ve sacrificed EVERYTHING out of my life, I don’t watch TV, I removed myself from poisonous social groups, keeping just the close friends. I think time is probably my biggest investment because it’s not just me, my wife’s had to sacrifice time with me too. But I’ve also invested 000’s in software, tech, courses, books, study. And do you know what, it’s been worth every penny.

  5. ChemistKen says:

    Hey, just wanted to thank you for all the work you’ve put into helping us other writers learn more about writing. This website is one of those places I couldn’t do without. Thanks again.

  6. Jay Hicks says:

    Angela, how inspirational this article is! Confession time: I’m addicted to learning, but being an impatient type, started writing a novel two years ago, and as I’ve progressed, it has become much more than I’d ever imagined. But that little seed, the kernel of my idea is being nourished and nurtured and will one day be released into the real world. I know it – I have something that makes people smile when I tell them the premise.

    So now, as I near the 100k mark, I need to go right back to the beginning and flesh it out, embellish and expand, and delete as much as I add. That is the hard part. It’s new territory for me and I’m terrified!

    By the way, Margie Lawson is coming to Australia to spend the weekend workshopping for the Omega Christian Writers Conference here in October. We are so excited.

    • We learn by writing too, so that’s great! I love that you developed a single idea into a novel. 🙂 It’s addictive, isn’t it?

      I was in Australia 2 years ago with Margie–we both taught at RWA’s conference (Melbourne that year). It was a blast–I would love to come back! Did you make it to that conference (2015)?

      • Jay Hicks says:

        Unfortunately not Angela, I only signed up to RWA just after that Conference. I do notice we have quite a few mutual RWA friends though – no wonder…

      • Iola says:

        Angela, I didn’t go to RWA when you were there, but I did do a Margie immersion in Melbourne the week after the conference. It was brilliant. I’m looking forward to meeting her again at the Omega Conference.

        Jay, we met at the Omega Conference last year. It will be great to see you again!

        • Jay Hicks says:

          Hello Iola. You actually recommended Margie Lawson to me there. I’ve certainly been working hard this year and have since done a lot of learning and writing. You’ve got to do both to progress! It will be great to see you again. Perhaps at the Krispy Kreme counter at Sydney airport first! I’d never had one before meeting you there, and it’s a good thing I live a few hundred kilometres from my nearest outlet.

  7. :Donna says:

    Congrats to Nora!

    And I have to say, it’s hard to imagine you and Becca not meeting. What the two of you have accomplished is MIND-boggling! I’ve invested years of my life working on craft and networking, for sure. It’s been a sporadic journey with stretches doing absolutely nothing with writing (life stuff), but for over 20 years I’ve been reading books on craft, took a few courses back in the 90s, then dove more into it starting in the mid-90s with PBs. In 2003 I started tackling a novel (which will never be finished), then began attending NJSCBWI conferences eventually heavily involved in its organizing including A.R.A. under R.A. Kathy Temean. I have SO many craft books (including all of yours!), which I hope to delve into deeply some time soon. I’m gearing up to focusing on my novel series. I REALLY want to write them.

    Now, unfortunately, I still haven’t landed an agent or contract, but have come close. I’ve thought of quitting the past few years because my life priorities need to shift and this hasn’t brought IN anything, just taken a lot of $ I have never had OUT. It’s hard to let go of a passion, especially having invested so many years and so much money. You two are SUCH an inspiration (though I never intend to self-publish, etc.!)

    • So many things have happened to do with Becca and I that we both feel like we were meant to meet and take this wild ride together. 🙂 I am a firm believer that the universe brings along what you need and puts people and situations in your path. The trick is being open and spotting them for what they are. 🙂 Thanks so much for the kind words. And I know there are trials to writing, but always remember why you started. I think when we are most tempted to quit are the points where we are about to have a break through. 😉 HUGS!

      • Jay Hicks says:

        Funny about that quitting thing – just two days ago I was saying to my writer friends as we travelled to a book release/luncheon for Monica McInerney, that I sometimes wonder if it’s all worth the time, energy and devotion to write fiction. “Perhaps I’d do best just getting paid to write columns and submit articles for journals,” I whinged. That very night in my inbox arrived an announcement that I am a finalist in a short story competition and WILL BE PUBLISHED in their upcoming anthology. I feel like an invisible wall has just been broken down, regardless of whether I actually win a prize. Recognition and inclusion in this anthology, small as it may seem, is a wonderful thing and I’ve earned it by my commitment to learning. So keep going Donna. I’m going to…

        • Congrats! And I have to say that I think this happens for a reason. The universe seems to always give us what we need at the right time, and so many times when I wanted to quit, asking myself the same questions–was I wasting my time, etc.–something would happen to keep me moving forward. I think if we believe in something, believe that a path is for us, we have to follow that road no matter how difficult it gets, as long as we are able to. And if it is necessary, we should step off a path, but only if we know we will have no regrets in doing so.

          • Jay Hicks says:

            Well, since reading your post about how you both shelved your writing for twelve months to study, I am tempted. But then, there are a lot of hours in the day which could be better spent reading those crafting books instead of following fiction book recommendations in genres I probably have no cause to dabble in. Really, if I want escapism, I can find that on Netflix after dark…. Can you hear that Angela?
            It’s the sound of a new leaf turning over! So thanks.

          • I can honestly say that this was one thing that boosted our writing level considerably. So I would recommend this idea to everyone. However, you don’t have to do a whole year. You could always do 3 months, or 6, or choose to do 3 books that you’ve really wanted to dive into, etc. If you don’t have someone to do this with, you can always do it on your own. But we found that having someone to discuss and debate the content with helped to solidify things for us.

        • Congrats! It would be easy to say that this is one success in a seeming backlog of failures or disappointments, but in truth, all those less-than-satisfactory moments from the past have worked together to build and grow you to this point. Good for you!

  8. You will have so much fun with Margie. She is such a hoot and a fantastic instructor. You will work your mental buns off. But who’s going to complain about earning writing buns of steel?

    Have fun with your conferences!

  9. Juneta says:

    You are Amazing. I have been watching and following for a long time. You guys are so inspiring. Love this post. Congratulations and Much Continued Success ALWAYS.
    Juneta Key

  10. Okay, okay!!! Thanks to this informative, inspirational and very correct post, I will begin investing in my career.

  11. Angela, thanks for this encouraging post. I’ve done all these same things except for attending a writing retreat. Lack of belief in myself and my abilities has sabotaged my success. I have gained a degree of success, but for the amount of time I’ve been doing this, I know I could have seen more. I’m in a season of discouragement, but I’m going to keep plugging away and soon the door will open, the dam will burst, the wall will fall. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Boy do I know how you feel. But you are 100% right–the solution to self-doubt and fear is to keep putting one foot in front of the other! Keep at it, Debra. Each day look in the mirror and see someone who is charting her destiny. You are, and you are amazing for having the courage to do it. 🙂

  12. paula cappa says:

    Great post today, Angela. I’ve never done a cruise but I do get a lot out of being with other authors. I am co-chair of a small authors group in my town, which we formed at our local library, and that provides regular opportunities to support, share, and encourage each other in writing, book marketing, and reading too. Some great friendships have developed over the years. I applaud your advice to keep going with positive energies!

    • Thanks, Paula. It is so easy for us to self-sabotage ourselves as writers, beating ourselves up for not growing our writing quicker, not publishing sooner, not getting an agent, not earning a pay check. But this path takes time, and we have to invest in ourselves to invest in it, no matter what those around us think.

      Local groups are so terrific for growth. I’ve been part of a few and still get together with several when time allows. I give time to local events, and I ran a local critique group for many years. I have found mentors and acted as a mentor for others. Help is everywhere if we look,and we can all be part of the chain. 🙂 We have to believe in ourselves and keep working…it will happen when it is meant to. 🙂

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