Writing: you cross lots of finish lines to reach the Derby

My husband and I just finished watching the Kentucky Derby, and when it was finished, he said, “It’s sort of like writing, isn’t it?” “How?” I asked. “It takes picking the right horse, tons of training, and crossing lots of finish lines to be a contender.”

After I thought about, he’s right. A writer has to find a niche for himself–whether it’s writing fantasy, romance, mystery, or literary–and then he has to find a way to be unique from the other writers in that niche. I write urban fantasy, and that means readers expect certain elements when they pick up my books, but each writer puts a unique twist on those elements to make the genre their own. Ilona Andrews is different than Patricia Briggs, who’s different from Jennifer Estep, who’s different from Faith Hunter. And once a writer has found how to follow the rules of the genre in his own way, he’s found a niche. It’s the horse he’s going to ride to the finish line, if he’s lucky. Of course, sometimes the niche becomes glutted or half-dead, and then a writer has to find a new horse or decide to hope for the best and stick it out.

The only way to be a good writer is to write. A person has to master the craft of writing–plotting and pacing, varying sentence structure and writing dialogue, grammar and spelling, etc–as well as finding his own voice and style. That’s where the training comes in. And it’s not just the actual act of writing he needs to learn. There’s a fine line between listening to criticism to make his writing better and listening to criticism to the point that he tries to please everyone and loses his own voice. I’ve met writers who won’t listen to anyone and they never fix their mistakes. I’ve also met writers who listen to everyone and end up with a homogenized nothing. Too far one way or the other does a writer no favors.

The last part of horse racing is crossing the finishing line. But to reach the Kentucky Derby, most horses have raced in lots of others races to hone their skills. Writers, hoping to have a career, have to cross lots of finish lines, too. First, they have to decide on their niche. Then they have to find a way for their story/book to be unique. Then they have to FINISH their story–
and that’s an accomplishment, in itself, but it’s only one finish line. Next, they have to DO something with their books. They can try for an agent, an editor, or self-publish. Whichever way they go, once they accomplish that, they’ve crossed one more finish line–a substantial one, but there are more races to go.

Even published writers have to market themselves anymore. Most authors write blogs or have webpages. A lot of them tweet and have Facebook pages. They advertise and promote. They work to “brand” themselves, so that when a reader hears their name, they think of a product. These days, marketing is a finish line almost every author needs to cross.

Not every horse reaches the Kentucky Derby. Only one horse wins it. The same is true for writers. Some of us are still working to win small races. A few have won more races and sold enough books to have earned a name and a career. Fewer still hit the jackpot. But a writer can’t win if he doesn’t race. The odds are against winning the Derby, but there are smaller victories along the way.

My big dream? Someday, I want to go to the Romantic Times convention, not as a fan, but as an author who might have fans stand in line for me to sign my books. But I have a few more finish lines to cross before that ever happens. So I’m going to keep busy until it’s off to the races! You should, too.

P.S. I put a new post on my webpage for May. http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

8 thoughts on “Writing: you cross lots of finish lines to reach the Derby

  1. Finally-I’m back! Hi Judy- so great to be able to leave a comment. I’ve been following your posts on my smart phone. As always, you share such insightful tips. I would love to be the first fan in line. Keep dreaming — you’ll get there!


    1. Hooray! You’re back. Read your post “Tell, don’t show.” Enjoyed it. Everyone has to find their own way in writing, and I’m glad you’ve found what works for you.


      1. It’s been so wonderful reading and following your blog. You’re a wonderful author and an inspiration. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll have A book published. Why not, right?
        Thanks for swinging by my blog. Cheers to you!


  2. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but after browsing through many of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyhow, I’m definitely pleased I stumbled upon it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!


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