Michelle Harrison: Five things I wish I had known before I was published

1. Writing never gets any easier.

I always imagined that upon completing a novel there would be some kind of revelation, some secret I’d unlock that could make it easier the next time round. There’s no such thing. Through trial and error I’ve learned that there are ways in which I work best, such as to a plan, although too much planning detracts from the enjoyment. However, each book presents its own challenges. While writing my trilogy, for example, I struggled with knowing how much back-story to put in each of the sequels. With my latest novel for teens I wrote from a first person male perspective, something I’d never tackled before. Writing is hard, and there are days when the only thing that gets me through is knowing that if I’ve completed a novel before, I can do it again.

2. It’s a full time job.

I spent almost five years working on my first book; a year for the first draft and another four rewriting it while I submitted to agents and publishers. I did this with a day job and it all fitted together nicely. When I got a publishing deal that quickly changed. Not only did I have a deadline for book two, but I needed time off for promotion (bye-bye holiday), and suddenly there were reader messages to reply to – fantastic – but time consuming none-the-less. Somehow, I managed all this and kept my full time job.

By book three I was struggling, tired from too many late nights – sometimes 2am with work the next day. Eventually I reduced my day job hours to part time. It was a huge help, and I coped much better for another year, yet still it wasn’t enough. With more rights sales comes more paperwork, additional edits, copyedits and proofreading on US editions of my last book, as well as working on the new one for the UK. It’s a constant juggling act. Something had to give, and so I took the decision to write full-time. I’ve no regrets: if the writing dries up one day then I’ll just have to find another job. For now, my books have back listed well and I believe I owe at least part of that to the amount of promotion/reader interaction I’m able to put in. There’s also the added bonus that as a children’s author a decent living can be made from school visit fees alone.

3. Expect discouragement.

For every handful of people who were enthusiastic about my writing ambitions there was always someone ready to deter or attempt to belittle me. ‘Still working on your little book?’ and ‘Do you really think you’re going to get this published?’ are two unhelpful phrases I recall. Strangely enough, the same people were only too quick to congratulate me with ‘I knew you’d get there in the end ’ once I got published . . .

4. Introvert? Not any more.

I’m a hermit when I write. I dislike noise, company (cats excepted) and conversation. The only voices I want to hear are those of the characters in my head. So after weeks and months of being holed up alone it can come as a shock to the system to have to emerge from the study and talk to people, large groups of people, about my work. This was an aspect I never gave much thought to before I was published. I’ve never felt the desire to be in the limelight, such as being on radio or TV and yet somehow I’ve overcome my nerves and done both, because I know I can’t reach an audience if they aren’t aware that my books exist. It gets easier with practise – and Rescue Remedy.

5. One letter can change your day.

If I’m struggling with my writing, or just feeling down in the dumps, there’s nothing that lifts my mood higher than hearing from someone who has enjoyed one of my books. Over the years I’ve had readers tell me that my stories have got them back into books, inspired them to write, and even served as an escape from harsh realities such as bullying and evacuation. When I set out to be a writer I didn’t expect my books to have that kind of effect on other people – it’s a great feeling.

Catch Michelle at the festival on Thursday 7 June, 5.20pm

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4 thoughts on “Michelle Harrison: Five things I wish I had known before I was published

  1. mjgriffor says:

    Thanks for sharing these well learned lessons. I am just starting out and learning a few things about the writing life myself.

  2. djpaterson says:

    Thanks, Michelle – great post. And I love the cover for Unrest – fab!

  3. Anne Lyle says:

    Thankfully I never had to put up with 3 (probably because I was too shy about my writing to tell any non-writers until after I had a book deal), and I’m not at the stage of being able to write full-time yet – but the rest has certainly been true so far!

  4. Great article- I especially liked the comment about “little book”. I have had people ask me when I will get a “proper job”. I write to help children with languages and am fine when faced with a group of under 7’s but anything above has me running for the hills!

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