7 Ways a Writing Career is Like a Theme Park

1. You will spend most of your time in line. Go to any amusement park across this great nation. You will see loads of people willingly lined up in very long queues to board rides which only last around five minutes. Writing is kind of like that. The period leading up to my debut’s release was a very long wait, with not very much happening. My actual release month was like the time on the ride—I could barely catch my breath. Also, when I was first starting out, I thought that at some point things would move faster. I know for a few folks, sometimes things do move very quickly (if you manage to snag a VIP pass, you can skip the line). But for the vast majority of writers, there are long periods of waiting in between thrill rides. Write something else in the meantime. You’ve got time. GIVEAWAY: JJ is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: KarenLange won.)
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1. You will spend most of your time in line.

Go to any amusement park across this great nation. You will see loads of people willingly lined up in very long queues to board rides which only last around five minutes. Writing is kind of like that. The period leading up to my debut’s release was a very long wait, with not very much happening. My actual release month was like the time on the ride—I could barely catch my breath. Also, when I was first starting out, I thought that at some point things would move faster. I know for a few folks, sometimes things do move very quickly (if you manage to snag a VIP pass, you can skip the line). But for the vast majority of writers, there are long periods of waiting in between thrill rides. Write something else in the meantime. You’ve got time.

that-time-i-joined-the-circus-book-novel
jj-howard-author-writer

Column by J.J. Howard, who is wearing headphones right now, most
likely. She grew up in York, Pennsylvania, obsessed with music, movies,
television, and pop culture. J.J. earned her BA in English at Dickinson
College and her MH at Tiffin University. She has been some of her
students’ favorite English teacher for a quite a few years (she even
has a mug somewhere to prove it). THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS
(April 2013, Point Books) is her debut young adult novel. Kirkus said
of the fun debut, "[It's a story] for any reader who ever has felt like
running away to join the circus.
J.J. loves to hear from readers
and is always ready to trade playlists. Visit her on Twitter.

2. Plan ahead.

I live in Florida, so I know it’s going to rain in the summer. Visitors to our theme parks generally walk happily through the gates at nine AM—confident that the sun will keep shining. Of course it rains most afternoons, and they wish they’d packed an umbrella or poncho. A writing career is very similar—learn the terrain, and plan accordingly.

(Why writers who don't have a basic website are hurting their chances of success.)

Whether you are just starting out, or already partway there, it’s important to know that there’s a certain protocol to most aspects of the business, and you will generally get further by respecting the guidelines than going rogue. If you follow folks in publishing, any day on Twitter you can read about authors querying agents or houses with projects in the wrong genre. This is poor planning.

Speaking of Twitter (find JJ on Twitter here), I can’t imagine a better place to sit back, pay attention, and learn the lay of the land from the folks who make things happen in publishing. Ten years ago, there was no way for a new author to be able to eavesdrop on these in-the-know conversations.

Other important items to pack for the writer’s journey: patience, a thick skin (remember, it’s book business, not book art), and a snack. Hey, writing makes you hungry.

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

3. Mass appeal is a good thing.

Who doesn’t love a theme park? Most people do—because they have mass appeal. There are familiar characters wandering around. Each park is different, and the designers have put their own spin on the traditional elements, but there is an underlying familiarity there. If you want to sell your work, it’s hard to beat this story formula: characters and situations that resonate with a lot of people done in a fresh, creative way. You can try to come up with a story idea so unique that no one has ever, in the history of the world, attempted such a project. But think about who’s going to read it. Because in the end, that’s sort of the whole point.

4. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.

Those people who just butted in line a little ways ahead? It’s not worth an argument. Let them get on the ride ahead of you. You’ll get there. Be patient.

The same is very true for writing: while you’re on Twitter, learning a lot about the publishing world, someone whose debut came out after yours will get their second or third book deal. Be patient. Keep writing. You’ll get there.

5. Listen to the experts.

If you’re going to a park for the first time and you’re with someone who goes there every weekend, you should probably let her forge the path. The same holds true in writing-world. If you are fortunate enough to have an agent interested in your work and in working with you, listen to all their advice. They’ve got the season pass. They know what’s up.

(Do you need different agents if you write multiple genres?)

6. You can meet great people from all over the world.

Just don’t give anyone your poncho. You might need that.

7. Realize that the plan may change

If it does rain, the park might shut down your favorite ride. You might drop your hat, or your money, or forget where you parked. Make the best of it all anyway, if you still want to have a pleasant trip. Same with your writing career: some elements will be beyond your power to control. In fact, a lot of elements are out of your control. I’d say, don’t worry so much about the stuff you can’t change, focus on the things that you can.

Enjoy the ride.

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