I grew up in a DIY household, Dad was an electrician/TV repair man and Mum was a seamstress, so when I attempt something I’ve never done before, it’s not so much with a expectation of succeeding as an expectation of not failing, if that makes sense.
I began to paint over thirty years ago, having not picked up a paintbrush since school. I was a bit above average at art at school and loved the creative process, but it was still with some surprise that I found my adult efforts were better than expected – it came at a time when I was coming to terms with being a single parent and desperately needed something positive in my life, so I threw myself into it with a will. I can do this, I thought, and so I did. There followed a long and very steep learning curve up which I still travel – different media, composition and perspective, colour and tone, the best type of paper, brushes, and techniques. The more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know, and the more I aspire to improve, but the voyage is exhilarating. Then I decided I would cut my own mounts for my paintings and make my own frames. Again, my inability to see the possible fail points stood me in good stead. Another huge learning curve ensued – mount board, mount cutters, mouldings, mitre saws, guillotines, and under-pinners. I tackled each problem as it arose and learnt how to do it.
Over the years, I’ve had many people tell me they wished they could paint. When asked if they’d actually tried, most admitted they hadn’t. My advice? Give it a go. You have no idea what you can achieve if you never try.
And it’s the same with writing. When I first put e-pen to e-paper, the thought process was the same, but the challenges were mountains compared to painting and framing works of art. I knew I had no imagination and that I hadn’t a clue where or how to begin, but I didn’t know that I COULDN’T do it, so I leapt in at the deep end and began to doggy-paddle. Had I known what was involved and how it would take over my life, perhaps I’d have thought twice about it. But ignorance is bliss, as they say.
I had to learn to type a bit better than I had with two fingers on my mother’s old Olivetti back in the sixties – I now use four fingers! I had to relearn my English grammar – an on-going process. I had to learn how to craft a story, about Points of View, about character building, and how to edit, edit, and re-edit. I sent my precious literary children to agents and suffered rejection after rejection, but by now, I was hooked, and every rejection and critique taught me something. I was incredibly lucky at this stage to have a writing buddy, an old friend, and we encouraged each other and honed one another’s work. Neither of us was about to let agents ruin our writing careers or our literary brilliance – coughs politely.
A close brush with a literary agent taught me that I wasn’t cut out for traditional publishing. I need to be in control, to write what I want, not what they consider the market dictates, and as for publicity – I mean the actual standing up and being counted type – the face to face stuff – it terrifies me, so when Indie publishing took off, I jumped aboard and took wing from my armchair behind a comfortable pseudonym.
I hadn’t a clue – I mean, really, I hadn’t a clue.
However, in my usual ‘don’t know I can’t’ manner, I discovered Kindle Direct Publishing and learnt how to format a book for Kindle, design and make book covers and generally prepare a book for publishing. Then, I wanted a paperback copy, so formatting for print, via CreateSpace had to be learnt along with making a wrap-around cover with a spine the right width. Of course, sales were virtually nil as no-one but close friends knew the book existed, so I embraced building my own website, joined book promotion sites like IAN and the Book Tribe, and dipped my toe into Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linked-in, Tumblr, Pininterest, and later, Bookbub, WordPress, and others.
But along with this came how to write book blurbs, make Facebook posts and tweets, how to master Photoshop, how to make short URLs for book links, how to set up pages for my books and groups in Facebook – tweet groups, Twittimer, Roundteam – Facebook and Amazon adverts, book discounting and promotions, author interviews… All these things have to be learnt from the ground up, as and when they rear their heads, and it takes an incredible amount of time and dedication. Time and dedication you can’t devote to writing. If I spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in writing and promoting, I still wouldn’t do everything. And anyway, I need time to paint – it’s a passion!
And this hasn’t touched the time-consuming subject of research. The journeys upon which my novels have led me have been fascinating, eye-opening, and sometimes traumatic and heartbreaking. I have learnt a lot about climate change, British history, the human mind, runes, religious belief around the world, women’s rights, convict transportation, the Australian gold rush, shipping in the 1800s, Gallipoli and the Great War in Egypt, war horses, Nazi concentration camps and the medical experiments of Josef Mengele, among other things, and in the process, I’ve learnt much about my family history and myself.
It’s been, and continues to be, a steep uphill climb, but it’s worth the frequent heartaches and frustrations to hold a paperback book in my hand and think I did that. I did the whole process from the tiny seed of an idea to the print-ready book – beginning to end. It’s a great feeling.
Whatever that thing is that you think you’d like to be able to do, why don’t you give it a go? It’s better to try and fail than fail by not trying. You don’t KNOW you can’t do it, and sometimes it pays to ‘not know what you can’t do’.
2 thoughts on “It helps if you don’t know what you can’t do!”
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Thank you, Sarah.
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