After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time but I'm sure was perfectly normal, my agent passed on the offer of a three book deal with one publisher, but also told me that at least one other company was interested. So now I am sitting waiting for acquisitions meetings and an outcome, that at least means I have a good deal with a great publisher! I am going to be published.
Those words are what we all long to be able to say, and it's taken me a few days to settle down after the first news. It's real...my five year plan to go from amateur writer to actual novelist, one day to be published, paid off. I hope that others, who feel they have stories to tell and books to write, will be inspired to consider the path I took.
The most useful thing I did was start to write every day. I rarely take a day off, even on my 'celebratory weekend' I managed to squeak a few hundred words in each day. Friends have often said 'oh, if I had the time'...well, make the time. It takes me twenty to thirty minutes to write five hundred or so reasonable words. Forty minutes to write about a thousand. In three months, you have a novel at that pace. OK, a scrappy first draft, but the most valuable lesson I learned was how to get from a single story to the complex interweaving of characters and plots that I end up with in a novel. My first drafts are often very short, but when I come back to rewrite them, they grow. Five hundred word minimum a day was my target, and the momentum I gathered has led to writing six novels, a few poems and a children's book.
The courses I took also helped. I found it hard to let someone read my work, and even more daunting, criticise it. But it was nothing compared to the hard look agents and editors give our efforts, so I gradually toughened up. I don't like criticism, but I value it enormously, and I know it helps me improve.
Most of all, competitions tell you you are on the right track. When you know it's going to be judged by...well, actual judges...you work on your prose until it shines. That's excellent practice for the next step, trying to get something published. I wish you luck, of course, but I know there is no substitute for actually writing and writing until the stories flow - at least some of the time.