Sojourn: One Writer’s Experiences and Tips on How to Make Your Voice Heard

Sojourn: One Writer’s Experiences and Tips on How to Make Your Voice Heard

When asked to write an  article about my own experiences as a writer I admit I found it difficult to peg down a way to begin.  The simple truth is I’m not a very well-known writer.  I’ve had a few lucky breaks and I’m known to a couple of small groups within the Ottawa area, but you won’t see my name on any billboards or under a movie title.  Well, not yet at least.

But then I realized that this is true to hundreds if not thousands of other people out there, both in and outside of Ottawa.  Not just writers either; artists from all walks of life struggle with getting their work noticed and truly accomplishing their dreams.  So why not simply tell my story?  It may not be the best out there, but the point of this article is the same as any other piece of art.  If it only touches one person and makes them feel something towards it (be it positive or negative) then I’ve done my job.

I decided to be a writer at the age of thirteen and never looked back from there, even though my first attempt at a novel took me two years.  This isn’t because I didn’t know what to write about, it was because I didn’t possess the dedication I possess now.  I was an immature teenager (like we all were at one time or another) and didn’t have the same drive that comes over time.  One of the most important things an artist can take on is a sense of dedication.  I know that this sometimes contradicts the aloofness that makes artists who they are, but it’s almost a requirement if you want to get ahead in any field.  Despite the length of my first project, what I’ll never truly forget is when it was finished.  The sense of accomplishment didn’t simply wash over me; it hit me like a lightning bolt.  I remember sitting in front of our home’s old school computer and thinking, I just finished writing a novel.  There was no going back from there.

Then came the next problem in the arduous journey.  Publishing.  It’s unfortunate to say but plenty of publishing companies will reject you.  In fact, almost all of them will.  On average a publisher will only want to read the first three chapters of the book you have written, and some times not even that. The sad reality of this is that even if you have managed to write an epic that could rival Tolkien’s work, you have to make the first few pages worthy enough to pass through the eyes of the publishing company.  It’s sad but true.

But allow me to clarify something.  Just because the companies you send your book into reject it, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  It simply means that the people that reviewed your work didn’t think it was up to their standards.  Something to always remember is that everyone has an opinion and everyone will voice it.

With the publishing world becoming less and less of an option I decided to turn to a healthy alternative, the world of self-publishing.

Self-publishers are companies that help writers get their work off the ground, but all the costs come out of the writers’ pockets.  This means that the editing, advertising, bookbinding and almost everything else you can think of come out of the writer’s pocket.  If you choose to self-publish, you will be paying for every step of it yourself, and I mean every step.  This makes self-publishing a bit of a Catch-22 situation, meaning that self-publishers will give you as much advertising and resources as possible, but only if you give them just as much money in return.  Depending on what you choose to buy from them, you’ll be looking at anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars.  But remember, the more you spend the better quality exposure your novel will receive.  Sadly, thousands of dollars were not at my disposal and I chose a more basic package from the company I chose to self-publish with.

Here’s where I’ll point out one of the most annoying qualities in the self-publishing industries.  Any company out there will offer you multiple different kinds of packages that you can choose from.  But once you decide on which one you want, they will continue to call you over and over again and offer you more options for what you can do, explaining that you can buy more advertising or have different versions of your product be released.  If you have the money for it then it’s not too much of an issue.  But if you can’t afford the several thousand dollar options then you’ll have to tell whoever’s calling you that you can’t accept what they’re pitching at the moment.  The only problem is that those who propose the offers in self-publishing are like telemarketers.  Telling them “No thank you,” sometimes won’t get the job done.  They’ll simply say something along the lines of, “Well I certainly understand that you don’t want this service at the time,” and then go on to give you the exact same pitch that they just gave you.  The entire thing can leave you with one massive headache.

Despite this, I have no regrets for trying to pursue that option.  The novel in question is called Dozen-rollers; Legend of the Blue Front and, though it has multiple spelling mistakes and is no longer in print, can still be found online for those that wish to go searching.  At the end of the day, any form of publicity can get you noticed.

The years continued to roll on and I did what several other writers do: I stopped focusing on novels for a while and started to pick up other forms of work.  Funnily enough, it ended up paying off.  I wrote up a few screenplays and submitted them into the organization known as Youth Infringement, a youth theatre group located right here in Ottawa that takes in open submissions from anyone between the ages of 18-25.  In the past two years I’ve had two of my scripts performed with this organization.

The first was a darkly comedic piece entitled Everybody Limbo!  Taking place in purgatory, three recently deceased souls get judged by a single man as to whether they will enter the gates of paradise or be subjected to damnation.  The only catch is that their judge is, for lack of a better term, a complete and utter lunatic who likes to abuse the people that enter his realm.  The second and equally dark piece was a one woman show entitled Lucy that allowed the audience to meet the daughter of the Grimm Reaper and let her give her story from the thousands of years she’s been alive.

Given my experiences within the Youth Infringement group, I urge any young writers or actors to try and be a part of it as well.  It’s an amazing opportunity for anyone looking to get a bit of a name for themselves or to just have some fun and meet some fun and talented people.

But if scripts and novels aren’t your forte, don’t get discouraged there are plenty of other alleys to pursue within the field.  You just have to go looking for them, and you should literally look anywhere that you can.  Go online and find ads by people looking for writers.  Try out for any contests that you may come across on websites or magazines.  Or just write up something that you find interesting and send it to a local newspaper; plenty of them are always looking for freelance writers and you never know if they’ll like what you give them.  The worst thing any writer can do is put themselves down, because you never know which piece that you write is going to be the big break that launches your career.  Be open to submitting anything that you think is good, and don’t let someone else rejection knock you off the path to achieving that dream.  Hundreds of other people get to do what they love for a living, so why exactly can’t any of us?

The last bit of advice I can give is to write what makes sense for you.  Everyone person has different quirks and qualities that make them who they are, and that becomes evident in someone’s writing style.  No two writers are exactly the same, so don’t try and be like another one.  Your style is your own, so always remember to own it.  Draw from your experiences, and every once in a while indulge in your desires.  Trust me, what comes after can sometimes make for a great story.


A young writer, novelist, and playwright from Ottawa, Dave Coleman covers topics like books & literature, theatre, and the arts.

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