Author R.K. Ryals
|Posted on December 2, 2014 at 4:30 PM|
I’ve received a lot of questions over the years since I began this wonderful and amazing publishing journey about writing, my schedule, why and how I write, and why I chose independent publishing. Which has led me to this post about … well, writing.
It seems incredibly cliché to say that there has never been a moment in my life where I haven’t written, but it’s true. I grew up below the poverty level in Mississippi, and because of that we didn’t have television with cable until I was twelve years old. My mother took my sister and me to the local library and signed us up for a library card. It opened up a whole new world for me, an amazing world that took me on amazing journeys. These journeys carried me away from life, from the pain, hunger, and fear that my life was at the time. It helped that my grandmother (a war bride from the United Kingdom who came to the U.S. when she was nineteen) was an avid oral storyteller. Between reading books and sitting at my grandmother’s knees listening to her tell stories about her life and the war, I became passionate about stories, about the way they made me feel and the escape they gave me. I was fascinated by history, drama, and romance. I developed a love for literature.
My career as a writer began as a child hiding under a sheet with my twin sister long after the two of us were supposed to be asleep. I’d tell her stories for hours because they carried us. Because building the stories were like building new houses with working air conditioner units and a table full of food. Building stories was about building laughter and innocence. It was about giving birth to life and letting it take us down a dozen different paths. Stories fed me.
I was in fourth grade when I entered and won my first poetry contest. It encouraged me, and before long I was obsessed with writing, with filling notebook after notebook with words and pain and beauty. Most of the stories and poems I wrote, I threw away, partly out of embarrassment and partly out of the fear that it wasn’t good enough. Just writing it was enough. In highschool, I was awkward, clumsy, and too quiet. I didn’t speak a lot because I didn’t have to. All I had to do was write. It was then the bullying began, the incessant bullying that culminated in a dark moment cornered in an empty classroom by three boys, a dark moment of fondled shame. Power was stripped away from me. There was nothing I could do, so I wrote. I wrote about the pain. I poured moment after moment into broken poetry and stories. It empowered me and gave me strength. Eventually, it led to a teen article I wrote for my local newspaper.
In the end, I went to college on a writing scholarship after winning an essay contest for an essay called “A Cup of Tea” based on my British grandmother and her losing battle with Alzheimer’s. That essay eventually led to the first draft of my book, In the Land of Tea and Ravens, because my grandmother fed my love for storytelling, the fantastical, and the beauty of tea and what it can do for the soul. At first, I spent college writing essays, winning honorable mention in another competition based on an essay I wrote about my father and the Vietnam War and his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Writing is a passion, and it is the only career I’ve ever wanted.
I write full time now thanks to my amazing readers. I never tell people it’s my job. It’s more than that. I wake up every day, I make a cup of coffee, I sit down, and I write from the time my children leave for school until they return home. But what I do isn’t work. It’s a personal journey, days full of pouring pain, love and joy onto paper. Writing is like journaling for me, giving rise to characters that take me on amazing journeys while giving me the world. They teach me so many things.
Why do I write? Why is writing the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do? Writing isn’t just about the passion for me, it’s about the pain. Writing is a release. Whenever I pick up a pen or my laptop, I’m escaping into worlds that change me, heal me, and teach me. I’m creating characters and then giving them the freedom to make me a new person. Writing for me is a lot like my life. I write because it’s beautiful, because life is beautiful, but it’s also painful and there is beauty in pain. There is beauty in the struggle. I write because it carried me through my life, through hunger, fear, poverty, bullying, the grief of losing my parents, and a very personal struggle with an eating disorder. I write because writing is about starting over. It’s about putting pen to paper and creating new beginnings. Each story is different. Each story represents something for me. Each story gives rise to new emotions, new joys, and new pain.
I’ve spent many years writing fictional stories. Both The Scribes of Medeisia series and In the Land of Tea and Ravens were actually drafted when I was in highschool and college. The Scribes series was inspired by the quote “The pen is mightier than the sword”, and In the Land of Tea and Ravens was inspired by my essay “A Cup of Tea.” Both are incredibly fantastical adventures into strange worlds full of romance, pain, and new beginnings. I write like I live, with passion, struggle, and love. Because I believe that romance is so much more powerful when you fight for it, when you overcome struggles and obstacles and embrace each other. Life is a road with many paths, and I truly believe stories are the same way. They are never simple. They are complex journeys into emotions and thoughts and worlds and ideas.
While I’ve written fictional stories for years, it wasn’t until I hit publish on Redemption that I had the courage to put a story out into the world. Redemption wasn’t the first book I’d ever written, but it was the first book I gave wings. For the first year after I completed Redemption, I sent queries and pitches to publishers and agents with little success before I discovered self-publishing on Barnes & Nobles through my best friend. Not long afterward, my editor at the time (now a close friend) told me about self-publishing on other platforms. I’ll be honest. I was totally against it. At the time, there was a stigma against independent writing. Truthfully, there still is. Most of it is due to bad editing. I can’t tell aspiring authors which platform is the best route for publishing. That’s a personal choice, but the independent route was the right choice for me. Does it mean I won't ever trade publish? No, but independent publishing has definitely been my foothold. There are pros and cons to both publishing platforms, but independent publishing has been key for many writers who don’t fit into a mold, who aren’t writing the current trend, or writing under a specific genre. It has become a platform for those writers, a place for them to put incredible work on the market that would have been overlooked otherwise.
My advice to aspiring writers is to look at your options and choose what’s best for you. Make sure you have your work edited and beta read no matter what your choice is, and don’t get discouraged. No matter what decision you make, there will be bullies, criticism, and bad reviews. It comes with the territory. Our job as writers is to put the best work we can possibly put out there. Even with self-edits, my editor’s edits, and the advice of beta readers, there are occasionally mistakes. My job is to make it as perfect as I can.
Most of all, don’t get discouraged. Thousands upon thousands of books are published every day, and there’s always the chance your work will get lost in the daily grind. Don’t quit. Writing is first about the love of writing, not what you can gain from it.
Most writers are introverts and that’s okay. I’ll always speak better on paper than I ever will in person. It takes true courage to put your words out into the world and open it up for criticism, and you will get it. There’s no doubt you’ll receive it. There’s nothing worse than getting a review that says “I couldn’t connect with the characters” or “this is terrible”. Your books are your children. They are your pain, your tears, and your joy. They become inseparable parts of your life, and when someone criticizes it, it’s like standing naked in front of the crowd while everyone laughs at your stretch marks or bad posture. Don’t let it make you quit. Use it. Constructive criticism is important. It helps you improve. Writing, like any art, is about getting better at it. There is always room for improvement. Words are power. They hurt and they heal. Let the hurtful words make you write harder. Write to heal. Write to be better.
As for the truly hurtful reviews, the not so constructive ones, remind yourself that not all readers will like what you write. Not all readers will connect with all of your books and that’s okay. Each book is a journey, a variety of different trips through different worlds and some people will like some of your worlds better than others. Write because you need to write. Put your soul on paper. Put your pain, joy, and heart on paper, and then give it wings.
I’m often asked which one of the books I’ve written is my favorite. I honestly don’t have a favorite. They all resonate within me. They’ve all taught me something. The Redemption series taught me to look for light in the darkness, the Thorne Trilogy taught me to embrace the part of myself that isn’t always good, the Acropolis series taught me about struggle and overcoming prejudice, the Scribes of Medeisia series taught me about the power of words, The Singing River taught me about overcoming boundaries to find love, The Story of Awkward taught me to embrace what makes me unique, and In the Land of Tea and Ravens taught me about tea and the beauty of overcoming pain. There are certain books I’ve connected with more. The Scribes of Medeisia and In the Land of Tea and Ravens has been with me the longest, both of them stories that I’ve carried with me for years. The Singing River was written while my dad was passing away, and the Story of Awkward helped me heal. Because of that, they were all incredibly personal journeys despite the fact that they are fiction.
In the end, writing is about putting yourself into your words. It’s about building your worlds around yourself and experiencing everything with your characters. For me, writing is about being found. I start each story lost, and by the end of the story I’ve found myself again. Be confident in your work. Stand behind it. Make it fly.
For many years, I threw my work away. One day, before my mother passed away, I was helping her go through her hope chest when I stumbled across a pile of crumpled papers, all of it my old stories and poems. She’d been rescuing them from the trash. Looking up at my mother, I asked, “Why did you keep these?” She replied with, “Because what you consider trash, others may consider genius.”
It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. Because no matter how many people dislike a story, there will always be that one person touched by it. Write for that person.
Don’t just write books. Tell stories.