”If you want something badly enough, and you work at it and you keep it at the forefront of your mind, I truly believe something will come of your big dream.”
The perfect example of an online creator transitioning to a successful writing career, Melanie Murphy shares her tips and advice for ‘newbie’ writers, walking us through her own journey as an author.
Melanie starts out by describing her early influences as the likes of Harry Potter and Animorphs. “Anything about human relationships, especially if it had a bit of magic or fantasy,” she explains. From rewriting her favourite book series to experimenting with poetry as a teenager, her style transitioned to reflect a “miserable” time in her life. As many successful writers do, Melanie drew creativity from her own emotions and experiences.
In spite of personal hardship, Melanie encountered her first success with writing during this time. Lore, a high-fantasy novel she had written and published on Authonomy – a writer’s website owned by Harper Collins – led to her being offered a book deal. The deal, offered by an indie book publisher, was “terrible” though, and Melanie turned it down.
Here we encounter the first of many lessons she shares in this video: know your worth.
Although she took a break from recreational writing to complete a dissertation and finish her degree, Melanie found her way back to writing by the age of 25. At this point, she had begun posting to her YouTube channel, and had established an audience of predominately “15 to 30-year-old women”.
Melanie goes on to explain how this was a huge advantage to her writing career. She was contacted by the Irish Publisher Hachette Books and offered the deal for what then became her authorial debut, Fully Functioning Human (Almost): Living in an Online/Offline World. The part-memoir, part-life guide topped the Irish book charts, and was even featured in Irish school exam papers in 2019.
Reflecting on this book, Melanie says, ”I have grown so much since I wrote this, but, you know, I was writing it for young people, and I look at it fondly, because it was my leg in the door.”
Upon the success of Fully Functioning Human, Melanie was able to have her first fiction novel, If Only, published. Unlike her memoir, which “was only ever going to be relevant to (her) audience”, writing fiction allowed her to reach new readers. The book, which explores themes of “body image, love, friendships and grief” was particularly successful in the United States.
Melanie encourages aspiring writers to ask themselves what they want to write, noting that writing is rarely a primary source of income for many and requires huge amounts of “determination”.
She then leads us into some tips on how to go about the writing process.
Environment is the first factor Melanie mentions. She states the importance of having “no interruptions” whilst working. Sitting with the silence of your own brain is difficult – as writers, we relate – but creating a space that focuses your attention solely on the task of writing eliminates procrastination and other distractions we know all too well.
Focussing on the story is not just important in the moment, though. Melanie explains that the wider temptation to dwell on the logistics of publishing a book and of trying to write a story with a particular market in mind is damaging to the authenticity of your work. Attempting to write the next Game of Thrones is neither possible, nor productive.
Finding your style is next. Melanie describes this as figuring out if you’re a “discovery writer”, someone who develops their plot as they write, or a “plotter”, who knows their narrative intentions from the beginning. “I kind of fall somewhere in the middle,” she says. “The fun of writing, for me, is not knowing.”
Kill your darlings, she advises. By “removing anything that isn’t serving the story”, it becomes much easier to maintain a good pace and keep engaging the reader throughout. She also notes how taking short breaks from writing, usually overnight, makes it easier to perceive the text “from the perspective of the reader”.
Identify your ideal reader. This was likely a lot easier for Melanie than it is for writers without an existing platform. “I had my YouTube viewer as my ideal reader,” she says. She was able to visualise their perspective from the memories of those she met “in the streets” or “at conventions”.
Have a deadline, she then emphasises. Sharing your writing process with your friends, family or followers helps to create accountability, which can be hugely motivating when writing becomes difficult.
Perhaps our favourite piece of wisdom comes next: ”Finished is better than perfect.”
Melanie then delves into her experience with marketing her work and working with publishers. She states that, despite her having the advantage of an established audience, and therefore getting to work with a traditional publisher on both her books, publishing without a platform holds its own advantages. “It’s quite difficult” Melanie believes to write whilst having an existing audience. Being able to “separate“ the writer from their writing gets tricky, and this can affect the readers experiences of the story.
Melanie goes on to say that “all of (her) covers, are not the covers (she) would have chosen” herself. Signing with a traditional publisher also meant sacrificing some of that creative control, which can be an advantage to being self-published.
Building a platform is another suggestion she makes for newbie writers. She suggests figuring out what makes yourself different from others and build your platform from that. This is useful for connecting and engaging with your audience. Melanie makes reference to author Stephen King, who does this primarily through Twitter. Along with this, setting up a simple, neat website is a way of “legitimising yourself” as an author, she believes.
Her final tip is sharing your work. No, this doesn’t mean linking to a free .PDF copy of your book in your Instagram bio. Whether you approach this by reading out the first chapter of your novel, as she did, or sharing your favourite quotes with your Instagram followers, Melanie states how “snippets” like this “spike people’s interest” and encourages them to share their favourite parts of the book themselves.
This video is so jam full of good advice, so let’s summarise the most important things to take away: To write a good story, create a focused space, keep practising and let yourself fail, but don’t let yourself not finish. To get your work out there, build yourself a platform to connect with your readers, offer up segments of your work to excite your audience and, of course, don’t give up!