Monday, May 5, 2014

Surviving the Writing Life

In my last post, I talked about starting the new year by Defining Success for yourself, with tips on how to do that. That came out of several SCBWI schmoozes in Albuquerque on issues in the writing life. I thought I’d share some additional notes here, based on questions people had or areas where people were struggling. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in some of these questions and find guidance in the answers. These work even better as group discussion questions, so consider bringing them to your critique group or discussing them over coffee with writing friends.

Is there value in comparing your path to others? How do you keep from being frustrated and discouraged when others seem to be doing better?

– Keep in mind many people are happy to share their successes but may hide their disappointments. It doesn’t mean the disappointments aren’t there. At our meeting, every author who had been published for at least 10 years had a gap of six or seven years between novel sales at some point. I had almost a decade between sales of original novels.

– Honor yourself for continuing to show up and try. Many people drop out and we never hear of them again. You are farther along the path to success than all those people!

– Try to put aside the concept of “failing” and instead focus on “learning.” So your manuscript was rejected by 50 agents. Are you a better writer now than you were before you wrote it? Do you know more about querying? Have you developed a new resistance to rejection? Then that process was a success.

– Understand that learning new skills takes time. How much time have you really put in – not in years, but in hours? You may have heard of the “10,000 hours” rule – that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. You may have been writing for 10 years, but at five hours per week, that’s only 2600 hours. (Lest you find that discouraging, you may need fewer than 10,000 hours because you learned some of your writing skills throughout your school years. You may still need to spend a few thousand hours learning fiction writing or writing for children, though.)

– Remember that not everybody has the same obligations (family, job), training, financial resources, or family support. All those things affect your career path. Do the best you can with what you have.

– You are more than just a writer. Honor and celebrate your whole self.

– It’s not us versus them (unpublished versus published, or debut author versus famous author.) We are all on the same path. You’re part of that continuum. Some people may be further along the path, or moving more quickly, but this isn’t a race with only one winner.

Fellow Mayhemer Joy McCullough-Carranza adds, “I’m in a position where critique partners I’ve had for years have all gotten agents and most have gotten deals with major publishers and I’ve done neither (despite their assurances that it’s my turn! Now!). It’s difficult not to compare, and even more difficult not to become discouraged sometimes. But I’m still able to take huge joy in their successes. Their successes don’t diminish mine – if anything, they increase my opportunities and knowledge. I have walked with my writing friends along their journeys and feel like I know the ups and downs of that path so well already. They’ve got a wealth of experience to share, and they do so generously.”

More help:

Chugging Through the (Early) Stages of a Writing Career by L.B. Shulman: common psychological pitfalls from beginning to first sale.

When Rules Aren’t, by author Alina Klein: “There are no absolutes when it comes to story, and what is acceptable or worth telling.”

This post is reprinted from the Project Mayhem blog.

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn about her editorial and critiquing services, and find advice for writers, on her website.

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