Don’t you love all those memes about what it means to be a writer? You know the ones—what my mom thinks I do, what my friends think I do, what I really do, etc.
Anyone who’s been for a while in the writing trenches gets such a kick out of those! And, for a big reason.
I would venture to say that we all—yes every one of us—came into the idea of writing starry-eyed with dreams. We had a talent. We had a dream. We were ready to become the next Hemingway (or whichever author you revered).
You know the attitude—all we had to do was write that brilliant novel and Random House would publish it editorially untouched, while giving us a six-figure check and putting us on Oprah.
Admit it—that was you once, no?
Or, maybe it’s you now, just venturing into the world of writing, and just knowing you’re going to make it big as an author.
Now, I’m not one to damper anyone’s dream. Because we have to dream, and dream big, in order to not only take the plunge into publishing’s waters, but more importantly, to survive them.
If you don’t have that dream, this industry will run you off pretty darn quickly. Because as those of you who’ve been plugging away for a while know, publishing can humble you to your knees.
And many shifts in thinking become apparent as you go as well. Those are so legion, it would take an entire book to delve into them all.
Is it believing in your talent? Not especially. Often it takes a writer a long time to truly believe she has any aptitude for this. The entire world takes glee in telling her she doesn’t. But if she’s still writing, it doesn’t matter.
Is it dedication and fortitude? Not really. While yes, you do have to keep going if you’re ever to make it in publishing, that’s not the most important one either. Although these hinge on the one that is.
Yep, we could keep going through this list for days!
But the number-one bugaboo I see for writers—by far—has to do with passion and desire and to put it in more clichéd terms, getting the cart before the horse.
We want to succeed, don’t we? We’re writing for ourselves, but also for an audience. We love our words, our characters, our stories. And we want others to love them too.
So most of the time, once chapter one is slapped on the page, writers start looking at publishing options.
These of course are myriad today, unlike in those days of yore when the only option was finding an agent, who would sell the manuscript to a publisher. Now you can go Indie or self-publishing and see that book out there so quickly it’ll make your head spin.
Paradoxically, this has become the bane of books as a whole. Writers, far too early in their careers to be published, are tossing elementary works out there.
And I know this isn’t popular (when has that stopped me before!), but this is to the huge detriment of publishing and books as a whole, and most importantly for our purposes, for writers in general.
Because this craft is long and hard and exacting to learn. No matter which route you go—classes, workshops, writing groups, working with an editor—all of it takes time to master.
You write. You study. You learn. You write. You get critiqued. You write.
And all of this is just the beginning.
I see this with my writers as well, playing out in subtle ways. So excited to be a published authors, often times revisions come back quickly—from a matter of weeks to months.
And as a book editor, I always know we’re in trouble. Revision isn’t polish, it’s rewriting. And rewriting takes a long time. A year or two is a reasonable amount of time, even while working regularly.
Because also during that phase, you’re learning new skills. Figuring out how to implement them. Stumbling and falling. Picking yourself back up again and giving it another go.
The most critical mindset shift you need to make, and I counsel my writers and even published authors with this every single day, is:
Don’t rush this. I know you want to publish—truly I do. I know exactly what that feels like. We all do. And yes, that’s our goal.
But the quickest way to mess up a manuscript is to rush it. And the quickest way to screw up a writer’s career, is the same.
I often talk about Hemingway having lost his first three manuscripts on the train. Of course, he was devastated. But he later said it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He learned to write on those first three.
So, settle in. Chill a bit. Write and read and study and write and read and study and get critiqued or edited and rewrite and revise and write and read and . . .
The point is to get better with every book, with each writing session. And that happens slowly, as you go.
And don’t you want to put your best work out there?