Is it writing in a magnificent voice? Is it fashioning fabulous characters who jump off the page? Is it penning a page-turning plot that keeps readers engaged?
It’s all those things. But none are the essence.
Is it selling a million copies?
We all want that, no? To be able to quit day jobs and just write, just gloriously write and be paid for our toils.
But that’s not the crux of the matter either.
This can be and is an exacting endeavor. Writing well takes oh-so long to master, and even the kings of the craft are always still learning.
Although writers are often born, no one comes into this fully baked. Even Hemingway said that the best thing that ever happened to him was losing his first three manuscripts on the train (link to that blog). Because he learned to write with those, so that his next showed a realized promise when published.
The truth is that until one puts in the blood, sweat, and tears to learn and then perfect the skills, talent remains just a promise. As the much-used and variously attributed quote goes: “Writing is easy. Just open a vein and bleed.”
Your writing life may or may not be so difficult, although at junctures along the path, it sure feels that way. I have lost count of the writers I’ve known who’ve quit—sometimes years and years down the road—finally succumbing to the agony of defeat (my apologies to Wide World of Sports!).
Because defeat in this world is agonizing. We aren’t selling bread dough here, but pieces of our very souls.
And then once you have perfected that novel, truly gotten it to ‘The End,’ then, oh then, you have to face the business of writing itself.
Trying to get published. Searching for the perfect agent—the one who recognizes your talent for what it is, who believes in your work, who sets his sights on selling your tome for huge monetary figures.
Because often said agent will indeed love your work, but demand changes, talk of revisions. And back to the drawing board you go.
Once signed with that agent, then you sit on your hands and wait. And wait. And . . . Nothing moves quickly in this industry. Months and months and even years go by.
And then a fish on the hook! An editor at a publishing house just bit. But she wants more revisions, more changes, more . . .
Then eureka! The contract appears. Although often, with far less zeros than you had imagined.
And then comes the marketing–an entirely new world to master.
Hopefully, if you’ve set your sights on self-publishing, you’ve at least walked the aforementioned road beforehand. Because that’s how you learn what you still haven’t mastered. That’s where you keep diving in and getting better and better, so that when you do publish that novel, all the elementary mistakes aren’t shining forth for the whole world to see.
It takes a very long time to master this craft.
And then once your book is out, you deal with reviews of all ilk, toughening your skin even further. Because you’re going to get slashing reviews—everybody does. Not an author on this planet hasn’t had to deal with critics who delight in opening those veins once again.
As one reviewer said of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: “This book is not readable because of the overuse of adverbs.”
No industry, no endeavor that I know requires more fortitude. More persistence. I would imagine creative works of all sorts feel the same to those in them, but I’m not a painter or a musician, so can’t speak to those!
Writing itself will humble you to your knees. Marketing will do the same.
So you have to get real sure why you’re doing this in the first place. Do that sooner rather than later. There is no shame in realizing that this isn’t your true heart’s desire, and going off to a goal more attainable. No shame whatsoever. And the best idea is to find that if that’s so, you come to the realization while your life is still left to be lived.
But if, as the poet Rumi said, you ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night, “Must I write?” and the answer is yes, then settle in for a very rocky ride.
Settle in, you must. Mount Everest is not scaled in a day, but scaled it can surely be.
My dear friend (and once editorial client), author Rhett Devane, summed this up beautifully: “Like my homeless and hopeless protagonist in Secondhand Sister, I am as persistent as a ditch weed.”
My wish for you as the New Year dawns is that all of your writing goals are realized. That your dreams come true—now or in the future. And that through it all, you write, just gloriously write.