When writers first start out writing they tend to concentrate on all the wrong things. The big question always seems to be: Do I have talent? This is followed closely by: How do I get an agent? When I was a new writer I also agonized quite a bit over these things. It’s very normal. Whenever a person begins to truly take risks and follow their passion, the first challenges to surface are always questions of self worth and approval from others.
And make no mistake, that IS what the talent and agent questions are really all about: self worth and approval. Every human being goes through it in one form or another. For writers, anxiety and obsession about how much talent they have and getting an agent is just how it typically manifests.
However, once a writer has gone through the first few initiation tests of being a writer and doing the work of a writer (wrestling with the first draft, sacrificing time they don’t have to practice their craft, actually telling other people they are a writer or that they are writing a book) the self worth and approval issues often take a backseat. That’s when writers run into a whole new series of roadblocks and are challenged in a way they usually didn’t expect.
That’s when they find out that being a writer can ultimately result in death by a thousand paper cuts.
What this means is that the true nitty-gritty work of a writer is actually a journey through a million minor tasks and obstacles that never stop coming, and that always demand significant amounts of creativity, brainpower, and good old-fashioned elbow grease.
For example: to write, revise, and publish my first novel (coming out at the end of this summer) I had to:
Write a huge sprawling holy mess of a manuscript to “get it all out.”
Revise that same holy mess at least 15 times to shape and sculpt it into something meaningful (and readable).
Tear my hair out writing query letters and synopses of varying length.
Slog through hours of online research to find agents to send those query letters to.
Bite my nails as I sent every single one of those same query letters.
Go through emotional cycles of waiting and hoping, and then feeling the despair of rejection.
Go back to the drawing board and do some more research on publishing.
Go back to the drawing board and revise my novel a few more times.
Decide to self publish and dive back into the research again.
I could make this list much, much longer, but if you’re a writer reading this then you already have your own list and much of my process will be familiar to you. The list itself isn’t important. What is important is that a writer keeps coming back to the list, tackling the next item on the list, learning how to deal with the items that they dread the most, the items that seem insurmountable, the items that demand they learn an entirely new skill set before they can even begin to approach them.
If you don’t conquer your list, it will conquer you. The writer who is going to conquer the list—the writer who is going to make it through—simply MUST possess this one essential quality:
Once a writer lands deep in the fiery bowels of her own list, you can see how questions of talent and outside approval are quickly incinerated and blow away like ashes on the wind. When you are elbows deep in your seventh revision of a manuscript, or realize your grand idea for a beautiful book cover looks like crap a week before your release date, that’s when shit gets real. That’s when a writer’s iron will to persist is going to kick into gear and carry her through the whitewater rapids.
In other words, you have to keep going.
You have to keep going when you feel utterly defeated, or just bored to tears by details you would rather not deal with right now. You have to keep going when you’re faced with learning a new technical skill that seems daunting and way outside your comfort zone. You have to keep going when you’ve already done ten rounds of revisions and you realize you have to do one more. You have to keep going when all of your careful plans fall apart and you’re forced back to the drawing board.
You have to keep going. You have to persist. Always.
This is being a writer. This is being a real writer. Forging ahead. Figuring it out. Working with zero budget and borrowed minutes from an already-busy life. Not knowing if you’ll get that dream agent, or if your book will ever be a bestseller, but sitting down in front of the page anyway to make the sentence in front of you the most beautiful sentence that it can be.
That is being a writer.
Persistence, without exception.
As you move forward on your own list, take this up as your mantra. Make a sign and hang it over your writing desk. Commit to a goal on social media and make it happen. Wherever you are in your own work, on your own list, take a few seconds each day to raise your writer battle cry:
All of us fellow writers are with you.