When I was 21, I decided to really go for my childhood dream of being an author. I'd written all my life, but not really thought I could achieve that whole "being publishing for real" thing. It seemed so big, so much grander than little ol' me. In a lot of ways I still feel like that, and I have wanted to quit more times than I care to count.
But somehow, I'm now 32 and I'm still writing novels. Some of those novels are even "for reals published" and junk.
For some reason this year I've been in awe of just how long I've managed to keep going. I mean, writing and publishing is HARD. Like, super hard. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically—this profession taxes you to the very brink of sanity. It'll suck you dry if you let it. Chew you up and spit you out and laugh as you slowly wither away on the cold hard ground. I wish I was being dramatic, but that is pretty accurate in some cases.
So, how do you keep going? WHY would you even want to keep going? I'm going to try and answer that today, should you, like me, ever consider running and not looking back from this crazy career called "being an author."
Focus On The Writing. I don't know how it works, but I know that it does. Whenever I'm getting down on myself and how much I suck as an author because I'm not "enough" of anything (famous enough, cool enough, on trend enough, eloquent enough, recognized enough, loved enough, blah blah blah), going back to the basics always makes an impact on me. If I can just manage to be with MY story and write MY way and love MY own stuff, all the other crap seems to work out alright. Ultimately, that's what authors do, right? They make stories. So make stories. However you want.
Develop Discipline. The thing about being an author is you answer to yourself in the end. Yeah, you might have deadlines at some point if you sell your work, but people miss those deadlines and they can be pushed back and books are canceled. Also, you will ALWAYS end up back at "this story isn't under contract, and I have to actually write it to sell it"—lemme tell you, there's no deadline on that. You need to develop some form of discipline. I'm not telling you to write everyday (I don't.). I'm not saying to get a sticker calendar or report to a friend or do word sprints. Those are all well and good. And they can help. But none of it will work without an innate form of discipline.
What does that mean? Well, it means The Will To Write comes from deeper inside. Discipline is writing even when the story gets hard and you know you're screwing it up. Discipline is writing when you know the book won't sell or has slim chances or is even just for you. Discipline is writing YOUR story even when you know it's not "on market." It's an innate desire to DO, regardless of just how damn difficult the doing becomes. Get that, and you'll keep going. Maybe even when you don't want to anymore, heh.
Eyes On Your Own Paper. Comparing sucks. We all do it. It's nearly impossible to avoid in any creative career path, but it can be deadly to your ability to write if you let it get out of control. Just imagine you're back in grade school taking a test—there's a difference between an accidental glance at a neighbor's paper and sitting there staring at it for answers, right? Except in the writing world you can't really cheat/steal, so you're just staring at someone's unique paper and wishing it was yours instead of enjoying how unique your own paper is.
This goes both for the stories you write AND the publishing path you end up on. We all have different ones. Our paths to publication are as unique as our words. I can tell you right now—in the 11 years I've been trying to sell I have never once heard two authors who have the same path to publication. Similar? Sure. But never 100% exactly the same. Just like we can have similar novels but the details make them vastly different.
So no more comparing. Enjoy your journey. Rejoice in the successes of others who are on their own paths.
Be Bold—Experiment. Maybe it won't get published, but writing can get dry and tired if you're too afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. The stories that have scared me the most have not only taught me the most, but they've actually been my most successful when it comes to the publishing side of things. They're the books I'm the most proud of. They're the stories that have helped me not only grow as a writer, but as a person. They've kept me going when I thought I was all but done.
Talk To People. Writing may take place in a vacuum, but that doesn't mean you have to be alone in the journey. I know I would've given up long ago if I hadn't had writing friends, crit partners, mentors, and even just authors I admire and follow on social media to lift me up when I'm down. Other writers get the struggle, and I've never met another writer who has told me to give up. Even though it can feel like we're all competing against each other at times—talk to writers and you'll find a huge support system of people who get it and who want you to keep going. Sometimes, they've been the only reason I still write.
Don't Be Afraid To Take A Break. I didn't write creatively from my Junior year in high school to my college graduation. Had I quit? Sometimes I thought I did, but I was still writing non-fiction and dreaming of writing my own stories again. It just wasn't the right time to do it. Full disclosure? I haven't completed a novel since February of 2015. Basically, I've been either not writing or just fooling around for a whole year. And you know what? That's okay. I've needed this time. I haven't stopped thinking about writing (as much as I sometimes wanted to), but stepping away has brought me new perspective and given me a chance to refill my "creative wells," as they say.
Get Rid Of Guilt. Guilt over not writing or writing too much. Guilt over having no success to show for your work, or guilt over having more success than you feel you deserve. Guilt over not having enough time to write AND interact with readers. Guilt over taking too long to write a novel or too short a time (according to some). Guilt over too many awards or not enough. Guilt. Just get rid of that crap. It's a waste of your emotional energy. Free yourself from it, allowing you to...
Love Your Work. Look, you're allowed to adore what you write, okay? Even if it sucks right now, or even if it continues to suck for forever. Even if it's difficult to revise and will take ages to get right. Even if it's not going to sell or it's too weird or whatever excuse your brain tries to invent to convince you not to love your book. Love it anyway.
Because there are going to be PLENTY of people out there ready and waiting to tell you that you suck—why be one of them? Why sabotage yourself from the beginning just because there will be haters (and there will be, no matter who you are)? Why make the writing process more painful than needed by convincing yourself that what you're doing isn't worthwhile?
It can be hard to fight those inner demons, but fight them anyway. You're writing your story because you think it's awesome. And you SHOULD think it's awesome! Of course you should. Why would anyone write a book they thought was stupid? It's too much work for that. So embrace the reality that you love what you're creating, and don't let crap get in the way of that.
I'm mostly saying all this for myself, because if I'm struggling to keep going I've usually fallen into one of these pitfalls of guilt or self-doubt or fear. But I've pushed through anyway. And you can, too! It's all in the discipline. In accepting you can do hard things and just because writing is hard sometimes doesn't make it bad. It's just part of the process.
So keep going. If I can, you definitely can.