I wanted to write many years before I became good at it. I practiced writing in the same way that a pianist practices scales or a tennis player practices serves. I worked on sentences, then paragraphs, then scenes, over and over, until I got them right. If you want to become a writer, you may find the same is true for you. There is a long apprenticeship before you can write a full-length novel—and ages before you can write a good one. However, you can develop traits in yourself that will make it more likely you will succeed.
I am not saying you can’t be an excellent writer without developing these characteristics—authors’ personalities are replete with bizarre idiosyncrasies, social deviance, not to mention serious drug and alcohol abuse that sometimes obscure the work, itself. Admittedly success for any writer is rare, but here are a few ideas that might those of you who are writing.
Give yourself time to be a bad writer
It’s okay to be a bad writer for a while. the “10,000 hour rule” made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, states that a long period of time is needed to achieve excellence in any field. And while Gladwell’s claim, based on a study by Anders Ericsson may not be universally true, and 10,000 is no magic number, I think we can all agree that learning to write takes time, and learning to write fiction well takes even more time.
In fact, the learning never stops. Expect to spend the rest of your life being very interested in the way people speak, how other writers’ write, hearing words in your head differently (I assume) to the rest of the population. Get used to the ride—try to enjoy it—because for as long as you are a working writer, you are going to be stuck on this pony.
Give yourself time to succeed
You may believe that once you are writing well, success will soon follow. The mistake here is in the word “soon.” Though you put in the 10,000 hours, you now face the excruciating process of finding an agent, being rejected by publishers, or tackling the prospect of independent publishing with its great “discoverability problem”, which is to say that the glut of Indy novels is so extreme nobody notices you are on Amazon.
However, you may have some early luck. If you write a good novel, there is every reason to believe it will be published. With an Amazon page and an author bio, you can declare with some confidence that you are a proper writer (though you could have said that before – “proper” writers were all unpublished writers during some portion of their lives).
Sometimes it takes many years and many novels. Try to remember that nobody cares how many times you are turned down. The dozens of “no’s” mean nothing compared to a single “yes.”
Many writers have a novel or two that we did not publish, either because it wasn’t good enough or we, ourselves, didn’t like it. I may be the only person ever to turn down a US publishing deal from a major house, but I did not want Nan Talese to publish a novel of mine at Penguin Random House because I thought the novel wasn’t good enough (it isn’t). Nan was surprised, but not nearly as surprised as my husband who found out months later.
Get Used To The Awkward Silence Of Success
Success for writers does not always feels like success. Just being in print will satisfy some writers. Others will find the entire process of becoming published anticlimactic. Or worse, depressing. Nobody seems to care you’ve written this book. I mean, it’s out there. It may have done well (or well enough that a second book is likely), but your life is chugging along pretty much as it had before. Whereas before nobody cared because they didn’t know you were a writer, now they know you are a writer and they still don’t care.
All I can tell you is this: you wondered what it felt like to be a professional novelist? This is it. Even those of us who have tremendous luck with our early books eventually feel this way. But the good news is that,if you are serious, the outward signs of “success” mean little to you. If you are really good, the weirdness of writing will mean you spend most of your time either elated at the occasional scene that shows you in the best light, or pissed off with how the sentences clunk along like recalcitrant cattle. What happens in the world of publishing will mean little to you.
If this is the case for you—if what really matters to you is the work and nothing else—then take heart. You are in good company. In fact, you are in the best company in the world.
Word by Marti Leimbach
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