When I first started writing, I wanted to know all the answers. I consumed craft books, writing blogs, and the suggestions of writers further ahead in the publishing journey than I. I thought being a successful writer was just a matter of getting the right information. I thought if I could just learn everything there was to know, writing and a career in publishing would suddenly become easy.
You’re laughing now, aren’t you? But it was an obsession, and you know what? It actually kind of worked. I made great progress in my writing and career relatively quickly, but it certainly wasn’t easy, and it was never as fast as I wanted it to be.
Over time, with all that knowledge I gained, I’ve been grateful to pass on my experiences through my blogs, workshops, and mentoring writers in my various writers groups. I often get questions from those who are in the phase I once was in–writers looking for THE ANSWER to eliminating the discomfort of…well, growth. Many of the questions I received have taken different forms, but the underlying sentiment has been this: how do I get through this frustrating phase as quickly and painfully as possible?
It’s true that the writing life is full of times that feel hopeless and seem to drag on forever. One particular time for me was right after I signed with my agent three years ago. Up until then, I had it in my head that once I got an agent, life would be smooth sailing from there. No doubt I would land a book contract in no time and all the pieces of my dream would fall into place from there. (You’re laughing again. I hear you.)
Instead, what happened was that I went into revisions with my agent. I was anxious to go on submission but even though I’d learned so much about writing already, it quickly became clear that I had so much more to learn. My agent taught me the importance of digging deeper into my characters’ motivation, pacing, and organizing my scenes to create maximum impact. It was a time of great growth but also a time of great doubt. For as much as we tore the manuscript apart, I became sure I never knew anything about writing, and how did I get an agent anyway? That was a heartbreaking question I would have given anything to not have to face every day for a year–yes, an entire year of the revisions, and don’t get me started about the year of being on submission.
As much growing as I did in my craft during this time, it was really the growing I did as a person that changed me and prepared me to humbly transition into the title of published author. It was probably the growth I needed to experience the most. Did all the advice I’d received leading up to and during this period help me? Absolutely. Did it point me in the right direction and save me from some wheel spinning and silly mistakes? Without a doubt.
But the more I experience of life, the more I come to understand that there’s only so much one can learn secondhand. As much as our parents would love to pass on their 50, 60, 70-year plus experience and save us the trouble of figuring it out on our own, every generation starts fresh with their own challenges. As much as we wish the writers who have come before us could hand us the secret handbook, we are all on our own unique journeys, learning our own personal lessons, on our own specific time.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…
There are no shortcuts.
And as much as it sucks, it’s probably a good thing. One thing that we tend to undercut is the necessity of building our metaphorical muscles that prepare us for each new stage of the writing journey. Whether it be learning the writing craft rules so we know how to break them, or thickening our skin with those initial critiques so we can handle editorial notes and reader reviews later, every uncomfortable period we grow through is teaching us how to handle the next phase. If we were to skip past any of these phases, we wouldn’t have the mental or emotional fortitude to cope with the challenges that arise.
It’s the same with the writing itself. Trying to understand the concepts of story pacing before we’ve even written our first drafts is likely to lead to more frustration than simply working through it, one phase at a time. Even now, as I’m writing and editing the second book in my contract, it’s a whole new phase. I’ve never written a book that has to “live up to” another piece of my work, which comes with all new challenges. If you’re moving forward in your writing career, the new phases never stop coming so rather than trying to skip past them, our time and energy would be better spent learning how to move through them with grace and patience.
This may seem disheartening. It’s not THE ANSWER. And it certainly doesn’t make our lives any easier. But I also think you already know this to be true deep down in your gut. I also hope it will take off a little of the pressure you’re putting on yourself to hurry up and be “there” already. (Preaching to the choir, I promise you!) Mostly, though, I think if you can learn to simply BE in each step of the writing process, you’ll enjoy the journey more and feel more like a successful writer every step of the way.
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Jamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.