February 22nd, 2017

Writing Success: There Are No Shortcuts

Jamie Raintree

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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About Jamie

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.

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33 comments to Writing Success: There Are No Shortcuts

  • Holly Robinson

    Such great advice here, Jamie. I was sitting in a cafe recently, and happened to see another writer I knew. We started talking, and she expressed her frustration at how long her book was taking to write. She had only been at it for six months! In this age of instant everything, and “platform, platform, platform!” it does sometimes make me feel like I’m failing if I can’t “make” my manuscripts hurry up and be finished. I have to keep reminding myself that there’s no point in publishing a book I don’t absolutely love–and that the writing process itself is so much more satisfying than any other aspect of the book biz, so I might as well let myself linger right here, right now, and enjoy it.

    • Holly, I’m waiting for that next version of Dragon software, where it plugs into a port in your brain, and transcribes THE perfect story onto the screen.

      You know, Version 3846748395506.959

    • “I have to keep reminding myself that thereโ€™s no point in publishing a book I donโ€™t absolutely love.” I adore that you said this because I think that no matter how far into a publishing career writers get, we always (or maybe even more so) feel the need to hurry, hurry, hurry. And unfortunately, that is often to the detriment of the writing and the story. You are a GORGEOUS writer, Holly. Whatever you are doing, you’re doing something right. Trust your inner voice!

  • Jamie! SO excited to see your cover! You’re one that’s worked so hard, and I’m so happy to see that rewarded. It’s a good story, too, y’all! Be sure to preorder!

    I was gobsmacked by the things you mention above. I thought that once I got an agent, I’d be doing one of those slo-mo running through a field of daisy things…

    Bahahahahaha!

    • Thank you, Laura!! Your support is amazing and so appreciated. I’m thrilled with the cover too–I think it reflects the story perfectly!

      Lol! Ah, yes, the slo-mo field of daisies run. So many little disappointments along the way… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Great advice Jamie! I also laugh to think back when I got my agent that “this is it!” Of course it was FAR from “it”. Much further to go! As you say here, learning to BE and enjoy the journey you’re on in the moment is key and hard for writers, because we are always aiming higher for that next achievement. I think one way to realize how much we know and have learned is to reflect on where we were 2,3,5 years ago. We will likely be astonished how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned (even those painful lessons we wish we could erase but make us wiser moving forward). And each lesson learned helps us understand better what we DO want and help us set future goals.

    • I love that you say this, Donna! I’ve actually been doing a lot of looking back on my journey (to collect deductions for taxes–yuck!) and it really is amazing to see how much has changed in the last year, three years, five years. Mind-boggling actually! I think about how much will have changed in the next year or three or five and it’s even more mind-boggling because it seems growing and learning happens exponentially! But yes, we writers are an ambitious bunch. I think we have to be to ensure the kind of self-motivation it takes to be a writer. My only hope for all of us is that we can find a way to balance striving and loving all the steps along the way.

  • I keep waiting for that “easy” button to appear on my desk so when something with my writing gets hard, I can whack that sucker and fix it all up. But so far, no go. I’ve found that going to conferences and being around other writers now and then really helps. When you hear about how long they worked on a book, how many rejections they received, how hard it was to get an agent, how much editing they had to do, and how much longer it took to get published, it makes me realize that this road is a long, winding, always uphill in a snowstorm kind of thing. It makes me step back and think, they had it just as hard. No matter how jealous I am of someone who makes it sound like it was easy and that big deal they got just materialized, I know they went through all the hard stuff, too. Just maybe in different ways. So thanks for the reminder. We just need to Write On.

    • I agree. I think it’s hard when we are isolated to understand just what goes into a building a writing career. There’s so much about it that no one ever sees, and that’s why, if you can get those further along in the journey to share their ups and downs, it can be very encouraging–as long as we keep in the forefront of our minds that every single writing journey is different. We can’t get too attached to numbers or time frames or strategies. But it is all fantastic information we can use to shape our own journey.

      Write On, Terri! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Just beโ€”great advice Jamie. I was much better at it before publication than after! Now I have a team invested in me. I am a brand (so they told me, and I had to figure out what that was); my stories a commodity. After my second novel I was desperate to grow a novel that would spring forth like a chia pet. But guess what? My team wanted a book with the same kind of depth my first two had. Go figure. With eight years poured into my debut and 17 years of thought and memoir writing layered into my second, I guess I wasn’t going to pull that off within a few months.

    So after two failed proposals I took the pressure off and started over, allowing new ideas to take root in me. It was so hard to allow the slow roll of this process, but now that I am in the thick of the writing I’m so glad I did!

    Which goes to say, when down the road you are feeling pressured to put out a book a year, come back and visit your post, because it will seem even wiser to you then. xo

    • I am SO glad you said this, Kathryn! I’m feeling that pressure already and I just had a long talk with my agent about how important it is to me to give each book its own time so I can write the best story possible every time. But it is easy to get caught up in the “demands” of publishing and what we think we “should” be doing to be successful. The problem is–which we often forget–is that no one really knows the secret formula. All we can do is listen to our inner voice, trust, and stay close to the reasons we started writing in the first place. Thank you for your advice!!

  • I always wonder why people think writing a book is something they can crank out in a free weekend. We certainly wouldn’t go to a doctor who took shortcuts. There are things to learn, dues to pay. Just because you CAN stick a book on Amazon in a week or two doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

    • When I talk to newer writers, I try to remind them that for almost every vocation, there is a period of going to college for 4 – 8 years, interning or beginning level jobs for hands-on experience, and then moving up the career ladder that can take 5 years, 10 years, or a lifetime. Learning how to be a writer often isn’t as structured but that doesn’t mitigate the time necessary to gain the knowledge and experience it takes to be successful. In all careers, some move along the path faster than others–we just have to trust our own process and our own journeys!

  • Jamie, great insight and advice, but just as you can’t learn writing secondhand, I don’t believe such advice, as wonderful as it is, can be really taken in and understood until you’ve experienced it yourself. When you’re at the beginning of your publishing career it’s almost impossible to comprehend the amount of time and devotion it takes. But somehow we persevere. You certainly did!

    • I agree completely, Densie. Advice is only ever heard and processed when it comes at exactly the right time, when the person is ready for it. All I can hope is that each blog I post finds the right person at the right time and I trust that the Universe will foster that.

  • I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. When you are in the beginning phases it all seems like work…only to learn the work continues. But I knew that. I just can’t get ahead of myself, or let the “burdens” hold me back. Onward! Thank you for your advice and sharing. I will add this to my reservoir of learning.

    • Yes! I think part of the process of building a writing career is a little bit of delusion about what lies ahead. Lol! It’s our way of protecting ourselves so we can do the work that needs to be done today.

      Yes, onward! One way or another, if we just keep moving forward, we will always find a way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Well crap. I was totally planning on all the shortcuts.

    Just kidding – I’m trying to learn patience but I can’t figure out the shortcut… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Great post my friend.

    • Thanks, Tasha! Yes, patience feels impossible sometimes. I’m learning more about meditation and how that is supposed to help (we’ll see! Lol!) so maybe you could give that a whirl (if you haven’t already)?

  • When my first son was six weeks old I rang my parents and said, ‘OK, you can tell me the secret now. I’ve toughed it out on my own for six weeks, please just tell me.” Imagine my heartbreak when they said there was no secret to parenting, that parents that had come before me weren’t keeping some key from me.

    Writing is like that, I think. There is no secret. As much as other, more experienced, writers can share with you, you still have to put on your big girl (or boy) pants and make the journey yourself.

    Which quite frankly sucks a bit. But I’m hoping it will also be worth it. It certainly has been with my children.

    Thanks for sharing this timely reminder.

    • It’s definitely worth it. I promise! And the comparison to parenting is apt. The day-to-day is a slooooog, but then there are those moments that are so great that it makes all the slogging worth it. Keep slogging, friend! The amazing moments are coming!

  • There wasn’t a button up there for Love. This was exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thanks so much! And congrats on your upcoming release.

  • I like your comparison of learning to write to the 4-8 years plus an internship for a vocation. I’ve done the latter and am still in the process of learning writing and now publishing skills. I cringe when people say – “Are you still writing that book? How long has it been?” My answer – “Give or take 10 years, but I’m almost finished.”

  • I agree that you can’t jump steps when it comes to writing. Now and then people will ask me for the secret formula to get a book ready in no time, but without a first draft you won’t have a second draft and so on… No magic, just a process and work.

  • […] Writing Success: There Are No Shortcuts. From Writers In The Storm. By Jamie Raintree. Read moreโ€ฆ […]

  • “The only way out is through.” Great post and reminder, Jamie. Thank you. I’ve been struggling a lot with my writing (my confidence) lately. Struggling with many of the things you mentioned in your other post today about fear and everything else that comes with being in that vulnerable, naked place with your writing. Not being good enough. Not doing it right. Not knowing enough. All those knotty ‘nots’ in the head of a writer. It’s a tough gig. But when we’re born to it, not much to do but keep making our way through it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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