Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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September 9, 2015

6 P’s to Success in Your Writing Life

I admit, I’m a sucker for articles about the secret to success. Because, come on, some genius out there knows how to break the system, how to beat the odds, how to make it in a world that just wants to beat the creative stuffing out of you.

But here’s the thing, there is no one super secret way to break into publishing. I’ve read the articles and shaken the Magic 8 ball. There are, however, 6 things I’ve discovered that will certainly help …

I’m laughing at myself for typing that word. Anyone who knows me, knows patience is absolutely not one of my strengths. So how can I say type it with an almost straight face? Because it’s true. You have to be patient if you want sticking power in this industry.

Patience with yourself. No one—well, very few people at least—are accomplished from the first time they start something. More on this one below but trust me when I say that giving yourself a break when you feel like you're not making progress, is important for your sanity.

Patience with writing. Writing is hard. There are days when you’ll blow through 2,000 words and write the most beautiful, heart wrenching scene any author has ever put down on paper/screen. And the next day you’ll write 50 words about dust bunnies because nothing else comes to mind.

Patience with the process. If anyone led you to believe this was an easy career choice, unfriend/unfollow them. Writing isn’t easy. Getting an agent isn’t easy. Getting a publishing deal isn’t easy. Finding and keeping readers isn’t easy. And each step takes time and effort. Lots of time and effort.

No one—well, very few people at least—can start something new and are brilliant at it from the beginning. I know, I know, I’m repeating myself. But I think it’s worth repeating that. Why? Because …


You may think that first draft is perfect but guess what, it can be better. You may think you know about dialogue or world building or conflict but there’s always more to learn. Take workshops, read articles/books, have other readers look at your work. Then study the feedback and use what you’ve learned to take your writing to the next level.

I’ve been reading a couple of my old manuscripts recently and while the main story ideas are great, the writing is amusing me. They’re not bad, after all they all received requests from agents and enough good feedback that I kept going (this ties in to the next item), but each manuscript shows maturing in my writing style. Why? Because I practiced and studied and practiced some more.

You’ve heard authors talk about BICHOK—Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. This is obviously a key part of succeeding as a writer because, if you don’t write, you have nothing to query/sell. So yes, butt in chair and write!

But … it’s not just your butt that needs sticking power. Think back to when you decided to start writing or decided that you wanted to make this your career. Did you stand up in front of your kitty and say “Fluffs, I’m going to be a published author but only if it’s easy. If it’s not easy, I’ll become a professional dust bunny wrangler.” Probably not.

Perseverance means wracking up “test” manuscripts and rejection letters. It means taking more workshops and reading more craft books and subscribing (and reading!!) more blog posts and magazine articles on writing and publishing. It means querying the fourth manuscript you’ve written (unless you’re one of the amazing few who nab an agent/book contract with your first; and in that case, we’re waiting for the link to your super secret tips article) and updating your agent “hit list” again.

You do it again because you’ve put in the practice, you’ve been patient, and you know what your end goal is—you won’t give up until you’ve realized that goal.

Confession time: when I first decided to write a novel, I too had the rosy-glasses fantasy that I’d write a brilliant book, send out a query, an agent would love it, sell it immediately, and my lovely little story would be in every bookstore.

Then I started actually immersing myself in the publishing industry, reading blogs and articles, tweets and Facebook posts, chatting with author friends and devouring anything by agents and editors (there had to be a super secret tip in there somewhere). I joined writers groups (okay, I even helped start an association—overachiever much?!) and interned for an agent. My rose-colored glasses turned brown (polarized brown lenses in a pretty tortoise-shell brown frame).

I know how hard it is to make that one connection with an agent (I have the excel sheet logging rejections to prove it). And even when you have an agent, it doesn’t mean a sale is guaranteed. Or if you have a book deal, the publisher can still cancel it. You can have a fabulous book, printed and on the shelves, and dismal sales.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe those things can happen. I do, or I wouldn’t still be here. What it does mean, is that I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I understand the good and not so good parts of the career I’ve chosen to pursue.

There are certain expectations on any career choice. You expect a certain level of professionalism from your doctor or lawyer or your kid’s teacher or the librarian or a waitress. You expect them to be professional with their colleagues but also with their “audience,” right? If a doctor was regaled as being the best clinician in that particular specialty but was rude and dismissive to his patients, would he have a lot of patients? Probably not.

Being a writer/author is a career choice (unless you’re doing this as a hobby and there’s nothing wrong with that!). How you present and conduct yourself with other writers and the outside (reader) world, is as important as with any other profession.

If you offer to do something, do it. If someone upsets you, rant to your kitty instead of on Facebook or Twitter. Think about what you post publicly and who you complain about in “select groups.” Remember that the people you interact with in your writer’s groups are also your readers and your promoters. Prove yourself to them and you’ll have a fabulous support group. On the flip side, give them a reason to question and you risk losing more than that one supporter.

And yes, agents and editors also pay attention. Don’t believe me, go read some agent tweets.

Be the kind of person you want to be associated with.

I’m kidding, sort of. I don’t recommend running to your doctor in search of a prescription. What I do recommend is having an outlet to release the stress and anxiety that builds up during the drafting phase or the querying phase or the patiently waiting for answers phase. For me, it’s a number of things – puzzles, crocheting (anyone need a scarf?), exercising, coloring (yes, I’ve fallen into the adult coloring book craze).

Find something that pulls your mind out of the spin cycle and allows your thoughts to settle into their own rhythm. Whether you’re stuck on a scene or wearing out the refresh button, stepping away from the computer and allowing your mind to settle makes a world of difference.

No super secret tips in this post. Sorry. But using those 6 P’s worked for me. Granted, patience is still a work in progress. 🙂

What about you—do you struggle with any of those P’s? Do you have a super secret tip to share with our readers?

About Orly

orly1.jpgAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

49 comments on “6 P’s to Success in Your Writing Life”

  1. I have had TONS of practice on all these. I've pretty much mastered, or at least gotten decent at all of them . . . except (you know what's coming) PATIENCE! I want it, dammit, and I want it NOW!!!!

    Yeah, pretty much an epic fail, right there.

    I'm hoping our WITS readers will have some suggestions for me in the comments regarding this. Honestly, I struggle every single day with this.

    And no, I'm not resorting to Prosac. Gin and port works just fine for me.

    1. My 10 year old calls me out on the patience thing … you know it’s bad when that happens. 🙂

  2. We just started construction on a new home, and after wanting one for more than 20 years I'm finally going to get my own writing studio. I plan to put a cork board on one wall and will probably put the six Ps on it with PATIENCE headig the list in bold letters. Maybe staring at it day after day will turn those moments of patience into days of it!

    Thank you for an excellent article and the reminder on how necessary amd crucial these things are for writers!

    1. Aww! You just made my day.
      Your own writing studio!! Congratulations!!!!!!
      (although you'll need patience for the construction phase - been there!)

      1. I'm excited and anxious for it to be done. I'm also looking for great things to put on my walls to keep my motivation up, and the article definitely fits the bill. Thank you!

        1. I have a white board on the closet door in my office. And above the door, I put the words "Just Write" - found large black letters at Michaels and glued them up there. That's my constant reminder! 🙂

        2. Please send us a picture of your writing studio when it's "move in" ready, the write edge! When I remodeled my house I didn't dedicate a whole room for my writing-just half a room. And there is a beautiful mural, but no wall space for hanging or attaching anything.

          1. Interestingly enough, I have my dedicated space and I love it!!!! BUT ... I find myself working on the kitchen table almost as much as in my writing office. Granted most of the time when I'm working in the kitchen, it's for WFWA or WITS stuff, not writing. The kitchen table has the bonus of the espresso machine within reach ... hmmm ... maybe I need to relocate back to my office. 🙂

  3. I have another P. The one that comes after you have the agent, contract, etc. Prepare for the Long Haul or Perseverance Phase 2. Because unless the fates have shined on you in a spectacular way, it isn't all smooth career sailing ahead. Some books are more successful than others, some are easier to write than others, some are hair-tearing nightmares (I'm working on one of those now); publishing houses close taking your contract with them, books get orphaned. There are fallow periods and scheduling nightmares. But it's never dull.

    1. That my friends, is the lesson for Practicality. This is not an easy career choice and just when you think you're "there" ... reread what Shelley wrote! Then plunk that butt back in the chair and keep going! 🙂

  4. My 10 year old calls me out on the patience thing … you know it’s bad when that happens. 🙂

    1. Oh isn't that the truth, Lorrie! I had every intention of getting my workout done before the day got out of control ... yeah! So now I'm typing responses between squat reps. Thank goodness you guys can't see me. 😉

  5. All of the above is so true, Orly. I look back and can't believe that with all my insecurities I hung in there querying agents and garnered over 300 rejections. Ouch! I thought I had it made when I got one. Wrong. Then I thought if I ever just got a publishing deal, I'd have it made. Wrong.

    I love what you said about finding a stress outlet. For me, it's college football and jigsaw puzzles and time with girlfriends. And adult coloring books are a thing? I didn't know that!

    Thanks for the blog post. And p.s. All the struggle is totally worth it. Most days anyway.

    1. You know what's funny (and I hear Laura guffawing over there), I'm such a nut job with insecurity ... I'll triple guess everything I do. Except when it came to pushing forward with querying. I never doubted that I was doing the right thing and it never crossed my mind to stop.

      Adult coloring books are such a thing! I can send you a few links (or check my FB page). Puzzles! And crocheting. I have so many scarves. I've become the crazy scarf lady! 🙂

    2. P.S. Deb. If you want less stress, you should follow a great football team, instead of a mediocre one. With a coach who isn't leaving.

      Oh, sorry. Forgot this is a no-trash-talk zone!

  6. Thanks for the P's, Orly. Unfortunately one of the not so nice P's-Procrastination-lives at my house. Working on relocating it...

  7. The scarf you're knitting, is that one of those scarves that is going to become a blanket big enough for 2 people? I find that happening to me sometimes. I put the writing aside to do something else, and before I know it, the something else has taken over. How do you fix that?

    1. 2 people? Are you kidding, the blanket I started working on last year (after being told to give scarves a rest before everyone we know disowns us) can easily cover an entire family at this point. 🙂

      As for the "letting the something else take over," I use the something else when I'm stuck or need to refocus. If I turn my attention to the puzzle or coloring page, I have my computer with the scene I'm stuck on open next to me. It's a reminder that I have to get back to it and sometimes a quick glance at it will trigger a thought - you know like those pictures that you stare at until you can't see straight then look away, and when you look back at it, the hidden smiling kitty is suddenly obvious.

  8. Thanks for posting this. It's encouraging to me, and I'll share it with my writing group, too. I wish I could share it with all the relatives and friends who ask, "When's your book coming out?"

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Rick!
      And yes, that question makes me nuts, too. Especially when it's followed by "my friend/neighbor/neighbors third cousin wrote a book last month and just published it. Why is yours taking so long." That's usually when I start chanting "patience" to myself. 🙂

  9. Orly, thank you for a great post. It said things I needed to hear right now. I have a ms that is trying to kill me, and a publisher waiting on it. And the heroine finally started talking to me two days ago but she's in her sixties, not the young woman I'm writing about. I needed to hear "patience." I think I'll go back and reread your essay, then take another whack at this thing. Thanks again!

    1. Those pesky characters! They love toying with us, don't they? At least she's finally talking. 🙂
      Good luck with the manuscript and deadline!

  10. Agree 100% with all of these P's. 🙂 Sometimes I struggle with Patience, especially I (unintentionally) compare my writing process to someone else's - and that's a no-no. We should never compare ourselves to other writers, because it often digs at our self-esteem. Instead, we need to embrace and accept our own process, and realize that every writer's process is as unique as the individual himself / herself. 🙂

    1. Much like we women do, comparing ourselves to other women, huh, Sara? My daughter used to look at other people and think, 'she's prettier', 'she's smarter' - when I convinced her that she couldn't cherry-pick, she had to take the good AND bad of those girls, she changed her mind about wanting to trade places.

      I think it's the same with our writing process. I'd like to be a plotter, but I know there are downfalls to that, too.

    2. It's funny you bring up process. Laura and I were just talking about that the other day and how we always wish we could adopt someone else's process. I wish my first read drafts were as clean as Laura's but I can't write that way. I've learned to embrace my messy first drafts. 🙂

  11. How perfectly appropriate! An hour ago, while driving my car, I was thinking of my writing career when I "heard" the word, "Patience." I come home, open up my email, and find this blog post. The universe is trying to tell me something. 😉 Thanks for the great post!

    1. I hear that word in my head all the time (much nicer when it's in that British James Bond voice). 🙂
      Love hearing about the timing connection.

  12. Patience isn't really in my vocabulary, so that one's a real struggle for me! 🙂 Love the post, and will print it and post it to remind me daily. Thanks.

    1. Thanks so much, Calisa. At least you know you're in good company with the patience problem. 🙂

  13. Thanks so much for the P's! I, too, have a challenging time Patience, in a huge way! Persistence is a very close second!! I'm currently writing my first- ever novel and I feel at times I'm spinning my wheels (pun intended-- I use a manual wheel-chair!) on my story.

    1. I think persistence is one of the more important Ps for succeeding in the business, to be honest. And yes, we all spin our wheels at time. Good luck and keep at it! 🙂

  14. Thank you for the tips on the P's. I am on my first draft writing journey and, although I have patience for most of the other things in my life, this is a wonderful reminder for me and my writing priorities. Deep breathing helps too:)

    1. Oh deep breathing is a must. You just have to recognize that moment before you start hyperventilating. 🙂

  15. Practice is my favorite P word, since I love to write, and I practice at it every day. Patience? Um, not so much. But I 'practice' my writing early every morning, and when I start to feel stale, I race out for a long walk or a dose of yoga 'practice.'

    1. I love the practice word, too. What I like most about it, is that it doesn't make me feel like I have to be perfect. You practice to improve. There's something very safe and inviting about it. 🙂

    1. Susan, the dust bunnies around here are swallowing up every word lately. Time to "relocate" them as Fae says. 🙂
      Thanks for visiting!

  16. All great stuff! Love your six P's. I struggle most with PATIENCE, especially when many in my family and friend circle keep asking when my book will be on bookstore shelves. (This is a tortoise-slow process, y'all. But it's coming...)

    I'd add one more P to your fabulous list: POSITIVITY. It's easy to get depressed about your own writing (looking at first draft: "I suck!") or discouraged by the challenges of this business. It takes intentional commitment for me to stay positive and celebrate the progress I've made...even if I haven't reached all of my goals. I believe positivity can also fuel success because we're more productive when we see the bright side of things and more engaging for others to be around (others like agents, editors, critique partners, etc. and all those other people who can help you in this biz).

    This is so good, I think I should print this list and stick in on my computer. Thanks!

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