When it comes down to it, there are a lot of things about being a writer people don’t really seem to know, and if they do know them, they don’t seem to understand. I’ve been compiling a big list of “writing facts and myths” for a while now, and it’s about time I share some of them with you.
Like I said, I have a pretty long list, so I’ve taken these four out because they deal most specifically with the life of a writer prior to publication. In other words, this is the kind of stuff I and writers like me have to deal with every single day until we finally do get that publishing call.
(And, to be honest, we’ll still be dealing with them once we have.)
Education may not be everything, but it sure helps.
I get a lot of people upset about this point, but let’s sit down and think about it for a minute. Sure, a lot of really talented writers didn’t get any kind of formal education in writing. Many of them simply wrote–a lot. From home. From coffee shops. From the train on the way to work. A lot of writers do come out from that kind of background and make it big in the publishing industry. However, they’re limited in ways writers with a formal education aren’t. Sure, what it really comes down to in publishing and writing careers is being able to write well, but when you’re trying to convince a potential employer or agent that you’re a good writer and all you have is your query letter or your resume to stand for you, it can look really good to have a degree or prior work experience in some kind of writing field. It shows that you’re used to writing a lot, used to writing for deadlines, and used to taking criticism–all things publishers and employers will want to know.
Bad writers DO get published, and it feels unfair.
How many times have you read a book–a book that was published not only through a traditional press, but maybe one of the big-name presses–and thought to yourself, “This is absolute shit. I could write this in my sleep!” You’re not alone. While there is a higher level of quality control in traditional publishing than there is in self-publishing, every so often, we watch authors who we feel* have little talent making it big. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to feel totally unfair. You’ve got this great story! You’ve got all this awesome stuff to say! And instead, these “imbiciles” are getting published ahead of you. Keep in mind, though, whatever reason this author is published and making it big, they’re made it, and when you finally do, I can guarantee you’ll have a handful of people on the sidelines saying the same kind of stuff about you.
(*Note, I say “we feel” have little talent because an individual’s perception on what a quality book is varies from person to person. We may hate the book, but obviously someone (or a lot of someones) saw the value in it–still doesn’t make it feel fair.)
Everyone works at their own pace.
Some writers can pump out a book in three months. Other take three years. It depends on a lot of things, from the writer’s genre and story length to the writer’s experience. Obviously, many writers who have been working for a long time are a bit quicker than writers who are starting out (they usually have a faster typing speed and a clearer idea on where they’re going and how they’re going to do it). I know a lot of writers feel pressured to finish their books in a certain amount of time, but really, there’s absolutely no value to it. If you can write a decent first draft in a few months, by all means, go ahead, but don’t rush your work for the sake of “not falling behind.” Work at your own pace, finish your book when you’re good and ready to finish it, and enjoy yourself. Writing is stressful enough without us telling ourselves we’re shit workers for taking so long.
Your success rests largely in the hands of the unnamed masses who won’t have nearly the same regard for your story as you do.
The hardest part for any writer to really grasp is this: it really, really doesn’t matter what you think of your story, how much time and effort and love you’ve poured into the pages: your success rests almost entirely in other people. Agents. Publishers. Editors. Readers. They all have way more of a say in how well you do than you ever will. First, you need to prove to an agent that readers will love your books. Then, you have to prove to publishers and editors that your book will make them money. Finally, you need to prove to readers not only that your book is worth reading but that you, as an author, are worth following. This may mean you’ll have to make some compromises in getting published, and that can be both a blessing and a curse.