Drumroll please! It’s Fun Fact Friday!!!
Did you know…
Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, wasn’t published until he was in his fifties? The story began as road-trip entertainment for his two daughters who then pestered him to write it down. Four publisher and three agency rejections later, he was picked up.
The first Little House on the Prairie novel by Laura Ingalls Wilder wasn’t published until she was 64, and only after much encouragement from her daughter?
Bram Stoker wrote a few novels in his forties, but they all flopped? It wasn’t until his fifties that he became a hit with a little known book called Dracula.
We are our own worst enemies. In many aspects of life, confidence is everything. Think about dating, for example. How many times has the simple presence or absence of confidence either attracted us to someone or completely turned us off?
In the same way, our confidence levels can taint our writing. Is your prose infused with a sure, clear voice? Or is there the wishy-washy, anxious quality of a neglected family pet, begging “love me, love me?”
We can set ourselves up for total career failure right from the start, and it can all come down to your belief in yourself as a writer. So what the heck is a struggling writer supposed to do?
1. Don’t Aspire – Do
Are you an aspiring writer? Well… don’t be. That’s the first step to becoming a confident writer.
When many of us start out, we call ourselves ‘aspiring writers’. Don’t worry. I did it too. It’s tough to make that commitment, to own up to it. I mean, Margaret Atwood is a writer. Paulo Coelho is a writer. How the heck can I put myself in the same category as them? Well, guess what? They had to start somewhere too.
When you put that pen to paper or your fingers to keys, what else are you doing? You’re not baking a cake. You’re writing. You might be new, you might be learning, but we never stop learning. Writing is a process – a never ending one. And the sooner you admit to being a writer, the sooner you can wholeheartedly commit to it. Because if we don’t take ourselves seriously, then how will anyone else?
2. Set Attainable Goals
We all want to become a successful writer. But what does that even mean? If you have some abstract goal of when you will truly become that writer you set out to be, how will you ever know when you get there? What is success? Some might set out to simply write a novel start to finish. Others might imagine being able to buy their nextdoor neighbour’s house like J.K. Rowling just to extend their garden.
Let’s face it, we all start with our sights set high, as though everyone has the ability to attain unfathomable book sales. Whether the secret is luck, timing, persistence, or just writing a damn good novel, sometimes all those things combined won’t result in good book sales. The longer we work towards our publishing dreams, the quicker we realize this.
So what is realistic? What do you want to achieve? And don’t say that you want your novel adapted for the big screen. Is it to be self-published? Is it to be traditionally published? Is it to support yourself financially with your writing?
Never stop setting new challenges for yourself, but the sooner you set out clearly defined goals, the sooner you can start mapping out a path for getting there. Because if you don’t even know where you’re headed, it makes it awfully difficult to find your way there.
3. Celebrate Successes
It’s easy to get caught up in your road map to achieving your writing goals. First you write a novel. “Yeah, but it’s not like anyone’s read it yet.” So you find yourself an agent. “Yeah, but it’s not like you’re published or anything.” Okay, so an editor picks it up. “Yeah, but it’s not like that means it will be a success.”
There will always be a next step. There will always be some greener patch of land just on the other side. It’s easy to keep trudging forward on our individual writing paths, and in the meantime, forget to stop and smell the roses. During our ups and downs, it’s hard to gain perspective. But if you look back on your own journey, at where you began and where you are now, what do you see? I bet you’re a lot farther than you realized.
Don’t forget to stop at your milestones, no matter how small, to pat yourself on the back. You didn’t start writing because anyone forced you. It’s not a chore. Whatever happened to positive reinforcement? Finished your latest novel? Go out for dinner. Completed your revisions? Have that giant piece of chocolate cake. Go on, you deserve it.
4. Don’t Make Comparisons
No writer’s journey is ever the same. Some are lucky and they get picked up by publishers immediately. Stephanie Meyer had a dream one night, wrote Twilight, and Bam! Worldwide phenomenon. E.L James didn’t begin actively writing until 2009. Anyone hear of Fifty Shades of Grey? Then there are others who toil away for years with very little recognition or ‘success’ in the industry. Stephen King began writing at a very young age, but he didn’t hit the big time until his late twenties when he wrote Carrie.
We all have different strengths and weaknesses. There are no rules for a ‘successful’ writing career, no set path. It is simply a matter of moving forward, working to improve our writing, and making our own way in the publishing world. And who’s to say you even want to be published? Why should publishing mean ‘success?’ Maybe your own fanfiction website with a niche of followers is right for you.
No one has the same dreams, and no one is going to attain them in the same way or at the same time. So stop coveting other author careers and focus on developing your own.
Why did you first pick up that pen? What made you want to write your first short story, your first poem, your first novel? So what if you’re not published? You keep doing it anyway. Why is that? Imagine you never ever get published. Would you still write?
I believe many of us would answer ‘Yes.’ Why? Writing is often a compulsion. We don’t begin writing because we believe it will bring fame and fortune (and if we do, we are quickly corrected of that notion). We write for the sheer enjoyment of it. Of creating worlds and characters, of putting our thoughts and dreams onto paper, hoping to share it with the world, even if our world is comprised of no more than our family.
Success is driven by passion. You can work through setbacks and roadblocks, you can keep going rejection letter after rejection letter because you love what you do. And if you’re willing to keep going, to keep working at it and learning and moving forward, then you will reach your goals eventually. The only person that can hold you back is, well… you.
So return to that passion with confidence, that internal motivation, and you will determine your own success.