I recently got to message with someone who is just getting started with this whole writing thing. She had lots of questions, worries, and insecurities. About a year ago, my husband was thinking about writing a book he’d had in his head for ten years! He also had lots of questions, worries, and insecurities. I gave them both the same exact advice, but they reacted to it differently. My friend said, “Okay, good to know. That’s exciting. I can do that.” My husband said, “Nah. Nevermind.”
What was the difference?
So, if you are just getting started writing or are thinking about writing or dreaming about thinking about writing, I want you to put on your “Growth Mindset.”
Got it in place? Okay. Let’s go. I’m going to quote the most common concerns I here from new or aspiring writers and then answer with…
The most discouraging encouragement you will ever get.
I don’t know if I’m any good. I think everything I write is terrible.
Truth: Chances are good that you AREN’T any good…yet. Probably everything you are writing is deeply flawed and, yes, pretty terrible. But guess what? The vast, vast majority of writers start out that way. I don’t personally know a single writer who started out AMAZING! Is there such a thing as natural writing talent? Sure! Does it matter if you have it? Not a bit. Because even the people who start with “natural talent” start out terrible.
Think about learning to play the piano. I had a “natural talent” for music. Do you think I sat down at the keyboard for the first time when I was five and pounded out Beethoven? No! That’s ridiculous on its face. Writing is absolutely, 100% no different.
So you suck right now and you know it. GOOD! The worst writers are the ones who think they are amazing at it. The ones who never realize they are terrible. Realizing you aren’t a very good writer is important, it is what will propel you to actually work and study and get better. It will give you the motivation to revise and improve.
Ask almost any author about their first writings and you will get groans and laughs and eye rolls. It’s something we all go through. And even all those writers who are published? They still think they are terrible. They still write crappy first drafts. They are still learning and figuring this whole thing out. So get comfortable with the feeling. It will never go away completely.
Okay, so how do I stop sucking?
There are no shortcuts. Write consistently. Read widely and as much as you can. Get on writer Twitter. Read writing blogs and craft books. What would you do if your dream was to become an artist? Musician? Dancer? Do that!
I can do that. But how long will it take to stop sucking? When is it realistic to expect publication?
That is a great question that I can’t answer because everyone is different. Some people publish their first books (the rest of us secretly hate them.) Some people don’t get published until their 10th book. Even the lucky first book people have mostly been working on their writing for years.
When I first started writing, I read a lot of “success” posts and realized that most people write 3-5 books before getting an agent or getting published. Most people work 4-6 years before hitting those “success” milestones. And being in the book world for the last few years has born out those statistics for most people. Even me! I got my agent almost 4 years after I started, with my second book. My debut will come out 6 years after I started writing.
There are never any guarantees, but I honestly believe it is really good to go into writing expecting at least five years of work before you see any results and planning on your first 2 books, at least, being practice books. And I don’t mean that you should query them or try to get them published, I think you absolutely should. You should use your practice books to practice querying too. I just think it’s nicer to be pleasantly surprised rather than crushed and disappointed.
So you are saying I should work really hard on something and then let people reject it? I don’t think my heart can handle that! That’s so scary!
Meh. You’ll get over it.
I know that sounds heartless, but you will.
Really. I’m not trying to blow off your pain. Believe me, I’ve been there. I have sobbed over rejections before. I’ve complained to friends and mentors and talked about giving up. That the pain isn’t worth it. But you know what? I wrote the next book and it was always better and it distracted my heart and that made the rejections hurt less. “Okay, you don’t want that book? That’s alright, I have something better coming down the pipeline.”
Actually, if you can believe it. You’ll get a little bit addicted to the adrenaline rush of querying and rejections and requests. You’ll realize that your book is not for everyone and that’s okay.
There will be bad days where you cry and eat chocolate and think about giving up. But there will also be good days where you realize that writing is important not just for the success side of it. That you are not your book and it says nothing about your worth. That there is always hope. That you are getting better. That you will just keep going!
Some days, rejections will roll off you. Other days, they’ll stink or even break you. But eventually, the pain numbs and you keep writing. You can not get published without at least risking rejection. So you’re going to do it and you will survive. Not only that, you will become a braver human being in general because of it.
So there you go. My discouraging encouragement. You probably do stink (I still do in a lot of ways.) You will probably have to put in years of work before success. You will get rejected and it will hurt.
But it will be okay. This is what it is to be a writer. WELCOME!
Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published by Boyds Mills Press September 2018.