Ten (Hard!) Truths Every Writer Should Know
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Living the writing life isn't always easy.
Last week, I shared ten encouraging truths I believe every writer should know — truths that help us banish writing doubts, find confidence in our skills and abilities, and stay motivated when writing gets tough — but they weren't all the truths I had to share. You see, sometimes we need a little tough love to push us forward.
Today, I have ten hard truths to share with you — truths that may not be so pleasant to hear, but must absolutely be heard all the same. I share these truths not to discourage you from writing, but to break down the misconceptions and false beliefs that may be holding you back from living your very best writing life. So, let's get started, shall we?
Truth #1: There will be parts of the writing process you don't enjoy.
Writing a novel isn't always a magical traipse through your imagination. Sometimes, it's a hard slog through the mud. Most writers are naturally inclined to enjoy some parts of the writing process over others: pre-writing, drafting, revising plot and characters, editing prose...
I personally love pre-writing and editing my work but find the drafting process to be frustrating. This is okay. It's normal, and you can't let your own aversions stop you from completing your work. The only way to a finished novel is through, my friends, even when that work is difficult or unexciting.
Truth #2: Your determination will make or break you as a writer.
We've established that writing a novel is difficult, but I don't think this truth can be overstated. Writing is hard work. It's time-consuming, frustrating, and sometimes even exhausting.
When you're in the thick of trudging through pesky writing issues, it's easy for new and exciting ideas to catch your eye, but you can't indulge them. If you tuck one work-in-progress into a dusty drawer believing your next project will be the magical idea that saves the day, you'll never finish a novel.
There will come times when you'll need to set a project aside, but doing so simply because the writing got tough is a sure way to set yourself up for ongoing disappointment.
Truth #3: Writing a Novel may not be for you.
If you're writing, you're a writer — no doubt about it. But there's more than one way to tell a story or indulge in a love of language.
Of all forms of creative writing, novelists tend to find the most commercial success. Because of this, many writers gravitate toward writing and selling novels even if they'd rather be writing poetry, short stories, flash fiction, or plays.
Don't fall into this trap, writers. Write, first and foremost, for yourself. What good is commercial success if you're unhappy in your work, after all? Build a writing life you love by creating work that feeds your soul, no matter its marketability.
Truth #4: An understanding of story structure is vital to crafting engaging work.
I've met many writers who shy away from story structure simply because they prefer to discovery draft rather than outline their work. In most cases, this is a recipe for disaster.
Story structure isn't a tool belonging only in the arsenal of writers who love to pre-write and plan. Story structure is an undercurrent that runs through all good stories, subtle and swift, pulling readers from one momentous moment to the next.
Are there books that successfully eschew traditional story structures? Absolutely. However, I'd bet my bottom dollar that the authors of those books understood structure before breaking from its ranks, and I believe you should as well.
You don't have to alter your writing practices to accommodate structure. Simply draft and revise with a strong understanding of structure in mind, and you're sure to find success. For more information on structure, this blog series is a great place to start!
Truth #5: Writing is paradoxical.
Strong structure gives your work a foundation on which to stand, yet so much of storytelling feels like magic. Fictional as they may be, our characters often take on a lives of their own, just as we as writers are both relentless daydreamers and studious hard workers.
All in all, writing is a nebulous, paradoxical process that often seems just as much out of control as it does in. Naturally, explaining all of this to non-writers can be a bit of a wacky experience, which doesn't always make our lives easy. Which brings us to our next truth...
Truth #6: There will always be those who won't understand or respect you as a writer.
If everyone in your life loves and respects your writing, you're a lucky writer indeed. Most of us, however, will face some criticism from those who believe our work to be silly, impractical, or otherwise a waste of time. You're not alone, writer.
In some cases, you may be able to explain why it is you love to write, but don't hold your breath. No matter how much you crave their acceptance, if a friend, family member, co-worker, or acquaintance just doesn't get it, you can't force them to understand.
You can, however, do what you love in spite of their rejection. And if you're looking for a little support and encouragement as you journey through this writing life, come find your home in the online writing community instead!
Truth #7: You WILL face criticism, Without question.
You absolutely cannot write a book that every reader will love or even like. In fact, here are a few things that are almost certain to happen when you publish:
- Your book will receive a one-star rating. Probably many.
- It will also receive a nasty, gut-wrenching review. Again, probably many.
- A horrible email or two in your inbox? Check.
- Getting trolled on Twitter? Check.
- At some point, someone will probably call your book "trash."
- In fact, somebody will probably call you "trash."
In all honestly, most of those items aren't proper criticism. Good criticism points out areas of a work that could be strengthened, as well as praising the areas where it excels. You will receive this type of criticism in your writing life as well. See it for what it is — the opportunity for growth — and you can't go wrong.
Truth #8: You're unlikely to become a full-time author.
This is one tough truth to swallow, so let me preface it by saying that you shouldn't allow this truth to keep you from trying. I know I'm not. The fact of the matter remains, however, that forging a full-time career as a writer is extremely difficult, especially if you're planning to publish traditionally.
In any case, many published writers still hold day jobs or work part-time, simply because it takes a back log of multiple published books to truly begin seeing a profit that can be relied upon to pay life's many expenses.
There are certainly ways to supplement your fiction income outside of the traditional workforce — I am living proof of that — but truly working full-time as an author is a career that takes years of hard work, dedication, and, in many cases, luck, to achieve. So be ready to buckle in for the long haul.
Truth #9: You will have to market your own book, no matter which publishing route you choose.
Most of us shy away from words like sales funnel, branding, lead-ins, and marketing. Even if you're genuinely excited about the product you're selling, advertising can feel forced and uncomfortable if you aren't confident in your abilities, not to mention how time-consuming the process can be.
For this reason, many writers decide to publish traditionally, thinking their one-day publishing house will do all their book's marketing for them. Unfortunately, this just isn't the case.
In most cases, only when a writer has been tested and proven to be a commercial success, will publishing houses begin to throw money behind their books' marketing. In the meantime, it's up to the author to help their book find homes with happy readers.
For this reason, I encourage you to both deeply consider which publishing option — traditional or self-publishing — is truly right for you, as well as how you'll go about marketing your book when it's published. The process doesn't have to be as difficult as you think!
Truth #10: There will always be better writers than you.
Better writers, better stories, better careers... There will always be someone who seems to be excelling in ways that you are not. The good news is that you don't need to be the best writer in the world to truly enjoy your writing life.
You can write the stories you want to write, share them with readers who love them just as much as you do, and become a better writer with every book you publish. If that's not writing success, I don't know what is. So work hard, writer!
It's okay to admire and even study other authors' work. Just don't get so caught up in the rat race that you allow yourself to doubt your stories' worth. Writing can be a life-long joyous experience if you simply accept its hard truths, rest assured in your passion, and keep on writing!