When I was a young writer, I leased an office from a friend who’d written several novels, although none were published. He had all kinds of systems such as writing a certain number of words per paragraph, allocating so many paragraphs to different aspects of the story, and so on.
I suspected this wasn’t a good approach, but he’d written books and I hadn’t, so I kept quiet. Then he said there was no point in writing “just another novel.” I should aim to write a best-seller. Nothing less was worthwhile.
Now I knew we had a problem. I’d published my first paid article in the Australian Women’s Weekly when I was 14, and studied dozens of books on writing craft. Some I agreed with, some I didn’t, but I knew a best-seller wasn’t something you could write. All you could do was write the best book you could at the time. The rest would be up to readers to decide.
Eighty-five books later, I stand by this belief. My friend never did publish a novel, and no wonder. There are simply some aspects of this business we must accept as being out of our control. Here are four of them:
1. The state of the publishing industry
As long as I’ve been writing, publishing has been changing and this will continue long after we’re gone. We can’t stop editors from moving on, however much we loved working with them. Nor can we stop lines closing, publishers merging, or Amazon from changing the rules for indie publishers.
We most certainly can’t make readers want our zombie angel books when they’re clamoring for Regency westerns. Or whatever is in vogue at a given time. All we can do is write books we love, and hope others will love them, too.
The rise of indie publishing has opened new doors when more traditional doors are closing. Even so, there are plenty of trad-pub houses wanting submissions, agents seeking clients, and editors you can hire, no matter which way you choose to go.
This is a purely subjective measurement which also changes frequently. If you’re unpublished, you want to see your book in print or ebook. Then you want your second book out. And your third ad infinitum. If friends are published, you’re envious of them, especially if you’ve been plugging away for years and they have their first submission accepted.
No matter where you are on the career ladder, there’s always another rung ahead. New York Times’ best-selling authors want to be number #1. Then they want every book to make the list. And preferably be optioned by Hollywood. There’s really no end to the stages until they prize your stylus from your cold, dead hand.
Your career is yours alone; your books written at whatever pace suits. As the Desiderata says, “Never compare yourself to others, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” For every high-flyer above you, there are many more writers on the rungs below, envying you.
3. What other people think
This applies to everyone from editors and agents, to your mother and your bestie, particularly if the BFF is also a writer. Many factors affect how they read your work. For editors and agents, it’s the commercial nature of the work. Will it fit their house’s publishing program? Have they accepted something similar already? Does your book compete with their lead author?
Families will read your work looking for themselves within the pages. Having found themselves (they think), they wonder how their friends will react. If your book is sexy, will your community be shocked? Writers may envy the fabulous job you’ve done, or drown you in suggestions to make the work better. None of these people is unbiased. Their opinions are exactly that, opinions.
Have the courage to listen to the input then decide for yourself which suggestions you take on board. You don’t want your book to read as if it were written by a committee because you tried too hard to please everybody.
4. How old you are before you start writing
If you’ve had a career in another field, you may not be able to write until retirement. If you’ve raised a family, you may have put your dreams on hold while nurturing theirs. There are many reasons why your books remain unwritten. None of them matter. If it’s in you to write, you will write as soon as you possibly can. Perhaps you’ve scribbled in journals for years, or have a file full of ideas waiting for you to attend to them, so in a sense, you’ve already begun.
Sensible writers start when they can, doing as much as life allows. Remember the woman in her fifties who told a friend she’d like to study law and become a lawyer, but she’d be over 60 before she qualified. Wisely, the friend asked her, “How old will you be if you don’t study?”
Two inspirational people who blog at Marc and Angel Hack Life said this week, “Never let someone’s opinions become your reality” http://tinyurl.com/m7yn9hv
Likewise, don’t let your opinions become your reality unless they align with your dreams.
Now over to you. Do you lose sleep over any of these beliefs? Share your thoughts in the comments box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You