Committing to a Writing Career

When I first began to write seriously, I was having problems. I was just beginning my career in publishing, and it was getting in the way of my writing. I wanted to write a novel, get published, make some money, and sit back in a corner office and write more novels.

It didn’t happen, of course. So I had to practice publishing.

Many novelists don’t write as a career, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t career novelists. Being committed to your actual career is not a detriment to writing. It just might be the very thing that lifts you off the ground.

But to be successful as a novelist, you need to be committed to a career, not just one novel. A publisher is looking for an author he or she can build. The odds of your first book hitting the bestseller list are slim. The odds on your second book aren’t looking too good either. But if you’re committed to a writing career, to writing books over a period of years, the odds are far better that you can be built into a successful author.

Come to the Dark Side. We have Cookies.

But there’s a dark side to being a novelist. Writing a novel can be all-consuming. Your every thought seems to focus on your next plot twist, doubts that your ideas are any good, or maybe the constant fear of the blank page. Bills have to be paid. Kids have to be fed. Pesky laws prevent you from selling the kids to pay the bills…

On top of all that, you have concerns about publisher’s deadlines and fears that no one will like your work. You begin to panic over the revisions your agent and editor have asked you to make — by the end of the week. And it’s already Wednesday…

And this is only the beginning. When you finally get your novel published, you’ll worry about what critics will say or if your book will even be reviewed at all. Will your readership feel like you’ve let them down? Will your publisher decide not to publish your next book?

You put in the long hours. You skipped the big game. You missed your daughter’s dance recital. You ate dinner at the computer instead of with the family. Or worse, you skipped dinner entirely. And breakfast the next morning, too. You made sacrifices, damn it. So why isn’t your book selling like you thought it would, despite all the publicity efforts you put into it?

Those are just some of the downsides. And the chances are quite good that you’ll experience all of them and more.

darkside_liedaboutcookiesOf course, the biggest downside to being a novelist is writing the damned novel in the first place. Fine and talented writers make it look easy, as if they went up into the attic at midnight to cast the bones and came down with the Voice of God neatly typeset in standard manuscript format. So most people think it’s just a matter of stringing words together with thoughts, then throwing the whole lot at a wall until they stick. But it isn’t like that at all, is it?

No. Writing is an extremely difficult career. The odds of becoming a bestselling author by traditional means are slim. The hard reality is that the average writer in the US can’t earn a living solely from writing. Even the latest technology hasn’t changed that fact, nor is it likely to in the future. In fact, technology has had exactly the opposite effect, opening the gates of the market to charlatans and fakirs and their flood of poorly-crafted penny dreadfuls. The vast wave of new content on the market has driven down the market price of all content, leaving many writers standing on bread-lines.

And do you remember when you were in second grade and you wrote something you thought was the best thing ever? Then it came back from the teacher covered in the dreaded red pen marks. Do you remember how destroyed you were? That’s what being a writer is. Every. Single. Day.

Never believe that the fiction writing life makes sense, or that it will one day make sense. It won’t. It’s insanity, almost by definition.

Well, Aren’t You a Ray of Sunshine?

Sorry. If wishes were fishes, we’d all eat some. Wishing that you could write a novel will not make it happen. Wishing that you had more time to write will not make you a novelist. You will not have more time. You will have the same amount of time as the single mom or dad who just became a bestselling novelist. What’s the difference between you and them? They had precise goals, not just wishes.

Each day, you have to set some time aside to write even if it’s only enough to write one paragraph, or one page, or to sketch out your next idea for a chapter. By setting reasonable goals, you also develop a rhythm to your writing. You will be surprised that once you set a goal of say, one page per day, and you stick to that goal, it becomes part of your everyday schedule.

Set aside a block of time that fits your schedule and stick to it faithfully. It needn’t be more than five minutes a day, nor must you create more than a few sentences. The discipline and the production of some wordage at each and every sitting is what is vital. It’s easy to find excuses not to write; successful authors don’t give in to such excuses.

Need help? Sign up for my mailing list. I’ll send you a writing prompt every day, Monday through Friday. With a writing prompt and five minutes, you can exercise those creative powers every day.


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Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

Posted in Commitment, Writing Life

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The Author
Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
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