6 Hard Truths Every Writer Should Accept

From a person who never dreamed of writing a book to published author, I’ve learned some things along the way. There are a few hard truths I feel every writer should accept. The sooner you accept them, the sooner you’ll stop obsessing about them and the sooner you can do the work to get yourself published. Yes, there are exceptions along the way; examples of authors who have defied the odds and made publishing look easy. This isn’t for them.  It’s for you. Here’s a little tough love.

Dana-elmendorf-author-writer south-of-sunshine-book-cover

Column by Dana Elmendorf, author of SOUTH OF SUNSHINE (April 1, 2016,
Albert Whitman and Company). Dana lives in southern California with her husband,
two boys and her tiny dog Sookie. When she isn’t exercising, she can be found
geeking out with Mother Nature or scouring the internet for foreign indie bands.
You can also find her dreaming up contemporary YA romances with plenty of
kissing. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

1. It won’t be your first novel.

Go ahead, list all the examples of authors who debuted with their first novel. Yep, that’s quite the list. Now put them on the scales of justice and compare them to all the authors who did not. Clunk goes the weight to one side. It’s a desire we all hope for but the truth is, the odds are not in your favor. Be at peace with your first novel sitting in the cobwebs of your computer, and know it’s just one step of many toward getting published.

(When can you refer to yourself as “a writer”? The answer is NOW, and here’s why.)

 2. First drafts always suck.

There’s no getting around it. It’s a part of the process we must all accept to make the improvements our manuscripts need. The first words you put on paper will not sparkle like shimmering diamonds. Geological fact, diamonds look like cloudy, dirty rocks until somebody cuts and polishes them. Don’t fight it. Let the suckage happen. It’s a healthy part of growing as a writer. But I’ll tell you a little secret, each first draft sucks a little less than its predecessor.

3. Your husband, mother, sister, best friend, coworker or the neighbor who is a high school English teacher does not qualify as a critique partner.

It doesn’t matter how “honest” they are with you. The truth of the mater is, only another writer can give you what you really need. They understand voice, character development, pacing, story arc, plot points, sub plots, inciting incidents, reversals, character growth, and about six hundred other things that go into writing a book. It doesn’t matter that your bestie reads a hundred books a year. Reading books is only a fraction of what it takes to be a writer. Passion for reading does not equal qualified critique partner. Beta reader, maybe. Critique partner, no. Do your writing a favor and find yourself several qualified critique partners. It’ll be the best decision you ever made for your career.

4. Your journey will not be the same journey as your peer’s journey.

This is where I’m supposed to tell you not to compare yourself to others. But we both know that’s pointless. You’ll do it anyway. We all do. If you’re comparing yourself it’s probably because you’re feeling like you’re not where you’d like to be in your career. Which will most likely result in finding inadequacies within yourself. Instead, when you do compare yourself, be realistic. Realize there aren’t any measurable factors to compare yourself despite how similar your life is to another writer. Because when it comes down to it, some things you just can’t assign a value, like natural talent, motivation, passion, doubt, and many more intangible factors. At the end of the day, it’s the writer who perseveres that will become published.

(When can you finally call yourself a writer?)

5. Being good isn’t good enough.

This factor was the hardest for me to accept. It implies that a positive word like “good” only equates to “competent.” There is a sea of talented writers out there. What you need to be to stand out varies. Maybe you need to be different, refreshing, clever, timeless, re-inventive, unique, or my personal favorite…sparkly. The only way to be better than good is through hard work and perseverance. Which leads me to the last point…

6. Pay your dues.

There isn’t any secret advice to getting published. There are no short cuts in this business. Nothing comes easy in this industry.  You want to get published?  Then put in the time, blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to get you there.  Sure some authors make it look easy, but don’t be fooled.  They walked that same long road just like the rest of us.

These hard truths aren’t here to disappoint you. They’re here to help you focus on what’s important, your writing.  Set your sights on your goal and don’t let these small things trip you up along the way.

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7 thoughts on “6 Hard Truths Every Writer Should Accept

  1. BrookeDeLira

    I totally agree with all of these! I didn’t want to accept #1 (everyone wants to be that special snowflake who’s the exception to the rule), but after letting it sit, I realized it wasn’t even worth saving.

    I thought of everything I did wrong in that story and turned them into personal lessons. Then, I went about crafting my second, much better novel.

    I’m currently querying agents with my second novel, so we’ll see what happens!

  2. SteveMitchell

    I agree with everything on this list. Rejections tend to outnumber acceptance letters, in my experience, and it’s easy to get discouraged, but articles like this remind me that it’s a long trudge for everyone. They also serve as a kick in the seat of the pants to get back to work.

  3. Shayne

    Great list…. agree with them totally.
    I’ve been drilling, the first draft is crap, revision is a necessity, for years. Most writers I’ve run into hate revision and consider a light edit for punctuation and spelling the only secondary work required on a manuscript. I’m of the opinion a first draft needs a complete tear down and rewritten. Thanks for the great article. Shayne

  4. jannertfol

    I enjoyed this article, and think you make some great points, especially ‘first drafts always suck.’ They do.

    However, I don’t agree with ‘It won’t be your first novel.’ It might well not be your first novel, but one of the best ways to learn writing is to take an inferior novel and learn to make it a good one. Figure out what is wrong with that first novel, and decide how to fix it. That’s where learning happens. If all you do is start over again because you find imperfections, you won’t have learned anything except how to give up.

    If you were inspired to write the novel in the first place, and it’s a story you still believe in, by all means work on it and polish it to the point where it IS a great novel.

    1. jannertfol

      Just to add to what I wrote. Here is a partial list of famous authors who wrote only one novel. Some of these authors wrote other things like short stories, poetry, etc. But some really only produced the one novel. And many of these were done over a LONG period of time.
      Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
      JD Salinger – Catcher in the Rye
      Alastair MacLeod – No Great Mischief
      Margaret Mitchell – Gone With The Wind
      Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man
      John Kennedy Toole – A Confederacy of Dunces
      Boris Pasternak – Dr Zhivago
      Bel Kaufman – Up The Down Staircase
      Anna Sewell – Black Beauty

  5. MaryJaksch

    I enjoyed this article! As a nonfiction writer who is dipping her toe into fiction, this is good advice.
    In particular, I liked #1: It won’t be your first novel.”

    I’m in the process of writing my first novel and it’s good to get his reality check. It’s also comforting because it means we don’t have to strive for absolute perfection for our first novel.

    Thanks for an excellent article!

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