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4 Pieces of Advice for Struggling Writers

My debut novel, Tracked, recently hit shelves, and I’m often asked for advice about the publication process. How long did it take you to sell your book? Should I shelve this project? Should I keep going? Did you ever feel like giving up?

And so often, buried in these questions, there’s a palpable tremor of defeat. Of desperation and indecision and uncertainty. I hear it the writer’s voice. I read it in their words.

And it makes my heart clench. Every time.

(Can your query be longer than one page?)

Jenny-martin-author-writer
tracked-book-cover

Column by Jenny Martin, author of debut novel TRACKED
(May 2015, Dial/Penguin Random-House). Her book was praised
by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Bustle. Jenny is an
author, librarian, and an experienced speaker, panelist and presenter
who’s appeared at many conferences, events and festivals. She lives
in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with her husband and son, where she
hoards books and writes fiction. And yes, she’s still on a quest for the
perfect pancake. Connect with her on Twitter

Because I’ve been there. I’m still there, half the year. Yes, I’ve got a permanent sub-lease on that same space, a precarious little acreage between Epic Fail Valley and the Cliffs of Insanity. Maybe you’ve heard of the place, and season there, too?

If so, don't fret. There’s hope, struggling writer. And while I may not always have the right answers to your questions, I can give some encouragement. So here it is—my advice to you:

1. If you’re struggling to succeed, you’re in good company.

Almost every single author I know has their own unique (yet somehow familiar) story of crushing heartbreak, setback, and rejection. I’m no exception. My agent was not my first agent. Tracked was not my first book. Tracked wasn’t even my first (or even second!) book on submission. What’s more, it almost didn’t sell. Then it almost didn’t make it through revisions. And to be painfully honest, every now and then, it’s still almost impossible to fight off the hydra-head monsters of fear and self-doubt. And if you’re battling those monsters, too, it just means you’re on the right path. Those tricksy beasts only show up when you’re self-aware enough to grow as an artist. They smell your hunger for improvement, and they know exactly when you’re primed to level up. Yep. Naturally, that’s when they attack. So be aware, and embrace the fight. Push past it. You can do it. I’m rooting for you.

2. If you’re struggling to succeed, write the next book.

Or paint the next picture. Or sing the next song. The only way you’re ever going to move forward is to stop holding onto everything that’s rooted in yesterday’s ground. If a book isn’t working … if it’s getting rejected all over town, it might just be an eighty-thousand word clog in your creative drainpipe. It might be stoppering up the masterpiece you’re supposed to be starting right now. That book or whatever-whatchamacallit you’ve got now? It might be the project you need to set aside and revisit later, with new skills and new eyes. But of course, you’ll never know, unless you choose to start something new. Trust me. Begin again and rescue your tomorrow.

(How NOT to start your story. Read advice from agents.)

3. If you’re struggling to succeed, you need to get back up.

It’s normal to get knocked to the mat. It’s okay to get knocked to the mat. Pretty much everyone who’s ever tried anything has been knocked to the mat. More specifically, pretty much everyone who’s ever tried something great has been knocked to the mat at least a hundred times. And the people who achieve greatness? They’re the ones who kept getting back up, again and again. So if you’re there—right now, this second—give yourself a moment. Catch a breath and recover. Reassess and dust off your dreams. But then come up swinging. Scrap your way back onto your feet. Listen, you. You’re halfway to something great, just by answering the bell.

4. If you’re struggling to succeed, you’ll be prepared, when you do succeed. All the rejections, all the tears, all the heartbreaking close calls … they will season you for the next challenge, the next goal, the next victory. Everything you’ve already faced, and will face … it all makes you tougher and fiercer and stronger. And oh, how you will cherish the victories, when they come. Each and every setback will sweeten them tenfold, while increasing your capacity for gratitude, compassion, and humility. And those victories will come. They are waiting for you, ahead.

So just keep going. I promise. You’ll see.

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