This originally appeared in the NC Writers’ Network 2021 Fall Newsletter
Truth Number One
No one person can tell you everything you need to know about writing. There is no everything. Forget about the everything.
Sit down and write. Do it whenever and wherever you can. Don’t complain about not having your life organized in the “right” way. As someone once said to me: your life is not your enemy.
Writing is hard. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. There’s this myth that inspiration arrives at 5G speed. You’ll feel the download coming. Supposedly, genius-level writers experience this miraculous event. They pull off the side of the road to transcribe the download into their phone, or into the trusted notebook that real writers carry everywhere they go.
Those magical moments do happen. Most of the time, though, writing is like squeezing condensation out of the air into a water jug. It’s hard, uncertain work. You may not get it right until the fifth, tenth, or twentieth try.
The notebook thing? I know a few writers who carry a small one around. Most don’t.
Truth Number Two
You must finish something. Anything. Just finish. Let that crappy first draft be crappy. Let your characters be half-formed things. Let the dialogue suck. You are at least halfway there if you finish. You won’t have everything figured out. No one does. Repeat after me: my worth as a writer doesn’t depend on a brilliant first draft.
Magic happens during the revising process.
This is probably the truest of all true statements about writing.
Every decent, responsible writer on earth revises. Dig through your sentences. Move entire scenes around. Strike through words. Maybe kill a character. Please, for all that is holy about writing, have an external reader who isn’t a friend read your work. I mean it when I say I want to hit my editors, even if I’m not prone to violence. They point out things I should have seen on my own. They are almost always right.
Listen to their suggestions, then fix those things.
Revision won’t happen only once. It will occur multiple times. An editor may hurt your feelings, but don’t take it personally. Revision is where great writers are born. Be brave. Be strong. You will get through it.
Truth Number Three
There’s no money in writing. There’s some money in writing.
Writing isn’t about the money.
All of the above are true.
Many won’t make money from publishing. The traditional publishing model is one of the weirdest, and most unfair, of all the creative fields. An actor with three lines of dialogue on a Netflix show makes more for 15 seconds of screen time than you will make from publishing a book.
I’m sorry to say this, but it’s mostly true.
There are some corners of the traditional publishing world where money happens: Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, Commercial Fiction, Romance, marketable Non-Fiction. I mean, there’s some money made, but don’t quite the day job.
Income for midlist authors (think Wiley Cash, Naima Coster) comes from speaking gigs, workshops and teaching, perhaps manuscript consulting on the side. Many authors earn money from selling foreign and film rights, if that happens.
These authors aren’t just writers. They are hustlers.
They’ve put in time and energy learning the industry, building relationships, and cultivating their craft. It can take years to become a published writer. Being a writer from that point on will be fulltime and often risky work. There is no safety net for most moderately successful authors in the traditional publishing industry. Publishing is a fickle business. Trends can change in an instant.
The most successful writers, by the way, watch those trends.
Truth Number Four
Some of us don’t write for trends, or money, or even to be midlist.
We write because it’s a joyful thing to do. Maybe we have something to say, or we’re carrying a story that’s itching to grow skin. We write because it sustains us at some deep, cosmic level. For some of us, that validation is as precious as a slot on the New York Times bestseller list.
The feeling of being completed by your work is a special thing, indeed. There are moments when writing feels like a sacred act.
Ain’t nothing truer than that.