So you’ve just finished reading a book by an author you’d never heard of until picking it up. You’re slightly disappointed, and sigh as you slide it onto your bookshelf, wondering if you’ll ever pick it up again.
It was an OK book … but you’re sort of thinking you could have done so much better, if that story had been yours to write.
You find yourself thinking, “How did this writer get so lucky? Why did they get a book published through a legitimate channel and I can’t even get an agent to help me do the same thing?”
Why them? Why not me?
As a writer, it’s hard to focus on the big and small picture at the same time. You want to focus on your current work-in-progress, but you can’t help but worry it’s not ever going to be worth your time.
Not if so many people just like you have already done it, and you can’t seem to catch a break.
Will you ever?
Why do some writers “make it” (publish books, build successful blogs, create businesses) and others “don’t”? Is it even worth trying? What chance do you actually have of being as successful as your favorite authors, bloggers, or journalists?
The truth is, there’s no way to predict whether or not your efforts will pay off the way you’ve always dreamed of.
There’s also the possibility that you will find success as a writer in ways or through channels you never imagined. Heading off to college, I had my heart set on becoming a novelist. I never thought I’d make a living as a writer doing anything different — and I was wrong.
What does luck have to do with it? Maybe a lot. There are some writers who just happen to have a specific idea or project that falls into the right hands at the right time. That’s not something you can predict or force to happen. It just happens — the same way many writers have created great things, but just haven’t met the right people that could help those ideas take flight.
I don’t like looking at this problem as an “all or noting” scenario. It’s not an “either you become a bestselling author or you work at a paper-making factory until you’re 80” kind of outcome.
So instead of wondering why some people “make it” and others don’t, maybe it’s better to think of writing as an even playing field, with everyone writing, but all for different reasons, doing different jobs, accomplishing different things.
Here are the things that have helped me appreciate my own accomplishments even when I haven’t done the things I’ve wanted to.
- Redefine what “success” means for you. Maybe you’re just not the right person to publish bestselling science fiction novels. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your writing skills to excel in a different career.
- Try not to compare your work to other writers’ accomplishments. If you fixate on that one acquaintance from high school who started publishing their work before graduation, you’ll never be happy when you do anything the rest of your life. Focus on you, and your goals, and your big (and small) victories.
- Remember that you’re on your own path, moving at your own pace. There’s no “too late” in the writing world. You haven’t “failed” because you said you’d have a literary agent by the time you turned 30 and it didn’t happen. The only way to ensure total failure as a writer is to stop trying.
The best chance you have at finding a job that lets you write what makes you feel fulfilled is to keep writing, to experiment, to try different things until you find work you love. Maybe you won’t ever go on your own book tour. But success might find you some other way — and you don’t want to miss that opportunity because you’re too caught up in where you haven’t gone yet.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.