Every aspiring writer wants to get published someday. It’s an attainable, though not unique, ambition. It’s not impossible. But there are barriers to getting there — and many of them are “all in your head,” as they say.
One of the most common questions newer writers ask is: “How do I get published?”
Not: “How do I write a book?”
Or: “How do I tell a really good story people will fall in love with?”
They want to know all the ins and outs of how the finish line works. Even though there are a lot of steps that come between where they’re standing and where that line is painted.
Many aspiring writers want to ‘be’ published but don’t want to write. I know this doesn’t sound like it makes sense on the surface — shouldn’t a writer, you know … want to write? But that’s the tough part about it. Many writers want to tell stories, they want to put their work out there and to make a difference.
What they don’t want to do is endure all the challenges that come with actually sitting down to write. The long hours, the energy expenditure, the kind of commitment that results in positive changes, goal achievement, and success … often very long after the fact.
The problem? Instant gratification. Listen, I’m a millennial, I’m aware “my generation” really struggles a lot with this. But we’re not the only ones. It’s still an excuse, though. You want that rush you get when you finally publish something, but you don’t want it tomorrow or next week or next year. You want it NOW.
So what do you do? You take the idea you have for your middle-grade mystery thriller space western and you write a query letter, just for fun. You look up agents and publishers, you compare costs of different writing conferences so you can network. You join writing groups, you follow and respond to authors’ tweets.
But you don’t actually write anything. Because that’s not the fun part. You want to be at the fun part. Why aren’t you there yet?!
You can design your book cover, but it doesn’t count as ‘progress.’ I’m guilty of this too. I’ve spent many nights over the past decade and a half (!) “researching,” among other things, when I should have been writing. That’s what we do when we brush up against things that are difficult. Some of us don’t want to deal with that kind of stress — or don’t know how to — so we procrastinate.
Technically, you can do whatever you want on your own time. But the only thing that actually counts as writing is, well … writing. Yes, there are SO MANY other things that will eventually go into getting something published, whether you’re working on an article or your debut epic fantasy series (set in space, obviously). But you don’t need to worry about them yet.
Why not? Because editors, agents, and publishers (for the most part) only look at completed work. Editors will want to see samples. Agents and publishers sometimes ask for full manuscripts (not first drafts). You can’t cross the finish line of a marathon if you’ve never run a mile. You can’t get published if you have nothing to publish.
Writing has to come first. And yes, it’s going to be challenging. As with many things, if writing were easy, anyone can do it. But writing isn’t easy — even for those who have been doing it for a long time — and not everyone can do it well.
Writing is a skill just like playing the violin. You’re not going to be good at it at first, and that’s going to make it harder to stay motivated to keep doing it. But you have to keep doing it if you want to get better at doing it. Writing itself doesn’t necessarily get easier. Sitting down to do it and actually following through does, though, to a point.
Many people assume that because writing is meant to be enjoyed, it’s not going to pose any sort of challenge. But even the things we enjoy doing aren’t always favorable. Resistance and skill-building go hand-in-hand, and if you’re not willing to learn how to keep writing even when it ‘hurts,’ you’re probably not going to make it very far.
Don’t just focus on the fun and exciting parts. Do it for the hard parts too. Because in the end, seeing how tall that mountain is and knowing you climbed it and didn’t quit, makes the whole experience so much more rewarding.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.