Pursuing a Career in Writing is Like Being Stranded in the Wilderness …

You cannot turn around and ask, “Am I doing this right?” Because there is no one else around.


When I was in junior high, I decided I wanted to publish a book someday.

I don’t know why. I just thought, I might as well do something with all the stories I kept writing in all those notebooks.

I didn’t know anything about publishing or even about how to write a good book. I just sat down one day and started writing one. And another. And another.

I was too shy to tell my teachers or ask them for help. I just kept all my writing endeavors to myself. All the way up until my freshman year of high school, when my English teacher suggested I take creative writing my sophomore year, which I did.

Until I took that class, I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t feel like I had to. I just knew that at some point I wanted to publish a book, and figured the best thing to do until I figured out how would be to write on my own, so I could get better.

(And before you call me old, yes, the internet did exist, I just didn’t use it for anything other than homework, really, until high school.)

This is why I advise with the perspective that all aspiring writers need to try writing on their own before asking for help. Not because asking for help is a bad thing. Personally, I believe I’m a much better writer today than I would have been if I wouldn’t have spent years writing on my own, teaching myself what was good writing and what wasn’t, before asking the big questions (how do I get an agent, how much do writers make annually, etc.).

A similar principle applies when you do reach out for help, and are given suggestions, either by instructors or professional writers. You have to go off on your own and figure it out.

This is why I think of starting a career as a writer like someone dumping you off in the middle of nowhere. Forcing you to survive on your own. Scavenging for food, gathering resources, living off of what you have at your disposal.

Before you get sent out into the wilderness, though, you’re told exactly what you need to do. Someone tells you the best ways to build a fire. Once you’re out on your own, you’re expected to be able to start a fire on your own, without someone there holding your hand the whole time.

You cannot turn around and ask, “Am I doing this right?” Because there is no one else around. You have to keep trying, and figure it out. No matter how long it takes.

Writers who train themselves to operate as independently as possible are the ones who are going to be successful, even in very small ways. I see way too many writers stopping after every chapter to ask for feedback or ask questions that don’t have anything to do with the story they are working on. You have to focus. You have to learn to appreciate the mentors you do have, but use them sparingly, because they aren’t around to take you by the hand and lead you to success. You have to do that on your own.

Balancing your trust in an advisor of sorts and your independence is hard for a lot of people. But just picture yourself in a forrest, feeling lost and hungry and discouraged. Many, many writers feel this way. Some of them just can’t handle it, and they walk away. It is what it is. Some power through, and those are the ones who go on to do amazing things with their words. Neither is any better than the other. As a writer, your willpower will be put to the test. If the writing world isn’t for you, this is how you will know. And that is perfectly normal.

If you are feeling alone and stuck, remember the things you have been taught or learned on your own. Remember that the hard times you will go through will only make you stronger. If you are someone who doesn’t feel they can do it on their own, the only thing you can do is keep wandering. You will find your way. Sometimes, there are no right or wrong answers. There are just choices. If you have already made the decision to write, for sport or for work, all the decisions that come after that will shape your path. That path is different for everyone. Explore. Enjoy. Write. Stop worrying. If you put in the effort, if you try as hard as you can and do not let excuses block your way, you can make it. And you will.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Image courtesy of Flickr.