Dear Author…

Letter to an author

Dear Author…

Dear Author,

I’m so sorry about this deep challenge you’re facing with your writing. I know it’s hard to get through. Worse is that it can make you wonder if you are good enough–if you will ever be good enough. I’m very familiar with those not-good-enough demons. With the who-do-you-think-you-are? demons. (I’ve written about my own demon buddies a lot, and why I think we should all find a way to make peace with them.)

I think it’s especially hard when we liken disappointments in writing to something like success in other careers, where our mastery of skills and our progress are more linear, and wonder why our writing careers may not show steady progression in the same way.

There is no magic bullet to get you publishing-ready. Courses and seminars and books and good editors and other resources can offer you knowledge and insight, and can help you improve your story as well as your writing by leaps and bounds—but it’s not always the solution when your story still isn’t quite where you want it to be. Sometimes it’s just muscling through those difficult drafts and revisions and honing your craft, over and over again.

It’s understandable that you would feel frustrated that it seems as if your progress may be slower than you would have expected.

I was talking to an author friend writing his first manuscript recently who was struggling through an especially difficult revision process, and I joked that he picked up a violin and then realized he had to play every instrument, conduct the orchestra, and compose the music.

I think it’s so easy to underestimate the difficulty of writing a story, especially if—as so many of us are—we are avid readers. Good story seems effortless, and because we have creative skill and impetus it’s very seductive to think we can pick that violin up and start to play.

But it’s such an incredibly complex art, one that can often take longer to master than we might expect. I’ve been an editor my entire career, have worked on I don’t know how many hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts, and even published six of my own novels, and with each one I’m always learning and expanding my skills, and always realize how much I still have to learn.

I think we all do—in perpetuity, if we’re growing as artists. In a field like creativity that is so tied to our own personal evolution as well as the evolution of our abilities, I don’t think we ever actually master our art. We just keep expanding our skills and knowledge, working on it, and persisting.

So much of success is simply the resilience to continue to work at what you’re trying to succeed with—particularly in this career, or any creative career.

So much of success is simply the resilience to continue to work at what you’re trying to succeed with—particularly in this career, or any creative career.

I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve talked to who worked for many years before getting their “big break.” It’s one reason I enjoy doing my How Writers Revise feature so much, letting authors see how long this writing journey can be. It can be an unpredictable, capricious career, and a large component of any author’s success in it is simply staying in the game while continuing to develop as an artist.

I might add, relative to feedback you receive, that even an expert’s input is simply an opinion. This is a subjective field, as are all creative careers, and while editors and other industry pros may be able to offer you the advantage of their experience and expertise, their word isn’t law, and their impressions can vary just as much as any other reader’s. An agent or editor may in fact be correct that your story is not yet ready to submit, based on her knowledge of the industry, but the only real way to know that is to submit it.

Of course, there’s always the issue that you don’t want to submit before the story is ready, because you really do generally just get one chance to impress an agent with a specific manuscript and you want it as strong as you can get it. And sometimes that can take longer than you want it to or expect it will. I am firmly of the opinion that the bulk of the work of writing is revising. And some stories come harder than others and take longer to come together fully.

I’ve written a lot about knowing why you write (here and here and here and here and more). To me that can be one of the most helpful things to remind yourself of in moments when your career may not be progressing as quickly as you hoped. It’s so easy, given all the messaging we get about the business side of this career, to define our success in it by whether we get an agent, or a publishing contract, whether our book is a huge seller or well-reviewed.

But I always remind myself that the work is an end in itself. Doing it is the real pleasure and the reason I was attracted to it. Of course, like many creatives I hope for financial or commercial or critical success, but really at the heart of it all, I create because I love to create. And yes, I want my work to reach people, but writers have more options than ever to be able to do that. If your goal is to get your story in front of readers, agents and traditional publishers are no longer the only gatekeepers to help you reach them.

At a writing retreat I was leading not long ago, we had evening discussions about this business and art, and something one of the attendees said has stuck with me so much. She likened her writing to a pursuit like someone taking up the piano, or who loves to garden, or cook or knit or any other creative outlet. She said that as much as she loves playing piano, her goal has never been to play Carnegie Hall, or release albums, or even really to worry about an audience. She plays for the love of playing.

As much as writing is indeed a business and many of us would love to be able to monetize it as such, at the core I think most of us went into it out of that sheer love she described. If we can stay tuned in to that impetus and drive, then I think every moment we spend sitting in the chair tapping out those words and bringing to life those stories and people who live so vividly in our minds is fulfilling, rewarding work, and time incredibly well spent, regardless of what may or may not happen with the manuscript after that.

Keep writing, friend. It’s clear how much you love it, and what better reason is there to continue to pursue this complicated, frustrating, but also richly rewarding art?

With great admiration,

Tiffany

10 Comments. Leave new

  • Val Harbolovic
    March 9, 2023 2:57 pm

    Dar Tiffany,
    Thank you so much for a long list of posts that have really helped me.
    I have a request: could you survey mystery writers and ask about their process of seeding their manuscripts with clues, red herring, and misdirections?
    I am writing a historical novel, and I am struggling with this.
    Best wishes,
    Val

    Reply
  • Tiffany,

    Of all your many blog posts I’ve enjoyed, this one touched my heart. Six years ago, I decided to write for three hours every morning, determined to get published. I’m currently working on my third novel. I have an agent who has worked hard to promote my work, but so far, nothing. Surprisingly, I’ve found that those morning hours of creativity have become more precious than my publishing goal. I agree with you, Tiffany. It’s the process that can be so fulfilling and rewarding. I haven’t given up on my dream. I should have my latest manuscript in front of my agent by early summer. But already, I’m looking forward to the real reward, opening my laptop and bringing my historical fiction to life—tomorrow at 7 am sharp.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration,

    Bret

    Reply
    • Bret, your email put a smile on my face…and a little flare of warmth in my heart, actually. You describe so beautifully the joy of the act of writing itself, and I love that you are coming to feel that that’s the greatest intrinsic reward.

      So many reasons this pursuit is hard and can feel hopeless or daunting. But the reasons we do it, to me, outweighs all of that. I would no more stop creating/writing than I’d stop baking cookies just for the sheer pleasure of it, and of sharing them with friends. Just like my writing, actually. Thank you for the lovely comment. It made my day. And thanks for being here.

      Reply
  • YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YOU NAILED IT!!!!!

    Reply
  • I so needed to read this right now! Thank you for your warmth, understanding encouragement and generous spirit!

    Reply
  • P. Jo Anne Burgh
    March 9, 2023 6:28 pm

    Dear Tiffany,

    For a moment, I truly thought this was directed to me. It was as though you read my weekend blog posts in which I vented about how undeniably bad the second draft of my novel is. Obviously, you didn’t, and this isn’t just for me, but it might as well be. Thank you so much for this encouragement, this guidance, this support. I will print it and keep it with this (undeniably bad) draft as I continue to wrestle with the story in the days ahead.

    With immense gratitude,
    Jo Anne

    Reply
    • I’m so pleased it resonated, Jo Anne–thanks for saying so. So many of these struggles and challenges and doubts are so common among us creatives. It helps me, too, to remind myself of why I do it.

      Stick with that revision. You’ll find the story. <3

      Reply

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