In it For the Long Haul
It’s an important topic for consideration, because sometimes we have to make difficult decisions on a day-to-day basis, and we don’t always know which way to go. But if we’re always looking at those decisions in light of the long haul, it’s easier to know what to do.
This doesn’t just apply to writers, it can be a good way for anyone to look at their situation. I want to be in publishing for the duration, so I came up with a bunch of questions and answers to help me stay focused on a long-term approach to work. I’ll share just a few of them:
What can I do to increase my chances of being in this for the long haul?
→ Keep a positive attitude despite the constantly changing and challenging business environment.
→ Always be looking ahead to new ways of doing business and new technologies, and be open to changing my business model as needed.
What would sabotage my ability to stay in it for the long haul?
→ Fail to learn from mistakes.
→ Treat people badly or disrespectfully.
As I spoke with my clients about this topic, we identified some things that could help them develop “long haul” writing careers:
→ Keep refining their appeal to their readers by developing and maintaining a uniquely compelling voice.
→ Develop their ability to write page-turning books that readers can’t help talking about.
→ Keep a positive attitude about the business.
→ Be the kind of author agents and editors love to work with.
Now it’s your turn…
Q4U: What are some things that can help YOU be in this for the long haul? What are some things that could sabotage your career?
*Special thanks to Kathi Lipp for her counsel in being in it for the long haul.
(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
Wonderful blog post, saw on…
>The most important thing for me is to understand that I have to be patient with myself, to take the time to do everything in a way that is right for me while acknowledging that there is a learning curve involved.
I love working with other writers, learning and teaching, in turn. I work with two different critique groups so that I can have as many opinions as possible about my work, style, and weaknesses. That helps tremendously.
I read constantly, either studying writing books and courses, blogs, websites, etc. And I recognize when people tell me truth about myself. That can be the hardest to do. I'm an eclectic person who will never be satisfied to remain faithful to only one genre or market age.
Now I get to learn even more through cross-training. So long as I keep learning and challengiing myself, I won't have any desire to quit. I have to remain in it for the long haul, if for no other reason than to know that I could make it in each genre and market.
It's how I'm made.
>Great post. I am new to writing as a career and had almost given up on the idea when my wonderful husband stepped in and told me to keep at it. He told me I had built the momentum and things were beginning to happen. It sounds silly that he had to say this but I had listened to the other voices. The ones who were asking every time I felt like I was making a step forward, “Are you getting paid yet?” I wasn’t. But I listened to my husband I kept at in and almost immediately that momentum I had been building paid off. Within a week I had my first column, a week later I had my second. I am still not making a lot of money but I am a paid writer and I now know it is possible to be in this for the long haul.
>You always make such good and carefully considered posts. Thanks for sharing this (and everything else you've shared with us!).
>Wonderful post, Rachelle. For me, it's knowing this business has its ups and downs and I am not in control of most of those aspects. But my biggest pet peeve is when writers think they know it all. They're published and suddenly they know everything. Boo to that. If you stop learning you'll stagnate. Ugh! That doesn't smell like fun to be around, does it? To be in it for the long haul, I have to keep learning and growing and giving back to others.
>Great post! I love the one about being someone editors and agents will want to work with. Couldn't agree more!
>If I didn't mention that to you at the ACFW or before, count me in, too, for the long haul! 🙂
>I'm in it for the long haul too. Tell me, do you consider self-published authors?
>This weekend I attended a conference where I had the chance to pitch my ideas to both an agent and an editor. Part of my pitch centered on how I was thinking of things long-term.
Set short-term achievable goals that provide incentive, along with longer term goals that can be reached through planning.
>Thing that helps me stay in the writing world for the long haul:
1. Building strong relationships with other writers who are passionate about writing. Their passion stirs mine.
2. Praying about this whole writing life/real life/what does God want from me & for me. Praying with other writers about this–and praying for them as they struggle with the same questions.
3. (This is the tough one, but it may make the most difference to whether I stay the course as a writer) Learning when to say no to good things so I can pursue the best, right things.
>I find that I can feel discouraged when I read too much about the "cons" of the publishing arena, especially about how hard it is for new writers to break in the field.
One of the biggest ways that I stay motivated (as I, too, want to be in this "for the long haul") is to remember why I write. I don't write to get published (though I'd love if that happened). I write to share God's love and His Word. When I write articles (as I currently do now), I write to explore, learn, grow and to spread His wisdom.
I want to write the book that is on my heart to learn through writing and hopefully help others learn too. To keep myself motivated to continue writing, I have to remind myself that I need to just write it! I'll never know who I could help or what I could learn unless I sit down and write!
I also agree with so many others who have already commented (and with your post, Rachelle) that I've got to keep learning and keep growing. I know I won't ever "know it all," and I really don't want to. It's much more exciting this way.
>This is such an important concept to remember. It's hard to think about the "long haul" when you are just barely trying to get your foot in the door!
I just found your blog and am excited to read all your advice.
>The worst thing you can do is forget that it is YOUR career.
I am sure there are lots of nice editors and agents and booksellers ready to kiss your butt if you can sell lots books, but ultimately, it's all on you.
Treat it like a business. Don't make enemies, but be careful about making friends too. Learn to be a small business owner – after all, that is what you are.
This is the best way to survive (aside from writing great books of course!)
Forgetting it is a business is the fast lane to a ruined career.
>One thing for me (besides coffee) that is important to stay in this for the long haul would be balance. Living life. I have noticed this pattern with myself lately that all my days are starting to blend together and look the same. It's not likely that I'll be able to write believable life stories if I have no life.
I also agree that learning from your mistakes, staying teachable and developing an effective means of self-study are key.
And did I mention coffee?
>Learning how to pace myself and take TIME to practice, perfect, hone my writing skills. Learning to enjoy the PROCESS as much as the final product. That's what's gonna get me through for the long haul.
>I think if you want to stay in for the long haul, simply refuse to quit, and become a consistent daily writer.
If you want to sabotage your career, stay out of healthy writing critique groups, and refuse to listen to anything constructive anyone has to say about your manuscript.
Not every piece of advice you get is going to be good, and you also have to allow for personal tastes, but you should at least evaluate what someone who reads your manuscript says, particularly if they are an editor, agent, or another writer. I agree with what that gal said a week ago or so when she commented that the majority of writers don't want help to improve their writing as much as they want to argue with you about how you're wrong when you offer constructive criticism. It's meant in a kind way, but if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
>I’m a writer for the long haul. It goes against my competitive nature to cut all ties with something I’ve worked so long and hard at. When I pour myself into my manuscript I give a concerted effort to do my best work because I believe in my goals.
I love ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ by Norman Vincent Peale. He stresses 10 basic principles to maintain success and happiness. Here’s the ultra synopsized version.
1. Formulate and picture yourself as succeeding.
2. Cancel out a negative thought by a positive thought.
3. Difficulties must never be thought of as obstacles.
4. Do not try to copy other people. Be the best YOU, you can be.
5. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
6. Learn the origin of your own self-doubt and deal with it.
7. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
8. Make a true statement of yourself then raise it by 10%.
9. Put yourself in God’s hands.
10. Remind yourself that God is with you and nothing can defeat you. Believe.
The naysayers and all of their vitriol are like a toxic gas attempting to choke out our dreams. It’s important for me to push them out of my mind, visualize my career as an author and work hard to achieve it. I believe that persistence and practice both pay off.
>I am my own worst enemy. I know this and have to constantly work at ignoring that horrid little whisper that infiltrates my thoughts every once in a while and tries to convince me I'll never make it in this business. Sometimes I want to believe it, because giving up would be so much easier than reading the rejections or waiting for emails that never seem to come. But I've invested in some heavy duty ear plugs and so far they seem to be working!
I think it's important to be grateful for where you are in the moment. Stop wishing for what you don't have, and quit moaning about it (so guilty of this), because really, besides your ficus and your mom, nobody cares. And your mom probably doesn't care anymore either. Like others have said, there is so much to learn. Get on with it.
It's a long journey, and if we are committed to it, we have to be willing to take each day as it comes. And try to do it with a smile.
Every career has its highs and lows, but the term "the long haul" really doesn't make it with me. That sounds as if the lows of writing last while the highs are like fog, ephemeral.
From the time I published my first poem until I began a freelance writing career, more than fifty years passed. If anything, that was my "long haul." Now that I have time to write, read about writing, and learn about the publishing industry, I feel engaged in the adventure of a lifetime.
One of my lifetime scriptures is Isaiah 40:31, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint." Whether "long haul" or "adventure," THAT is the secret to being able to finish the trip.
>It would seem that keeping our head out of the clouds will be critical. Yes, we want to dance with the Muse but not let our wings melt in the hot sun or we'll come crashing to the ground.
Anyone can write. And now with technology, anyone can share their words with the world.
If we want to pursue traditional publishing, we need to do our homework and be aware of the economic and competitive realities. If we are reasonable, I believe we'll be blessed beyond reason and this will be lasting indeed.
>I think taking a break can help writers stay in for the long haul. I hear "write every day" repeated so often but I think really and truly if you do much of anything everyday you'll eventually burn out. God gave us a day of rest and called it good. I think knowing your limits will help you long term.
>Interesting question, Rachelle. I liked the comments about developing and maintaining professional respect/integrity. And the importance of relationships, in general, cannot be over-hyped. Surviving without knowing your goals and motivation seems to be asking for trouble. Being a lifelong learner reaps benefits in every aspect of life.
However, the thing that popped into my head was pretty straightforward. To increase my chances of being in this for the long haul: DO NOT QUIT!
The market, agents, editors, publishers, the strained and evolving publishing process, Mom, critics, the people who think someday they'll write a book, etc. all have opinions about your writing future. But if you want to be in it for the long haul, then don't quit…no matter what…all things are possible.
>I've always wanted to write, and when I began on my own I quit after writing my first draft of my first novel. It was so overwhelming, and shameful, to me to want to be a writer, mostly due to my family's sentiments about it.
When I began a book called The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, it changed my life. It's about removing roadblocks to being a productive, creative individual.
Things that I've picked up from Saint Julia, personal experience, and other blogs include:
1. Avoid crazymakers like the plague. Crazymakers are people that love drama, and also love to create situations that force you to put your life on hold so that you can play a part. They can be anyone, including friends, family, critics, etc.
2. Recognize anxiety and fear, which often manifest themselves as anger, depression, and discouragement.
3. Success at writing will never make you happy.
4. If you fail, which we all will at some point, realize that it's just one more thing that you know won't work. Blaming others will never help.
5. Avoid blocked creative people like the plague. They love to tear down those whom they deem more successful.
>I love the post. And while I have very selfish motivations for you being in this for the long haul, I also want to work with people who are looking for the best in others, their work, and themselves. My biggest lesson in all this is to stop giving the same weight to reviewers on Amazon as I do to my agent, publisher, critique group and husband. That is the key for me.
>This post inspires me. When I started learning about publishing, I had no idea it was such a small world. I also didn't realize how many authors were competing to get published. Once those two things sunk in, my respect skyrocketed for the seasoned authors who go out of their way to be kind and generous to anyone in their paths.
That's the author I want to be in the long run.
>I just wanted to say thanks for this post, and all the comments too 🙂 I was just having a conversation yesterday about how I always stress out over the idea that I might not achieve my "long-haul" dreams and goals, even though I'm only just starting out! This is very motivating and reassuring.
>Very thought-provoking post, Rachelle. I'm in it for as long as I am breathing because I can't not write. I've worked very hard to tighten my prose and to be honest, I really believe that my life as a classical singer, albeit an amateur, has given me an innate sense of rhythm, what I call the 'song' of the sentence.
The journey goes from darkness to light – you start writing alone, ploughing through the days when all you want to do is pull the covers over your head and sleep – to the moment when what you hope is going to be a beautiful butterfly emerges into the light of day. That's when you realise you've been incubating a moth!
But giving up is never an option. I love living in my alternate world. I always start my day with a long walk accompanied by my dog and I start early, so frequently I am the only one around and the beauty of the morning, the sun slanting through the trees, the sea lapping on the clean sand are all mine. Above all, though, writing is my job. I'm at my desk by 08.30 and usually turn the machine off around 16.00-16.30.
Sabotage? Friends who think you can stop at the drop of a hat, who think that it is just something I do to pass the time and get upset when you say 'sorry, I'm working, but I can probably fit you in a week on Tuesday.'
>Great post. Rachelle. My add-ons are:
*Be patient. Realize that every "No" along the way is really part of God's final "Yes" when His perfect timing is reached.
*Embrace the fact that the moment you finish your book it becomes a product. Yes, it may be the story of your heart (I hope it is!), but it's now a product in an industry that, yes, is a ministry, but it is first a business. Your book is not your "baby." It's a product. And seeing it that way frees you to market that book, and then to learn from the feedback given so that you can make your next book even better.
*Writing well requires teamwork.
>I agree that we must honor professional integrity. This is a business, and one must treat it as such, whether you are published or not–because if you aren't published, you may be someday, and if you haven't behaved in a professional manner, it will come back to bite you.
One more thing I would suggest is to avoid the specter of pride. It's one of the besetting weaknesses of our profession when we do land that contract, that high advance, make the bestseller list, grow that name and have an eager following, receive those awards, those wonderful reviews. Never forget that pride can become our downfall. It needs to be well seasoned with humility so the crash won't come so hard when our wave hits shore–not saying it will hit shore, but I just always want to prepare for a soft landing.
>The best selling authors continually work on their craft, those who stay on the best seller list that is.
Writers need to strive to be the best writer they can be and tell that story that no one else can tell, and quit thinking of any published book that "I could have written better."
>Good post! I've been a professional writer for over 20 years and the thing that keeps me going are my friends. This is a very solitary activity but we need people. Surrounding yourself with interesting non-writer type people keeps you fresh in your craft. I love it when my husband reads a book and thoroughly enjoys it. He's a manager at a home improvement retailer and gives me a down-to-earth perspective on stuff I write. Remember that we write for people. If Joe bubba six pack doesn't get anything out of your work, then you're out of a job.
>To dream, perchance to be published. Rejection, ay, there's the rub.
>Great post and great comments. Good reminders on how to keep on keeping on. I know for myself I have struggled each day to be faithful with the time given me and to give my best to my readers and my editors. To balance work and family and play. But I have learned that long haul writers show up each day at the computer and work. Put words on the page. Every day. Long haul writers are also open to learning from other writers, editors and agents. I hope to keep writing until disability, dementia or death keeps me from my keyboard. So far, so good.
>There is no such thing as an insignificant connection. We live in such a vast and connected society that every 'follower', each and every blog commenter, could, through their web of contacts, either spread the word that you are a great writer, or good to work with, so professionalism and humanity are vital at every turn.
>I've been writing since I was old enough to string a few words together – I'd stop, but then I'd have no reason to get up in the morning. Maybe that will change when I'm published; I sincerely hope not.
>Great post, Rachelle.
Sometimes it's tough to stay positive so I try and surround myself with supportive people and then try and be there for them when things get tough.
We all have to stick together in this. It's a crazy ride, but we can have some fun and meet some awesome people along the way!
>This is a superb post, Rachelle. Harlan Ellison once said anyone can become a writer. Sludge and amoeba can become writers. The trick, he said, is in staying a writer, day after week after year.
And yes, learn to write books readers can't put down. Which means develop a self-study program that never ends. A commitment to ongoing improvement. Read books and magazines like Writer's Digest, and take things away each time and consciously try to use them now. I still do this. My thought is if I can get just one thing that improves my writing, it's worth it to me. It might just be a new take on something I already know. Whatever it is, it's something you can do to improve, something that no one can stop you from doing.
And write. As Dennis Palumbo says, every moment spent writing is a moment spent not fretting about your writing.
>I am in the embryonic stages of my writing career, and the thing that sabotages me is looking too far ahead. If I begin to think too "big picture" I am overwhelmed by all that needs to be done in order to get published. So for this season, the thing that will keep me in it for the long haul is to adhere to "do the next thing" thinking.
>For the most part, I do pretty well at maintaining the long perspective. Where I run into trouble is when I let the industry and its quirks and frustrations get me down. I need to be more positive when times like that come.
Great post, Rachelle. I tweeted about it.
Sabotage comes at you from negative people. Stay away from them!!!
>Eight years ago, I made the very difficult decision to care for my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer's. At that time I didn't realize that caregiving would eventually consume my career. Just before my mother-in-law's death, our pastor called and asked that I take on additional duties in our church. I refused due to my workload, and in a bit of exasperation he said, "Well what do you think God WANTS you to do with your life?"
I surprised myself with my answer when I said, "He wants me to WRITE!"
That conviction has given me the courage to jumpstart my career, to tell family members that caregiving needs to be SHARED and to seek an agent who shares my vision for the future.
>Another awesome post! Thanks for working with integrity, Rachelle.
I came up with just a thing or two. 😉
learn how to identify distractions (of all forms)
be clear about my goals
fight off discouraging thoughts and don’t allow discouraging people to lead me away from the path
work hard, with integrity
surround myself with honest and uplifting people
keep my expectations in check
maintain a positive attitude and look for joy in every aspect of writing
know when it’s time for a break
refuel with things that fill me with energy
frequently remind myself why I’m here
know my strengths and weaknesses
stay true to my voice
understand who I write for & write what I love to read
never. stop. learning.
>What do you want and why do you want it? I think these two questions are paramount. As a writer, I must be cognizant of writing as a business and do what I can to build my own platform, nurture my professional relationships and maintain a spirit of cooperation. But these activities come down to professionalism and good manners – if I have to tell myself to be an active participant in my own best interests, I don’t think a post-it note on my laptop is going to keep me from failing the process.
Back to the two main questions: As in any business, I have to make a definable goal for myself. For example, I want to write novels my Ideal Reader will love and remember for the rest of her life. The second question, the “why” question, is equally important – because if I don’t understand my motivation, my goal may be more changeable than I know and I might behave to undercut myself without meaning to. It can take some digging through denial or lack of self-knowledge, but it has to be done. In my case, I want to write novels my Ideal Reader will love and remember for the rest of her life because the drive to write is overwhelming and I want to create a world my IR can escape to when her own is untenable. I want to leave something worthwhile behind.
The how-to portion might best be addressed by implementing systems… using contact management software to make sure my important relationships don’t fall by the way for lack of interaction, schedule time for reading up on the industry and schedule time for myself so my attitude stays in line with my intentions.
My “long-haul” approach is broad, and from a far different perspective than that of a literary agent, but I stand by the idea that defining the larger goals and motivations provide guidance for those situations one cannot predict.
>For me, I have to be brutally honest about my work, and keep asking the question, how does my work compare with books I've read in my genre? As I have been working on my latest novel I keep asking myself, "how can I make it better?" and interestingly enough, the answers always keep revealing themselves. For me, the long haul has to do with continuing to love this process and knowing the only thing stopping me is myself.
>I try to remember to – first – enjoy the journey.
Don't merely seek the goal.
It's like going on vacation, if I stress out getting to the destination, it ruins a good portion of the trip.
>I think (and have been told) that a negative / back-biting or disrespecting attitude on the web can be detrimental to writers / aspiring authors.
The problem is, without professional advice (from an agent / other author) it's difficult for us novices to know exactly what looks amateurish. I guess it's best just to keep our presence clear of whining, criticizing or targeting professionals.