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If you’re taking writing seriously, then you probably already are familiar with some of the most common truths of the trade, such as the fact lots of great manuscripts end up in the slush pile. But there are tons of other realities that people should clue you in about (but probably haven’t).
1. Editors, agents, and publishers are just people.
Because editors, agents, and publishers have a certain amount of expertise, and because they serve as gatekeepers for getting work to readers, writers often put them on a pedestal. But they’re prone to the same excitements, limits, and needs as everybody else, and like everybody else, they’ve probably downed a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s during peak moments of stress.
You’ll find some writing industry pros who are fantastic and some who are jerks. And at the end of the day, if you don’t send that email or call, they’re out of a job. So see them for the humans they are. Give them empathy and don’t be afraid to reach out or ask questions.
2. Multiple projects protect your sanity.
I’ve had rare instances where editors emailed me back the same day, and even rarer instances where it was within the hour. The typical timeframe for a response, however, is 2 to 4 months. During that time, you have two choices:
- Ruminate every waking hour about what the agent, editor, or publisher is doing and what they will say because you have nothing to distract you, OR
- Be productive on something else so your anxiety doesn’t turn you into a shriveled raisin of despair.
Trust me when I say that the second option has more advantages. Not only do other articles, stories, novels, etc. help the time pass faster, but they also offer consistent practice and more opportunities to be published/make a sale. So get into a rhythm, and develop your own system for tracking everything you’re doing.
3. You’ll spend a ridiculous amount of time Googling.
Even if you’re the best writer on the face of the planet, facts you need might not already be in your brain. Whether you need to figure out the accurate length of a typical medieval sword or you have to grab the latest disease statistic, Google is your best friend. And just like your local library (which I still highly recommend)…
The problem here, of course, is that it’s so easy to get pulled down the rabbit hole into information you don’t need. It can be hard just to discern what’s going to be useful and what won’t be. So you need to set limits for yourself and get as specific as you can with the questions you are asking. Learn a little about how SEO works so your results actually are relevant. Lastly, make sure that you take the time to create whatever bookmark folders you’ll need, because nothing is worse than trying to use your Internet history to find something you didn’t digitally file.
4. Your pace is your own.
Join any writing group or community online or just read about writing and you’ll likely get the impression that you have to write at the speed of light (or maybe faster). Even publishing “schools”–and there are some good legitimate ones–sell packages based on the idea of getting more books out quickly.
But creativity is not aware of the clock. The brain links pieces at a schedule we can’t put on the agenda. Not only that, sometimes writing isn’t just going through finding words or researching. It’s dealing with truly personal, deep trauma or other emotions that you can’t rush. So if it takes you just a few months to crank out a novel, more power to you. But if you end up as the snail watching a bunch of squirrels spastically scurrying to the finish line, don’t sweat it.
All that matters is that you don’t quit, and that you keep the focus on creating something with real quality embedded in it.
5. You’ll need to draw the line.
Any piece you write can become a “baby” to you. And in the quest to treat that baby right, it’s natural to go to it multiple times, revise, and try to make it even better. But there comes a point where all you’re doing is changing, not improving. For me personally, I know I’ve hit that point when the revisions are smaller and more grammar-focused, and I’m not really adding or taking anything away that would have a strong influence on the plot. I also know I’ve reached that point when I feel more at ease about the text and have a sense that I’d be totally OK with others seeing the last draft. Remember that leaving one project means that you can enjoy starting another, draw the line, and don’t keep looking back.
In my view, most people who go into writing don’t go into it truly understanding how to be great at it. It’s a constant learning process, even for people who “naturally” can put words on the page. But because it requires such an enormous commitment, you should have a sense of what you might experience. The points above provide a small glimpse into that. More truths that are true for you will be clearer over time, but whenever you’re in doubt, talk to people in the trenches. They likely will be happy, because of the writer’s inclination, to tell their story for your benefit.