Writing Truth Number 1:
The writing life is a long and meandering path.
Here’s the good news: we’re not models. We don’t have a shelf life. We don’t have to do our best work by the age of twenty, and, in fact, for most of us, our best work will come much later than that. Are you 40 and you haven’t yet published a book? 50? 65? No worries.
The path is long because it can be. As long as you are lucid, you can write, and you’ll probably get better as you go.
The path is meandering because you will change, and the publishing world will change, and the things you want to write about will likely change as well.
The path is meandering because you will change, and the publishing world will change, and the things you want to write about will likely change as well. When I began writing, I saw myself as a writer of short stories. I only started writing a novel after hearing from many agents, in numerous rejection letters, to get back to them when I had a novel. The way you write will probably change, too. When I was first starting out, I wrote a lot of very long, beautiful sentences, because that’s what I thought writing was about. With each book, however, the sentences get more pared down. I’ve learned to see the beauty in brevity, the startling power of sparse language.
As it turned out, after writing my first novel, I was hooked. So I wrote another one. And another one. And another one after that. And now, I’ve just turned in a revision of yet another one. A couple of my novels sold really well. A couple didn’t sell well at all. There was a period of two years when I published two books in a row, followed by a period of six years when I didn’t publish a book at all, followed by a year in which I published two books in one month. By which I mean to say that the path changes. Sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s bumpy, sometimes you feel lost in the undergrowth, sometimes the vista looks expansive and promising.
What matters is that you keep going.
What matters is that you keep going. Simply that. Don’t stop writing. Well, actually, maybe you’ll stop writing for a few weeks or a few months, because you had a baby or you started a new job or someone in your family needs a caregiver or you’re moving to a new house/new city/new relationship. That’s okay. Really—it is—as long as you start back up again.
And that is the first thing I wish I’d known about writing twenty years ago: the path is long and meandering. It’s okay to have days when you don’t write, and it’s okay to have years when you don’t publish, and it’s okay to have books that don’t sell well. Because there will also be days when you do write, and years when you do publish, and, if you’re lucky and extremely persistent, there will even be books that sell well.
Your job is simply to write. Get on the path. Stay on it, no matter where it takes you.