10 THINGS THEY DON'T TELL YOU ABOUT BEING A WRITER
By RC1 Founder Fred Koehler
From a cub reporter at my hometown newspaper to magazine editor in the Peace Corps to books and animation, publishing has carried me across decades and around the world. Of course the ride has been bumpy. Here are a few things I wish I’d known starting out.
1. Writers are the nicest people you will ever meet. There is nothing quite as refreshing as finding yourself surrounded by fellow creatives who are passionate about the same things that ignite your spirit. Any place you find community within the writing world will become a refuge for you, especially as you deepen your roots. Because in those communities of like minded creatives, you discover that you are not alone. Others share your brand of weirdness. And every time you return to your normal life after hanging out with fellow writers will leave you feeling wistful. Like making friends at camp and then having to say goodbye till next summer.
2. You’ll get farther faster by admitting where you are on your journey. It probably took me five years to figure this out. I wanted to show up to any networking opportunity with the right measure of swagger; the same force and fire I put into my stories. But things began to click so much better when I admitted that I did not know everything. I started coming to learn, listen, and grow. I took the time to make friends, especially with people who had no one else at their table. Now, people can still see passion that drives me but it’s connected to a willingness to work and the joy of helping others along the way.
3. There are two writers inside each of us, and success requires both of them. The first writer, and the one that comes most naturally, is the pure creative. It's the one that revels in the descent of the muses. The one that finds joy in the perfect turn of phrase or the plot twist that not even they saw coming. The second writer is the public persona of an author. It dresses up. Pushes past insecurities. Delivers the keynote. Invites others into the circle. Without the first writer, the writing itself will be transparent and shallow. Without the second, your stories may never see the light of day.
4. Like a sandspur in your swimsuit, comparison will make you miserable. One of your writing friends will get a book deal before you. Someone else will win an award you felt you deserved. Another pal may find themselves on Good Morning America because their book hit a relevant topic at just the right moment in history. The more time you spend wishing you could achieve the levels of success of those around you, the less content you will be with your own. The best and most helpful attitude I have been able to adopt is to tell myself that every writer has moments and it's my joy to celebrate them. When their book releases. When they get a good review. When their name is called from the stage. If you are your friends' loudest cheerleader, you will hear a deafening roar when you moment comes.
5. You can't make Luck, but Luck can make you. I have had several serendipitous moments in my writing career to which I can attribute no amount of effort or talent on my own part. There was the TV station manager I met in line at the coffee shop. A month later I was on the CBS morning show. And then there’s the editor who thinks I bear an uncanny resemblance to their firstborn son. That editor always responds to my submissions. The more time you spend putting yourself out into the world, the more chances you will have to cross paths with Luck. And if you have a great manuscript ready when Luck comes knocking–that’s when the real magic happens.
6. Getting discovered is a dream come true for more than you. Yes, I realize that sounds a little bit like Dr. Seuss but we’re going to run with it. Everyone gets excited about the buzz of a shiny new talent. Publishers love to debut their latest rockstar, fingers crossed for chart-topping sales. Editors and agents build reputations on bringing brilliant books to life from previously unknown voices. And let’s not forget about all of your writing friends who get to dress up for the launch party. When and if it happens, embrace it. You only debut once so enjoy the ride!
7. Publishing takes its own sweet time. The publishing industry is the grocery store equivalent of that person who gets in the ten items or less lane with 25 items, asks for three price checks, tries to use expired coupons, and then insists on paying with a personal check for the part that the gift card doesn't cover. Put otherwise, publishing is slow. If you write a story about the latest greatest pop culture moment of today, it will be forgotten by the time your book comes out. So write to trends instead of fads. Better yet, write from your source and ignore everything that is currently popular.
8. Take the money and run. To the bank. I've told the embarrassing story before of how I took my first advance straight to a marina and bought myself a boat. I had always wanted a boat. It was fun. For less than a year. I sold the expensive toy at a loss so that I could pay rent and buy groceries. Because publishing is slow. You may have to stretch what seems like a nice number over the course of several years before a book earns out and royalties kick in. And even with multiple book deals, you may still have to keep that day job.
9. The book is never done until the publisher sends it to print. There are so many times I have thought that a story was (mostly) perfect just the way I wrote it and nobody else better say otherwise thank you very much. The crit group loved it. The agent said it was ready for submission. Editors who got a chapter asked to read the full. The story never would have gotten that far unless it was good. But good isn't good enough for a publishing deal, much less a publishing success. Be prepared to trust your editor when they say that it needs a lot of work. Perhaps even a substantial revision. Fight for what matters in your story. Rewrite the rest.
10. If you’re not careful, you can forget why you’re here. If it's money and fame you’re after, you will never be happy no matter how much money or fame comes your way. But if you create for the simple delight of exploration, letting your curiosity roam free until it hooks on an idea you can elevate to art–you have a lifetime of joy ahead. Everything else is gravy.