Craft,  Motivation

Signs You May Be an Unrealistic Writer

I love encouraging authors. I’m not crazy about talking to unrealistic ones.

It’s easy to encourage authors who are humble, teachable and willing to work hard. It’s much difficult to encourage an aspiring writer who is unrealistic about their talent, the work demands and the industry of writing.

Are you an unrealistic writer? Have you done any of these things?

You’ve believed the ads for the publishing houses that tell you that it only takes one book to be famous. This is so so so unrealistic. The market is unbelievably saturated. And your odds for getting eaten by a shark (1 in 11.5 million) are greater than your odds of being famous after one book. Even the best writers need several books behind them before they are even noticed by publishers, let alone the Costco book table.

You’ve quit your day job.  It is completely unreasonable to think that you are going to make a liveable wage doing this right off the bat. I do know professional writers, editors, and free lancers who have a long list of clients who pay them. But even a career like that takes years to establish.

You’ve never read a craft book. What’s worse, you may never intend to. Writing is an art, just like music or painting. The best writers are those who have studied their craft for decades and know the rules inside and out. I have actually met people online who gave up their manual labor jobs to seek a career as an editor because they really thought that the only skill requirements were reading and writing. Uh. No. Just because it’s easy to write a sentence, doesn’t mean it’s easy to make money writing sentences. That’s unrealistic.

You’re pretty sure you don’t need an editor. The best writers in the world need help. They need help with the obvious: grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They also need help with organizing logical thoughts, with plot development, with point of view and voice. A novel is a complicated thing. And to make one worthy of publication requires the input of many. Reputable editors want to help authors. If you refuse to work with one, then you are choosing not to succeed.

You don’t read. If you’re going to write, you must read too. Read widely and deeply. Try reading the Classics. Read your genre to know what’s expected. Try reading short stories for plot. Read best-sellers to see creativity. Try reading poetry for rhythm and vocabulary. Read everything and often. If you call yourself a writer, then reading should be like breathing. Words of other authors should be your oxygen.

You used the word “next best-seller” in your query letter to an agent. This is a huge red flag. Don’t do it. Even if it were true, you could only claim it if you understood the current market. And agents make it their business to understand the current market. It also smacks of a lack of professionalism.

You’re confident your book will be a movie one day. The only people who can make that decision are movie producers who are willing to raise enough money to fund it. Movies aren’t made out of thin air. So unless you have already sold your film rights and they start shooting next week, it’s unlikely that this is going to happen.

You figure that you’ve heard stories your whole life, so you’ll have no trouble writing one.  That’s like saying you’ve been listening to pop music you’re whole life, so you’ve got a new hit for Taylor Swift. You’ve flown commercially before so the next flight you’re taking the pilot’s chair. NO. It’s complicated to write a novel.  It’s far harder than a new writer can understand until they are in the throes of it.

So, let’s say that you have done some of these things?

Then what? It’s a sign of maturity if  you can look at your past mistakes and say, “Hey, I’m going to stop doing that.” Better still, you become wiser through learning all you can and applying what you’ve learned.

I think that there is always room in the world for great writers. But great writers are made, not born. Make wise choices and learn all you can, and WRITE, and your expectations could be realistic.

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.