Ten Reasons To Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Paper (or, Go Team Writers)

This post wasn't brought on by anything in particular, but I'm about to leave on vacation (Portugal!) and it's something that's been rattling around in my head for a while and also I didn't want to leave the heat death of an imprint post* at the top of the blog in the event I don't post anything from the road.

1. It's hard, I know it's hard, no matter what stage of the writing game you're at, not to feel like everyone is getting more money or attention or acclaim or invites to fancy events than you are. To not feel that you're stuck in neutral or first or something like that (I can't drive a stick). Writers three books in side-eye announcements about projects that sold for a bazillion dollars and sound terrible to them or maybe writers who haven't sold yet feel a sting of ire when someone further along tweets about how hard they're finding it to write that day or maybe a bestselling author longs for the ability to write something just because they want to, with no outside pressure again. Here's the key thing to remember. The main questions worrying most writers, by career stage:

  • Beginning writer, not yet agented/sold/published: Is this any good? Will anyone buy this? Am I terrible hack with no future?
  • Most published writers: Is this any good? Will anyone buy this? Am I terrible hack with no future?
  • Writer who has a legion of fans and great success: Is this any good? Will anyone buy this? Am I terrible hack with no future?

The who is at the end of 'will anyone buy this?' might change depending — a publisher or readers, or both, ultimately it's always about the readers — upon certain variables and some (lucky) people may have a touch less imposter syndrome, but the core concerns are more or less the same. No one ever really feels comfortable or assured of their place and always always confident in their work and whether it will succeed in the market. The more failure, the more pressure. The more success, the more pressure.

2. The only answer to all these questions is to keep writing and see. Keep trying to get better. Keep your eyes on your own paper. All writing careers are icebergs–there's more happening than what you see above the surface–but I can guarantee you that any news that would make you envious or sad or disappointed is probably the result of the person doing one key thing: Writing. It's much easier to focus on what you're putting on the page when you're not letting yourself be distracted by things that do not matter to your career and have no direct relation to it. And you will also have to learn to focus when you're being distracted by things that do matter to your career and directly relate to it. Learning to focus and work no matter what our circumstances (unless you're trapped in a cage with a tiger or similar, obvs) stands us all well.

3. All of this is also why it's important to remember that writers are not competing against each other in some sort of book sales Hunger Games, especially not in districts of self-published/indie authors vs. traditionally published authors, with hybrids as jabberjays or something. We're just not. If there are sides, writers are on the same one. But I don't think that there are sides. Last I checked, we aren't in a war (in my opinion, though some heated rhetoric wants it that way). I think there are just a whole lot of people trying to tell the stories they have to tell and find an audience, and as a backdrop to that you have a business that is in flux. I was at a festival several months ago, and a reader stopped by to chat and buy a book — she held up her tote bag and told me and my neighbor author that she was an author too, but "not really, just self-pubbed." She then went on to tell us that she was feeling very low because one of her all-time heroes who was at the festival and who she'd come to see had said really negative things about self-publishers during a panel, and how no one who was serious would ever do it. And, friends, that is just wrong. I make to you a solemn vow — the same I made to this author after telling her that her idol came up during different times in the business and that she should never give anyone the power to make her feel like less than an author — and that is that I will never disparage another writer because of how they are publishing. I know this sometimes goes the other way too, and that's also wrong. There are plenty of reasons to trad pub, plenty of reasons to go indie and plenty of reasons to do both. Telling people they made bad career choices because you firmly believe you made the right ones is not the way to go about things because…

4. Your experience is your experience. Generalizing from it is dangerous, and so is not understanding what it is that makes you and your work and the place where you stand on the road — beginning, midlist, bestseller list, or end and how you got there — uniquely yours. All advice, all decisions, should take this into account. This is why there is no blanket "this way is better" or "that way is better"; it's going to vary based on the writer, based on the project, based on all sorts of other things. Every writing career is a fingerprint, the author's mark on the world. And they are all, by necessity, different.

5. None of this is meant to advocate not being part of the community or conversation or being inspired by other people. I suppose if I had to boil it down, what I'm saying is: Boost each other, celebrate each other's successes because this is a tough business and we need that. Celebrate. Cheer people on. Mean it, instead of being mean. It makes for a lot more fun than being Merriam-Webster's definition 3 of petty: "marked by or reflective of narrow interests and sympathies." Be broad and enthusiastic. Be a supporter, not a detractor. For things you believe in supporting. Don't be afraid to speak up with things you disagree with, but it still may wear you down. I know it sometimes does me. But giving a boost to someone else always raises my spirits. Seeing good things happen to other people is, well, a good thing in and of itself. A reminder that yes, this is hard, but there are good things about it too. Really good ones.

6. You're a writer, not anyone's battle troop or talking point or shrub to groom. The only person you're in a business relationship with who is always and forever looking out for you is your agent. (Assuming you have one. And, if so, I sure hope they are.) Don't jump to conclusions, positive or negative, without all the facts. Beware experts or, worse, visionaries and gurus. Put what they say in a heap and mix it together and what's left in the middle is probably closer to the truth of any given situation you find yourself in, or article about The Industry or trends, or startling developments, et cetera, than the outliers would like you to believe. Never forget the first rule of the internet: Drama means clicks. Well, the second rule. The first rule is: Cute animals will one day rule us and we will not care because OMG SO CUTE. (Also, publishing people tend to be slightly panicked and doomsaying. It's just our way. And it has to be adjusted for. I call it the standard "the sky is not actually falling" adjustment. YMMV.)

SealbabyKNEEL BEFORE SEAL PUP (from zooborns)

7. Again, to be clear, this does not mean to tune out all industry news or not learn from your peers and observe and discuss their experiences and careers. This is how we stay sane. It just means, put it in a context that isn't comparative. That isn't diminishing. That doesn't require obsessing over. Knowing about the business is good, as long as it helps you see more clearly. Or understand the bigger picture (please explain it to the rest of us, if you do). If you can't follow it without obsessing about how X doesn't deserve Y, or thinking there's some angle you should be working and then everything would be perfect, then you'll always be better off keeping your eyes on your own paper instead and writing the next thing in oblivious bliss.

8. If there is something you really want to happen for your career, and you feel like it just isn't, and you're having a why-oh-why case of the green envies, well, I would suggest stopping for a second and asking if you actually have been working toward that thing. An example: it doesn't make sense to obsess about not ever winning or almost winning a certain award, if the books you write are not the kind of books that ever do. (Also: never do anything just to win an award. Or hit a list or etc. It will almost always be a waste of your time. Writing books is too hard.) But if you find what you want to do is write that kind of book, the kind of book that would get you that dream, then you can adjust what you're doing. Always ask: Is what I think I want what I really want? Is it something in the realm of possibility? Then what can I do to get closer to that? This is hard, because I think most of us writers are very organized about writing and willing to have any conversation and make any decision about the story we're telling, but often find it harder to buckle down and do it where the career path is concerned. At least, it is for me. And being busy and in the middle of other things makes it even harder. But our careers are stories too, and we should give them the same attention.

9. Sometimes terrible things will happen. Or it will feel like they might happen. Medium-terrible things will happen (not involving an Arquette). Or you may just be in a period of uncertainty. This can happen at any stage of anyone's career or seemingly every Wednesday, and it may manifest in different ways. So be kind to other writers. Be kind to yourself. Remember that all this started with you sitting in front of a blank page and filling it up, and if the worst happens, that's all you need since…

10. If something good happens, you write your way through it. If something bad happens, you write your way out of it. Rules to writer's life by.

Just as you celebrate other people's achievements, celebrate your own. The ones you can control are no less meaningful than the ones you don't. Maybe they're more.

The TL/DR:

Keep your eyes on your own paper and tell your story, don't judge other people's career choices but do cheer them on when you can, rinse, repeat. Go Team Writers.

And now I am going to look at this beautiful view (well, I arrive Friday and tomorrow is all travel and I still have to put out the stuff for the house and Hem sitter, but):


*Thanks again to everyone for all the supportive messages and emails about Strange Chemistry. I'll share any additional news when I have it.

13 Responses to “Ten Reasons To Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Paper (or, Go Team Writers)”

  1. Bob Mayer

    Good post and on target. In a similar vein, posted about this a week ago:
    99% of what Writers are hearing in terms of advice comes from 1% of Authors http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/99-of-what-writers-are-hearing-in-terms-of-advice-comes-from-1-of-authors/
    It is strange seeing how far the term hybrid author has gone from my blog post mentioning it in 2011 when no one was talking about it.


    So, so true — writers have to feel empowered to own their personal experience and count it as valid and often what they hear makes that harder, not easier.
    Also, geeking out a little over this comment because of how much I lovelove Agnes and the Hitman and Wild Ride (!).

  3. Lauren McLaughlin

    How did you know I needed to read this at exactly this time? Are you secretly observing me? If so, you’re totally forgiven. And thank you.

  4. Bud Sparhawk

    Very well written article. If you don’t mind I will ref it on my blog about my own writerly misery.


    Your hair looks great today.
    (Thank you. So glad. <3 )

  6. old aggie

    It is not only writers who can benefit from these ideas – it’s everyone in every line of work! Thanks so much, Gwenda (and second-hand thanks to Scalzi for bringing you and your work to my attention). Have a fantastic time in Portugal!

  7. Melinda Jane Harrison

    Well said. Have a great vacation!

  8. Johnell

    Wow. Well done. I want to post it on my wall by my computer.


    Thanks so much for dropping by!


    I did. And thank you! :-)


    So glad it resonated.


    And hopefully the joy too. :-)

  13. Jyoti Arora

    Great advice. I came to this blog by following a link in a comment on some other blog :)But I’m glad i followed it through. As I said, great advice. Comforting and emboldening at the same time.

Comments are closed.