Monday, May 6, 2013

How to Be A Successful Writer, Even When You're Waiting

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Between The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet releasing last Wednesday and the Go Teen Writers store opening, it has been a very busy couple of weeks. But it wasn't so long ago - just eight or nine months - that I felt STUCK. I was definitely in a waiting season. I was between contracts, and, frankly, wondering if the new contract would ever happen.

The waiting seasons in a writer's life are not a matter of if but when. And while you can take steps to avoid spending time in the waiting room, many factors are out of our control. You can't help it if your debut novel, which has been under contract for a year, happens to launch during an economical recession. You can't help it that Big Name Author apparently came up with the same great, unique idea you did and sold it to a big publisher just a few weeks before you started querying. You can't help it if your publishing house decides to cut their fiction department...just a few months after they signed you to a 3-book deal.

You are a new writer in a very interesting time. With affordable and crazy-easy self-publishing at your fingertips, you can be an author with a book on Amazon this afternoon. (We'll talk more about that later this week.) And as others around you announce their new contracts, their agents, their new cover art, it's easy to get impatient.

For those of you who are waiting, who are wondering if your turn is coming, who are feeling frustrated by all the vagaries of the publishing industry, here's one of the biggest lessons I learned in my waiting season:

Successful waiting means rewarding myself for good decisions...not good results

It was about 9 months ago, and I was having a Bad Writer's Day. My book proposals were out there, but even with follow-up phone calls, all my agent and I seemed to hear were crickets. On this particularly bad day, my kids were napping, and I could have been doing a number of productive things. Instead I was whining to my husband over IM. A lot of, "It's not fair," and, "Why? Why is it not happening for me? What if it never happens for me again?"

When I ventured down the, "Why do I pour so much of myself into this?" my husband decided I needed to be reeled in.  His response so jarred my self-loathing thoughts that I copy and pasted his words into a document and saved it as "Ben's sage writing advice."
One thing I've learned about working: you have to reward good decisions, not good results. For example, I've been a part of projects where we made all the right decisions, did all of the right testing, and the project still failed miserably or was cancelled due to factors that are well out of my control. Should I punish myself for that? Should I sit here and brood because products I designed are sitting in a warehouse, unsold, because the market changed and there's no longer a spot for that kind of product? No. Of course not. I did my best and have to let go of the rest.
Surely you see the parallel with stuff you've written. You have no control over whether or not you're contracted or whether the good books you've written have a spot in publishing houses. All you can do is keep making the right decisions - keep growing as a writer, keep networking, keep submitting, keep plugging away. Everything else is out of your control and shouldn't be given the power to control your life or the way you feel about yourself.
I sat there at my computer, stunned by the truth of his words. I felt the weight of my own expectations lifting off my shoulders. He was right. He was so right!

 I had to let go of the idea that contracts somehow equaled success. I had to redefine the definition in my head and heart; success was doing my best, was making good decisions. And I knew I had been doing that. I had pushed myself to write deeper characters, to strengthen my plots, to raise the stakes of my stories. I had grown as a marketer and a speaker. I was doing my best. I still had a lot of room for improvement, but I was doing my best. I was respecting my dream, as Jill Williamson would put it.

Chip MacGregor has a saying I've always liked. He talks about how new writers want to figure out the secrets to getting published, and he says, "I’ve yet to meet a great writer who is not published." (Here's the full article from Chip's blog.) What he means is to focus on the craft, to focus on becoming a great writer. And sometimes even published writers (or maybe especially published writers) can forget how vital that step is.

What good decision are you going to make today to pursue being a great writer?


  1. Wow. That is soooooo helpful. The perfect mindset to be in--being published is NOT the most important thing. Besides, this is a good reminder of what my goal is (write to change people, to help them) and why being published is not necessarily part of it.

    So, thank you! :) I went ahead and read the article on his blog, too, and it was good. :)

  2. Great reminder, and one of the advantages of being teen writers. We can afford to learn and improve our craft even if publishers aren't jumping on our manuscripts yet. One of my favorite quotes comes from Jim Elliot who said, "Wherever you are, be there to the hilt." So, when I'm in a season of waiting, I try to remind myself to "wait to the hilt." Seasons of waiting are a great time to keep learning and get things done.

  3. I needed this so much! I shelved a book I'd been working on for over a year a few weeks ago, and since then, every insecurity about my writing came forward(Just ask my main writing buddy, she'll tell you about my whining!), and it didn't help that I've seen other writers querying, and then a tiny part of me thinks "Why them and not me? What am I doing wrong?" I know I'm not ready to be published--my books are still way too short and I'm still trying to figure out why--but it still stings. But this post is right! I need to ignore the "You'll never have a good idea again" or "You'll never write like J.K. Rowling or any of your other favorites" voices and just work on doing my best.

  4. "you can take steps to avoid spending time in the waiting room" ok was I the only one who heard jackson's voice in my head going "now let's not hear any more about the waiting room being a nasty wittle pwace"? Any other Trenton Lee Stewart fans here?

    1. Yes! I am with you:) Great quote, by the way Stephanie!


  5. Man I love that quote "I’ve yet to meet a great writer who is not published." I'm going to write that on my board in big swirly letters. :D

    Thanks for another great article Stephanie!

  6. I love how positive this is! Definitely something every writer should hear.

  7. Thanks, Stephanie! I feel like I've had a lot of waiting going on in the writing aspect of my life, but this was very encouraging. :)

  8. Wow that is so inspiring! I'm still writing and not quite waiting yet, but that totally makes me feel better. Your husband is SO smart! It took me a second to get it, but I'm going to like frame that or something because I need to be reminded of it!

  9. Wow! This is awesome! Definitely what I needed to hear right now :)

  10. This is so inspiring!
    This doesn't really fit the topic, but I was wondering, how do you critique? I'm really bad at it.

    1. Jill wrote a great article on this when we did the blog tour for the book. You can find it here:

  11. I love this post. It's really hard to remember that I should only focus on what I can actually control and not put pressure on myself to do things that I just can't do. As for the good decision I'm going to make? Sitting down and writing. And reading books that I love.

  12. Here's something I've found inspiring.
    Years ago a lady named Jenny Nimmo wrote a series about a boarding school for 'talented' children, tried to get it published and was told there was no market for it. Ten years later Harry Potter came out.
    That series, 'Charlie Bone', became a UK bestseller, ten years after it was written, after the writer had been told that it would never sell.
    Just goes to show, waiting can be worth it.