Jim Butcher is author of one of my favorite fantasy series: The Dresden Files. He’s also pretty inspiring when he rants. Aspiring authors – read on for great advice I pinched off his Live Journal blog.
I’ve been giving a lot of advice on technique in this journal, an introduction to the craft and science aspects of writing a solid story. Now I’m going to briefly venture off into new territory. I thought I’d start by telling you the most important thing you need to know if you want to be a professional author: TANFL.
There Ain’t No Free Lunch.
Nothing worth doing is easy. Nothing worth having comes free. That’s as true in life as it is in your prospective writing career, but I think it’s important enough that it needs to be said.
Writing is a LOT of work. Breaking into the industry is a torment worthy of the fifth or sixth circle of Hell. Face that. Expect it. Deal with it. It’s going to be difficult.
It’s difficult from the get go: you’ve got to work your tail off and give yourself carpal tunnel just to make it to the front of the rope-line outside Club Author. There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get in. There probably aren’t going to be very many people who are actively supporting your efforts. You’ll probably have more than one person say or do something that crushes your heart like an empty Coke can. You’ll probably, at some point, want to quit rather than keep facing that uncertainty
In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it’s important:
THEY KILL THEIR OWN DREAM.
And a lot of you who read this are going to do it too. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s just human nature. It takes a lot of motivation to make yourself keep going when it feels like no one wants to read your stuff, no one will ever want to read your stuff, and you’ve wasted your time creating all this stuff. That feeling of hopelessness is part of the process. Practically everyone gets it at one time or another. Most can’t handle it.
But here’s the secret:
YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away.
No one but you.
If you want it, you have to get it. You. An author can’t help you. An editor can’t help you. An agent can’t help you. If you want to climb that hill, the only way to do it is to make yourself do it, one foot in front of another, one word after another. It will probably be the greatest challenge most of you have ever faced.
And here’s the kicker: THAT IS A VERY GOOD THING.
If you stay the course and break in, you are going to acquire a ton of absolutely necessary skills. You have to learn to motivate yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it: Discipline. You’re going to have to learn the ropes of the business, and how to work with an editor: Professionalism. You’re going to face what might be years of adversity, facing a monumentally difficult task and you’re going to overcome it: Confidence. You’re going to do it with very little active support, and when you look back at this time in the future, you’re going to know that it was something YOU did all by yourself: Strength.
Breaking into the business is a daunting challenge. But you aren’t going to BEAT that challenge. You’re going to transcend it. The very nature of the adversity is going to give you the strength and skill you need to overcome and succeed.
You want in? Here’s what you do:
1) Make up your mind that you are going to protect your own dream. If you’ve got its back, your dream is invincible.
2) Cultivate patience. Prepare for the long haul. Building your skills to a professional level can take years. So can building your professional character.
3) Put your Butt In the Chair and start writing. Period. No excuses. There is no substitute for BIC time. It’s part of the price you pay.
4) When you get done with a word, write another word.
5) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until your dream comes true.
Secret number 2– THE PAIN IS WORTH IT. If it had taken me TWENTY years instead of nine, IT STILL WOULD BE WORTH IT.
Cause here’s what you get: ding.
When it’s all done and you’re holding your first novel in your hand, you’re going to look back at your breaking-in period and wonder what all the drama was about. All the things that wrenched you inside out during the torment will suddenly seem small and unimportant. Know why? Because much like Scott Pilgrim, you have leveled up. Ding.
You’re going to look back at that time with pride, having overcome seemingly impossible odds against succeeding. You’re going to look at upcoming challenges as if they were a bottle of champagne to be savored and then gleefully smashed.
The true reward of breaking into the industry against all the odds isn’t money. It isn’t fame. It it isn’t respect.
It’s confidence. It’s satisfaction. It’s well-deserved pride. Suddenly, the other challenges in your life are going to dwindle as well, because you know you’ll be able to handle them.
Ding, baby. Ding.