Is All the Hard Work Ever Going to Pay Off?

How can we achieve success?

As writers, most of us are struggling with that question. Day in and day out we sit in front of our laptops, write book after book, spend time building our brands, and hope that someday we’ll have something to show for all our hard work.

Most of us have to squeeze our writing and marketing around our day jobs and other responsibilities. And when we find the time to write and market, we’re often tired, stressed, and thinking about all the other things we should be doing instead.

At some point we say something like: “I don’t want to go to all this hard work for nothing.”

Truthfully, if we didn’t want to get an agent or book deal, if we didn’t want to see our sales rocket, if we didn’t have dreams about doing well enough to quit our day jobs, then we probably wouldn’t exert ourselves to the degree we do.

Sure, we’d likely keep on writing even without success, because we love telling stories. It’s in our blood and we’d do it even if no one else ever read our work.

But . . . most of us have big dreams. We aspire to have a readership beyond just our faithful dog.

We go the extra mile, get up at 5:00am, skip our lunch breaks, give up our free time, sacrifice our favorite TV shows, let the laundry pile up, and feed our families frozen pizza, so we can chase after our dreams of successful publication.

But will all the work really pay off? Can we really achieve success?

Recently I got an email from a blog reader with some great questions: “Is it worth it? All the time, writer's conferences, writing, and editing, book tours, and blogging . . . Is it worth all the time writing consumes to finally see your novel in print and on a bookshelf? Is pursuing the dream worth the end result?”

Here are several of my thoughts about achieving success in the writing industry:

1. If we want to climb the ladder of success, we have to start at the bottom and work our way up one rung at a time. Most of us can’t skip steps and make the leap to the top in one bound. Instead we have to take small, slow, steady steps upward.

The big names on the bestseller lists didn't get there after just one book. They worked hard year after year to earn their spots on the list. And if we want to end up there someday, then we'll have to do the same thing.

I love this quote: “Don’t expect overnight miracles. But have faith. If you persevere, the chances are very good that you will achieve some success.” ~Bickman

2. Success is illusive. Once we reach the top of the ladder of success we’re climbing, we see another higher point we want to reach—and we’ll think, “Now THAT is really success.” (A better book deal, bigger publisher, two books on the shelf instead of one). So we start climbing another ladder. When we reach the top of that one, we’ll redefine success again (more recognition, bigger royalties, bestseller list). And so on.

The truth is success can’t really make us happy. Oh, maybe for a few days or weeks. But then we’ll see something else we want and discontentment will settle in once again.

Yes, keep climbing, but we need to learn to enjoy each step as it comes, celebrate the small accomplishments, and find joy in the process of creating.

3. Ultimately, the writing journey will be as successful and worthwhile as we make it. Each one of us has to determine how much time and energy we can or want to devote to it.

I’ve reached a stage in my life where I’m able to handle the pressures and responsibilities of being an author. I’m not sure that I would have been ready sooner. But now, amidst my busy mothering phase of life, writing gives me a creative outlet, a quiet retreat, a break from the intensity of real life.

So yes, writing is worthwhile to me personally, no matter the level of success, no matter if I have one book on the shelf or ten, no matter if I make hundreds of dollars or thousands.

Of course, I’m going to keep on stepping up the ladder of success one rung at a time. But ultimately, I’m not in this journey for success. I’m in it because I love writing.

What about you? Have you ever asked yourself if all the hard work will someday pay off? Is all the time you put into your writing worth it to you?


  1. For me the time and effort is worth it. Even though I go though periods where I ask myself, "Ok I just worked an 8 hour day and now why should I spend another 2-3 hours writing tonight?" The answer is always: because I want to and I enjoy it. I want to write this book no matter what. I want to finish it, let it sit and then figure out what to do with it. Maybe its a desk-drawer book, maybe it could turn into something worth submitting. Only time and effort will tell.

  2. I feel the same about it being a wonderful contrast to being a stay-at-home mum. All the Mennonite ladies of Leamington have The Doctor's Lady staring at them from their fridges. Word will slowly spread how awesome your book is. I've asked my friend if she knows anyone that goes to another church and she does :)

  3. I love your blogs!! So timely. I've gone through bouts of feeling as though I'll never get one rung up the ladder and then I have to remind myself I already have. Learning to query, submitting, teaching myself more about my craft etc. It all lifts you up, you just have to keep faith and keep climbing...

  4. I know it will. I'm believing in that. And somewhere along the way I've learned to enjoy the road. The end in sight is just a place to get to. Meanwhile, I'm loving the walk!

    ~ Wendy

  5. I'm so glad you finished this post the way you did. It all comes down to that. Love what you do enough and the rest will follow.

  6. The hard work, the journey, is the joy. It is better to travel joyfully than to arrive. I believe this.

  7. Just getting a manuscript written is a success in my book. (ha!) Everything else is just gravy.

  8. I don't know if I've asked myself if all the hard work will pay off as much as I've begged, "Dear God, please let it pay off!" :)

    I loved this: "I’m not in this journey for success. I’m in it because I love writing."

    And that's the bottom line for me too.

  9. Great reminders today. I am a goals person, so I can't help but look at the "next" thing I want to accomplish. I have to fight hard for the time to write, and if I'm willing to fight this hard, it must mean I love it. Stories of those who have been published after years of trying remind me of what you said: that we have to take this ladder one step at a time.

  10. I've sent 1662 handwritten postcards to museums, schools, and libraries across the country to introduce my novel, May B. Crazy? Maybe so, but I've enjoyed the small measure of control I've had in the marketing process, the opportunity to think like an entrepreneur, and the thrill of knowing someone, somewhere has seen my cover, if only for a moment.

    While I haven't gotten huge amounts of feedback, I have had enough to know that for me it was worth it.

  11. Sometimes the payoff in writing is the end product; It's releasing who you are on to paper. Great post!

  12. Hey everyone!! I'm enjoying hearing why writing is worth it to you! There may indeed be times in our lives when other things have to take a priority over our writing, and I think that's okay too. We just need to know ourselves and what works!

  13. I have not gotten to the point of thinking I will publish a book, but I do write daily in my journals, on my blogs, and for myself. The ideas are there and now that I have retired from teaching I am considering writing a book about my experiences over the years and the students who inspired me to strive to be a better teacher, or the story line that has been in the back of my mind simmering for several years. Thank you for your inspiration. I enjoy your blog and loved "The Preacher's Bride."

  14. I've never really wondered about it, since the hope that one day I'll be a success is something I cling to. :-)

  15. Great post. Just the completion of a manuscript is, in itself, success. Think of the millions of people who can't do that. Getting a partial request from an agent is success. It means you can write a compelling query letter. Getting a request for a full is another step up the ladder--you've written a compelling three chapters. Having an agent give feedback even if the manuscript is turned down is success. Getting an agent...a book deal...shelf space...And the list goes on. So celebrate every step. It's all worth it.

  16. I look at it from a different perspective. I am a retired teacher who has always wanted to write. I am thrilled that I have written and published a series of 5 books. I am happy with the success I've had with these books and enjoy visiting schools and other venues to talk about them. Every day I marvel at what's been happening in my life now. I don't desire to be at the top of the best seller list....but if it be God's will that it happen, I would be dancing on tables and shouting Woo Hoo! as loud as anybody else would!

  17. Once every ten years or so, life slaps me around enough that I look back, and ask myself if I'm leading a fulfilling life. Am I spending my time doing things that I love, that grow me as a person, that connect me to the world.

    Lately, my question is..."Why have I bought into this culture where money is the only measure of success that's important." Yes, it's the predominant culture in my country, and my country seems to be the biggest market for antidepressant and anti anxiety medication. Correlation? Maybe.

    Anyway, given that, I think I may change my definition of success. Positive words from readers makes me happy. If my writing can make someone smile, cry, or cringe in fear, well, maybe that's the success I should be striving for.

    So, maybe I should focus on writing better books instead of selling more books (if I ever sell one, that is.)

    Funny thing. In the past when I've had that sorta focus on things I do, I tend to make some money.

  18. Most writers who have made it will tell you the secret to success is to never stop trying. I remind myself of that all the time. I do wish someone else would do the marketing....Sigh.

  19. I can't imagine a time when writing would never be worth it. I'm not writing for fame, or money - I write because like you said, it is a creative outlet for me. When the children are sleeping, and the dishes are done it is a chance to explore words and parts of who I am that I would never be able to explore otherwise.

    So, to me, its not hard work - its work I do because it is who I am.

    Book deals, royalties, deadlines from publishers, hey - that all just sounds like icing on the cake! And hopefully one day it will happen for me. But if not? No sweat. That's not why I write.

  20. Loving all your comments! They're so inspiring! Seriously, this is one of the things I love most about blogging--the encouraging comments!

    And Wanda, thanks for reading my book! So glad you enjoyed it! :-)

  21. Let me state up front: I am a writer. I love being a writer. I am so, so thankful God's opened the door for me to write.
    And yet ... there are times I question it all. The time. The effort. The whole "will this pay off?" question.
    Sometimes I ask that question every hour on the hour.
    Those are the days when I'm tired.
    Questions are inevitable in this profession. It helps to surround myself with people who will remind me of the right answers when I forget them.

  22. It may be because I'm still "wet behind the ears" - I've yet to query agents or pitch editors or wade into the big wide world of publishing. (That's all going to change very, very soon. Frighteningly soon.)

    But writing has taken the forefront in my life for the last few years, which is where it always should have been. The rewards have been countless - productivity, a sense of accomplishment, pride in my work - and SO many new friends and a built-in community of some of the most amazing, supportive people I could ever have imagined.

    I don't know who the quote belongs to, but it goes like this: "Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don't feel like I'm supposed to be doing something else."

    I think of that line often. For me, it couldn't be truer.

  23. I try to just enjoy the journey. I hope to self-publish one day, and I'm loving learning the skills I will need (often more than the writing itself...).

  24. What a beautiful post. You have an incredible perspective, Jody.

    I'm taking this one to heart.

  25. When I was very young and immature, and thought writing would be a great career, I worried that all of my hard would would never pay off. What that really meant was I was too lazy to do the work I needed to do to MAKE my hard work pay off.

    Now that I've been back into writing for five years or so, I have a totally different point of view. Now I KNOW hard work pays off because I haven't given up, and in not giving up I've managed to get published in literary magazines. I'd still love to publish a novel one day, and now I don't worry about wasting my time and never getting there.

    Thanks, Jody!

  26. I'm new to your blog (but not your books!!!!) and have found so many great things here. Thank you for all these posts bringing thoughts and insight to being a writer. I'm new in the writing world- unpubbed, just finished my first manuscript, working on other(s), and I'm quite overwhelmed. It is hard for me to have a positive, moving-forward perspective at times and right now is one of "those times." I'm a homeschooling mom who deals with depression and fibromyalgia, and the sacrifice has been tough to do the writing. I'm willing to work hard. I see God's hand directing me to finally fulfilling my dream of actually WRITING A NOVEL...who knew? Seriously, I have felt "blocked" from being able to write like this, and now, as I jump headfirst, it's scary and challenging. So many what ifs, goals to make, etc. You have given me rays of hope, as I have hopped from one post to another on your blog. And for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart! ~AMY

  27. Love you blog and your books. I like your post every week, it is so insightful and helpful for a new author such as myself.

    I find myself asking if this writing will someday pay off, then I pray to God and get my answer. If my books can get one person to turn towards God who had not even noticed Him before, then I have done everything I am suppose to do with my writing.

    Thanks for all your encouragement and helpful information in your blog. Working on my next book this weekend with your encouragement of research.

  28. Amy, so glad that my blog has inspired and encouraged you as you hopped through posts! I wish you all the best with your writing!

    And Maribeth, love that I could encourage you too!! Hope you had a productive weekend with your writing!

  29. Hi, Jody. I just found your blog thanks to Sylvia Ney, and am very glad I did. As a writer who just signed a book deal after 11 years of trying to break in, I had many occasions to ask myself if all of this was worth it. I mean, what if it never worked? It's funny, but everything I did turned out to give me more than I could've imagined--friends, authors whose work inspired me, communities to be a part of--and that doesn't even get to the book coming out part.

    It wasn't just worth it. I was lucky to get to do it.

  30. Great points! But I think of all, the #2 about success being so elusive is the most important of all. Just speaking from how far I've come, I know the accomplishments are great for a day or a week, but there's always the next thing to reach out for. And that's a good thing. Just keep swimming, but also remember to stop and smell the roses every now and then, too~ :o) <3

  31. I think that unless 'a successful day' to you means you got to write that day then you shouldn't be a writer. It's all work and very little outcome really so the work has to be the point rather than the outcome. If you're aiming solely at bestseller lists then no, it's probably not worth it.

  32. First off, I'm glad you love writing because I really, really enjoyed reading your books! While I would love to be able to pursue historical Christian fiction more one day, right now I'm concentrating on children's books... hoping to see them published someday in the near future. This post was encouraging. I really liked your thought, "we need to learn to enjoy each step as it comes, celebrate the small accomplishments, and find joy in the process of creating." Thanks, and I look forward to more books from you!

  33. Thanks for the very kind words, Becca! I appreciate that! And I wish you all the best with your writing adventure! I hope you'll indeed find joy in the journey! :-)

  34. Success is relative said my editor, after all is only a business.


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