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There is No Elevator to Success. You Have to Take the Stairs

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

From time to time, I get emails from blog readers who want advice about various writerly things. Some genuinely want help in becoming better writers and bloggers. I can tell from the sincerity of their emails. And they’re usually the ones who take the time to email me back and thank me for answering their questions.

However, over the years, I’ve realized that a large majority of people who write to me aren’t looking for my honest advice. They toss out a question like: Do you have any tips for beginning writers? or How can I sell more books? Or How can I get more blog readers?

I’m not really sure what they’re looking for —A quick ten step path to successful blogging? Five writing tips for creating a best seller? Three fast and easy ways to sell millions of books?

Whatever the case, I don’t have any easy answers, magic formulas, or sage wisdom that will provide a smooth ride to success and stardom. 

I might make blogging and writing look easy. But the truth is, I’ve earned my success the hard way—with sweat, tears, and dogged determination.

I wasn’t born with extraordinary talent. I don’t have big insider-connections anywhere. And fairies don’t visit me every night and provide inspiration for my stories.

Instead, I had to start at the bottom of the stairs and walk up one step at time. Every day, I've kept putting one foot in front of the other. I've kept climbing upward. Some days the hike has been grueling and painful, and I’ve wanted to stop. Other days I may have even fallen a few steps back.

But overall, I’ve kept moving steadily upward, eventually making slow progress forward.

When I turn around and look at how far I’ve come, I’m amazed. I’ve traveled much farther than I ever dreamed possible. But then, I only have to face forward again and see the steep climb that still awaits me to know I haven’t arrived.

I like this saying: There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.

I think the quote perfectly sums up the process of writing and publication. There are no easy ways to reach success. No short cuts. And no pat answers to blog readers who email and want advice.

Here are some of the hard truths—the steps we must climb:

1. Learn the basics of fiction-writing. 

Writing is no different than any other profession. We must take the time to learn the skills that go with the trade. There’s no way around it. The skills don’t just magically show up. No one is a natural. We all have to learn how to write by studying other authors (what works and what doesn’t), reading writing craft books, and then practicing all we’re learning. (For an organized list of fiction-writing articles check out my For Writers Page.)

2. Write regularly. 

We may not be able to write every day. But we do need consistent, regular writing workouts. That’s the way it is for anyone trying to develop a skill—athletes, artists, etc. You have to practice to improve. In fact, as Maya Angelou says: You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

3. Know the industry. 

I’m constantly amazed at how many people write a book, self publish it, and then decide to learn more about the industry (probably because they’re not selling as well as they’d anticipated). We can’t play the publishing game if we don’t know the rules. If we hope to succeed in today’s ever-changing publishing industry, we have to get off the sidelines, join the game, and be smart and savvy.

4. Don’t rush to publish a first book. 

This is probably one of the hardest truths for beginning writers to accept. But the fact is, most writers aren’t at a publishable skill level after finishing the first book. And even if we think we are ready, what’s the harm in putting the book aside for six months while we write another one? The time and distance always give us fresh perspective when we edit the book.

5. Keep social media in its proper place. 

Some writers may not give social media enough of a place in their writing career. They dig in their heels and refuse to try new things. But all too often I see writers (especially beginners) giving it too much precedence. While social media is critical to the platform of a modern fiction writer, it won’t do a writer ANY good without an outstanding story and stellar writing skills. So always focus on writing first.

My Summary: When I answer those emails from blog readers who are looking for an elevator instead of stairs, I try to do the best I can to answer the questions they have. I provide links to articles or posts that are especially helpful. I suggest books. I encourage them to keep writing every day and not to give up.

But unfortunately, I don’t think I’m giving those readers the advice they wanted. I usually never hear back from them. Not even with a thank you for taking the time to respond.

And all I can say is, if you’re looking for an elevator to success, you’ll never find one. Instead just put your head down and start climbing. You’ll be surprised at where you end up.

What about you? What advice would you give to someone who's interested in getting published in today's market?


30 comments:

  1. Great advice Jody :)

    One of mine is learn to recognize when it's time to let go and move on (and actually do it). One of my writing regrets is refusing to let go of my first "baby", writing and rewriting and editing and pitching it for a good two years after I should have been put it in a drawer and started something new.

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  2. I think some people just don't "want" it bad enough. They're not willing to put in the time, the effort, it takes. Like you said, it's hard, grueling even, but oh, so worth it in the end. Creating something from nothing, polishing it to perfection, it doesn't get better than being able to hold your work in your hands. I realize, of course, there are those out there who genuinely want the help but just don't know where to begin and get frustrated with the "quick" success stories they hear. Don't believe it. That overnight sensation got there by planting herself in the chair and write, write, writing.

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  3. I'm finding more and more that prioritizing is most important for the writer who has limited time (which is most of us, right?). If you have only an hour or two a day, and you're unpublished, social media is probably not where you should spend most of your time, maybe not even daily time. If you're debuting with your first book, prioritizing becomes even more tricky with dividing your limited time between writing, editing, social media, etc.

    So, yeah, Jody, I completely agree with you. There is no elevator. Sweat, tears, and the ability to say no to distractions is what's necessary.

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  4. Jody!
    Unfortunately I'm no published writer, so I wouldn't have any advice . But allow me to thank you for this post. It is touching and pretty deep...through sweat and tears.
    Hopefully you'll continue to climb, friend. I'm pretty much on the journey too.

    Go Jody! I always enjoy reading your posts. :)

    Ganise

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    1. Ganise,

      I appreciate your very sweet comments! I just love them! Thanks for being such a great encourager! :-)

      Hugs!

      Jody

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    2. You're welcome Jody! And thank YOU for being so sweet! :)
      Hugs right back!

      Ganise

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  5. Jody, I rousing "amen" to the admonition not to be in a hurry to get that first book out. I've quoted independent editor and author Ray Rhamey before--he and his colleagues feel it generally takes writing three or four books before an author "gets it." Not only is there no elevator to success, the staircase is a spiral one, and whether we like it or not, we have to slow down on it.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Jody, this is one of my favorite posts of yours. It's very settling and true and yet, inspirational. The Maya Angelou quote is wonderful! Thanks. I hope someday soon I'll graduate from the rope ladder to the stairs!

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  7. All excellent points, Jody -- no surprise there.
    I would add: Get your head screwed on straight. The road to publication is a wild ride --detours, bumps, you name it -- and you have to know who you are, which means learning how to have your feet on the ground (to do the work) and your head in the clouds (to do the dreaming) all at the same time.
    Your sense of self can't be determined by your accomplishments because what you "accomplish" can change day by day along the writing road.

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  8. Jody, your blog was one of the first I came across when I began to get serious about seeking publication - and I can't think of another blog that has been more helpful to me. My first advice to any aspiring author is: check out Jody Hedlund's blog. When I first started out I went to the library to look up writing craft books and I couldn't find anything of any value - I don't think I was using the right search words. So when I found the list you have on here, I dug right into a couple of the books you suggested. I started with the Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. What an excellent book! So my second piece of advice would be to read two or three (or more!) craft books to get the basics of writing. And then I would send them to Rachelle Gardner's blog to start learning the ins and outs of the publication industry. It's vital that an apsiring author knows what they're working towards. I would never walk into a lifetime career without first learning everything I could about what the job requires, who works in the industry, what I can except, what's expected of me, etc.

    After I've given them those three pieces of advice I'd get real about what it takes to pursue this dream. I admit, when I started out in February, I thought it would be a much simpler process. But the more I discover - the more of a challenge this becomes - the more I dig my feet in for the long haul. Each new obstacle to climb makes me want this more and more - it's kind of strange, isn't it?

    Gabrielle Meyer, @MeyerGabrielle

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Gabrielle! I'm so glad that you found my blog and that it's been helpful to you. I think you're right in saying that it's good to get the basics down, then start learning more about the industry. The industry can be intimidating and overwhelming. I'm actually grateful I didn't have social media to distract me when I started writing years ago. I could just focus on becoming a better writer without any other worries. :-) So glad to hear you're digging in your feet and hanging in there!

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  9. Hi Everyone! I'm loving all of your advice this morning! Thank you all for sharing your wisdom!!

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  10. I like what you said Jody "Just put your head down and start climbing. You'll be surprised at where you end up." I've been definitely trying to learn all I can about the art of writing...and your blog is a "must read" for me :-) Thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into sharing what you've learned with the rest of us...it really helps!

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  11. Great advice! It takes great patience. From the time I was signed with my publisher to the time I held my book, almost 2 years had gone by.

    In the meantime, I started 2 other projects.

    Your advice is spot on! Always be writing...something! Look to improve yourself.

    And never give up.

    Blessings!
    Ruth

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  12. This is really good advice. Thank you. It's good to remind ourselves to stay patient and constantly try to hone our skills.

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  13. Delighted that I found your site, fantastic info. I will bookmark and try to visit more frequently.

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  14. This applies to writers, anyone wanting to get ahead in their field, and life in general. Sage advice ... even though you don't admit to being sage. :)

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  15. Those are all great suggestions but I especially wish more writers would heed #4.

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  16. If my first book had published (which it wouldn't have but...) I'd be mortified! Crawl-in-a-hole-and-never-come-out mortified. And here's the thing: When I first wrote it, I thought it was really good. Yes, yes I am actually giggling while thinking about it. It's a marathon and not a sprint, which is good since I have short legs and can't run fast. :)

    I think you covered everything and you covered it well.

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  17. I just wanted to say thanks for writing this blog post. I love the Maya Angelou quote. She is awesome and inspiring. :)

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  18. Great quote! Thanks, Jody, for your sensible advice.

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  19. Thank you! I love the quotes too! They're inspiring aren't they? :-)

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  20. Great advice. Especially for new writers like myself.

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  21. Very inspiring and encouraging. I really like the stair analogy - esp the spiral stair analogy that one of the earlier commenters used. I'm encouraged to take the baby steps and focus on the work ahead of me without getting overwhelmed. Thank you.

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  22. Ooh, I love this. I read Rachelle Gardner's blog earlier today in which she offered up the question--is talent overrated? Does hard work trump talent? And I love what your post points out--there's a LOT of hard work involved. I think knowing that up front is valuable...maybe even embracing it. Because, frankly, we just waste time if we're busy looking for loopholes. Instead, if we can accept the hard work, realize we've got an upward trek, we'll go into prepared, determined, and ready to put in the time.

    Thanks for the awesome tips!

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  23. Hi Melissa, Yes, I noticed Rachelle did a similar post! Guess we were thinking on the same wave length! I do think you're on to something--when we start out with the right mind-set, the right expectations, then we're less apt to get discouraged by all the hard work because we're prepared to face it. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

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