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?

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