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What Does It Really Take to Be a Die-Hard Writer?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


 By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Over the past several years of blogging, I've met hundreds of new writers who are excited about writing and eager to learn. They jump on the writing bandwagon with gusto, hang up a writer's sign on a website or blog, and maybe even publish a book.

But sadly, I've watched as many of those writers eventually drop off the bandwagon.

I can't help but wonder why so many close up shop and fall away?

Obviously there will be seasons in our lives. Some writers go through times when they need to take a break for one reason or another. I've been there, done that.

But what about everyone else? Why do so many quit?

There are probably hundreds of reasons why so many start writing, get excited about it, but then fade into oblivion. But what does it take to keep going and beat the odds?

During the past five years, I've written 7 full length novels (100k each). Over that span, I've learned a lot about what it takes to have a die-hard commitment to writing.

Here are just a few of my conclusions:

1. Write with consistency: I haven't always had the same weekly schedule, and I haven't always had the same daily word count goals. In fact, there have been periods in my life when I considered 500 words a day a huge accomplishment. However, no matter my life circumstances, I always set daily goals in one shape or another and then discipline myself to consistently work toward them.

2. But also write with flexibility: While I set daily word count goals, I also set a weekly goal. That way, if I have a bad day or something comes up that prevents me from writing, I can allow myself to make up for the missed words on another day. The daily goals act as guidelines, but ultimately I shoot for a weekly total. I don't beat myself up with my goals. I show myself grace. And because of that I can keep going even on the days I fail.

3. Write with purpose: I often take time when I'm between writing projects to read a writing craft book. Then when I begin a manuscript, I try to incorporate a new technique or pay particular attention to a poor habit. I slow down for a little while in my writing to consciously practice and implement what I'm learning.

4. But also write with abandon: While I like to be intentional, eventually those things I'm learning become second nature so that I'm able to write without having to work so hard to remember everything I'm trying to incorporate. Most of the time, I lock the internal editor away and give the story permission to take me where it will. Writing with abandon is one of the greatest pleasures of the writing life.

5. Write with your dreams in hand: In all the years I've been writing, I've never given up on my dreams, whether they were getting published or making a bestseller list or whatever. I let those dreams motivate me and fill me with determination to keep going. And when I reach one milestone, I set another. And those dreams continually fuel the drive to become better.

6. But also write with realism. At the same time I hold onto my dreams, I attempt to keep my feet on the ground. The industry today is more competitive than ever before. There are more books being published now than in the history of the world. And it's tough for any author, no matter how good, to build a readership. We'll do best if we go into the writing and publishing process with realistic expectations.

7. Write through the pain. Over the years, I've learned that writing isn't all rainbows and roses. I don't always enjoy the process every time I write. In fact, some days it's just plain hard work. But the other thing I've learned is that I can't wait to feel in the mood or for inspiration to strike. I just have to sit down, put my fingers on the keyboard, and type through the pain.

8. But don't write if it doesn't also bring you joy. Ultimately, even though writing can be hard—really hard—it also brings me incredible joy and satisfaction to weave a story from beginning to end. I'd honestly love to write whether I ever saw the book in published format or not. At heart I'm a story-teller. I love words. And I love putting my stories and words together.

What about you? Have you seen other writers fall away? What do you think it takes to be a die-hard writer?

30 comments:

  1. Great post, Jody. And great reasons and motivators to keep going.

    I think what it ultimately takes is a devotion to storytelling, not to making a name or counting fans and followers. If we write because writing is our passion, then having written comes naturally.

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  2. Yippee kay-yay! Still here. Still loving it. By managing my expectations and staying focused on my love of the craft I've been able to keep at it. No regrets.

    It's been a fun journey and while it might not look like anyone else's, I'm learning to see how a story is being molded as I write away.

    It has also been fun to watch where your journey has taken you!

    ~ Wendy

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  3. I don't know.

    I've self-pub'd a book and have been blogging fairly consistently for over a year, and I still don't think of myself as a writer...much less a die-hard writer...

    I see myself as a guy with a few things worth saying, and writing seems a good way to express what I have to say.

    We'll see where the journy leads...

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  4. So true...especially point #8. If our writing doesn't bring us joy, then it's just work. I began writing with no intention of ever becoming published. Then I would hear people say, "If you aren't working towards publication what's the point?" The point is that creating a story and getting in down in words they best way you know how brings a great deal of peace and satisfaction. Sure we'd all like to get published and even make a best seller list. But I'm willing to guess that's not what drives most writers.

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  5. Very true. If you want to write, you have to be in it for the long haul. I think part of the reason writers fall away is due to the publishing world changing. There are so many avenues in which to publish or market a book these days. People are finding what works for them. Some have found success in blogging or maintaining a website, epublishing, self-pub, etc., while others find that it's simply better for them to devote their time to writing a manuscript and have no internet presence at all. I can't speak for everyone, but with the changes taking place in the industry, perhaps many writers are trying to find where they fit in.

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  6. I love this post...your consistency through the storms inspires me. Part of the frustration for me is living with circumstances beyond my control that prevent me from writing as consistently as I would like.

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  7. Great thoughts. I'm sure for some the achievement of one book or one publication is enough. Or the experience was just more painful that they expect, if not in the writing then in the editing or marketing or feedback.

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  8. So many of us writers beat ourselves up if we don't reach our goals, like that means we're failures as writers. Excellent tips!

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  9. Determination, pure and simple. The same thing that die-hard anythings -- moms, dads, teachers -- require.

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  10. Great post, Jodi.

    One thing you didn't mention, but that plays a major role in would-be writers dropping out is the preconceived notion that writing is glamorous.

    To those on the 'outside', the writing life appears easy and carefree. Writers (especially those frequent bestsellers) spend a little time writing, and a lot time living lives of ease on the proceeds.

    That is not reality and when preconceived notions hit hard cold reality, the would-be writers go on to something they'd much rather be doing.

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  11. Thanks for this post! I thoroughly enjoyed it -- good inspiration! I've had 6 novels published in 5 years and am still wrestling with the consistent daily writing routine. Thanks for sharing your process. Judy Christie

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  12. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I love telling a story with words ... most of the time! Sometimes, however, I have to grit my teeth and WRITE a story even though I don't feel like it - even though I don't feel "called" to tell a story at this moment. I like your last point: "I love putting my stories and words together."

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  13. This was definitely a big encouragement to me today! I've been in the "I'll never make it through this story" mode! :P Sometimes you have to tell yourself, "write not because you HAVE to, write because you WANT to."

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  14. Write Through the Pain. I've done that. It's tough as hell, but worth it.

    Great advice, Jody!

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  15. I love this post. I am definitely one of those writers that "fell off the wagon" - I've been trying to write the same book for 16 years. My problem was I kept letting real life intervene and when the going got tough, I gave up; putting writing on the backburner as it wasn't important enough.

    Now that I've made the conscious effort to pursue my writing (no matter what's going on around me), it's amazing to see how easily story threads are falling into place.

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  16. I can relate to every word of.this post, Jody. Perhaps one of the best collections of advice/inspiration I've seen.

    I'd add Write courageously. Many writers fall away due to a fear of failure or a perfectionist notion that causes them to think their writing isn't good enough. They must Learn that best writers rewrite, use editors and otherwise do the hard work required to tell a story.

    Then write selfishly. Write first for yourself. To thine own self be true...

    Both of these are related to abandon, I suppose, but as one who hasn't quite fallen off, just hasn't quite moved forward, these were some of my hard knock lessons.

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  18. Many join our writers group for one week or one year. I know why the former leave--they expected nothing but praise. Too many different reasons, competing interests to make generalizations about those who really work, sometimes successfully, for a good stretch, but then quit.

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  19. I have wondered about the writers who only publish one book or who suddenly stop writing before they finish the first book. It makes me wonder why they stopped.
    I especially agree with you that it's important to be flexible. I wish I could write every day, but with my work schedule it's just not possible. So instead I set aside time every week to write on the days where I don't have as much work.

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  20. Super post! I think that naively and pure determination gets us through the first book. Then the realization sets in that we have to do all that again, and again, consistently. Now, not only are we writing, but marketing and dealing with reviews, potential unrealistic expectations... I wonder I that's why so many promising writers give up after one book.

    Your post contains fantastic advice to pin to the wall. We all need to keep writing, keep moving forward.

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  21. This is a great post and I think points 7 and 8 are especially important. You have to know when to push yourself on through the pain -- say if you're not having a good day -- but know that ultimately, tomorrow you will love what you're doing again.

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  22. Great post! As I wander through the world of writers, I think many people find themselves tasting the life of writing. They like some of the flavors, but not all of them. The world's a different place than it used to be. Marriage used to be a life-long commitment, with divorce being the exception rather than an acceptable choice. People chose a career and stuck with it, no matter what. The list of life-long choices gets shorter and shorter. In the meantime, writing is seen as a phase, not a vocation or a purpose. I think we'll see more writers passing through and fewer who take up the mantle as a banner for their life.

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  23. Great post. I considered some of the same subjects in my latest blog. Check out www.crewofastrella.blogspot.com. Thanks!

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  24. It's been said that many prospective writers are in love with the idea of writing rather than with the writing itself. There's such an emphasis on social media and I think it's too easy to link up with the online writing community and spend way too much time talking the talk instead of getting down to work. If we have a passion for the writing, I think we'll be around for the long term; if we're just dabbling, probably not.

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  26. Great post! I feel like I'm right in the middle of all of your points! I finished my first book quickly-it's nonfiction so I knew the story :) and started on a second (fiction) and feel like life just got in the way. I wrote really hard for the first few weeks, and feel like I haven't had time to get back to it-though I know I should and need to. It's just getting up the courage and strength to do so! Thanks for your encouragement!!
    Happy writing!

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    1. You're welcome, Marcy! Glad that the post was inspiring! Happy writing to you too! :-)

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  27. This is so extremely helpful! I'm eighteen...I've wanted (needed, really) to be a writer since I was eight. It all sort of pours out, you know? But this is so helpful when it comes to pacing myself and going in for the long-haul. Thanks for the post! It's a keeper :)

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    1. Hi Laney, Wishing you all the best as you persevere for the long haul of writing! Sounds like you're already off to a great start! :-)

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