They’re the most painful things to learn, but here they are:
1. You will make mistakes.
2. No matter how good you think you are, someone else is better.
Early on in your writing career, plenty of mistakes will happen. We all know that. What’s rough to swallow is that even as an established writer, you’re still going to make mistakes. Big ones, even.
One poetry anthology I worked on a few years ago went through something like twelve drafts. I spent hours and hours staring the material down, tweaking it, proofing it yet again, making things tighter.
After months of labor and reams of paper, it was finally finished. I held the first hard copy in my hot little hands and found—you guessed it—a glaring typo.
In my bio.
After lots of ranting and a sick-to-my-stomach feeling or two, I had to laugh. All of the time I’d spent on perfection and polish, and I missed a stupid little word in my own freakin’ bio. I felt like an idiot.
You just can’t catch everything.
And we professional editors need a fresh set of eyes to go over their drafts before submission. It’s impossible to fully edit your own work. You know what you meant to say, and your brain tricks you into seeing the text that way—whether or not it actually does.
That leads us to truth number two: someone is going to be better than you.
Many people, in fact.
If you’ve stars in your eyes of being the be-all, end-all of writers in our generation, get over it. Take a step back. There are thousands and thousands of people with that same dream. In the grand scheme, most of them won’t try, and will give up before they get started in earnest. Some will get part of the way there and come to rest. Only a handful will eventually make it to the big time, and you’ll know it when they do. (I’m talking King ,Rowling, and Brown levels, here. Big, big time.)
The writers that do make it tend to fall into two camps: the humble folks, and the ones who are so cocky you just want to punch them in the face.
Don’t be the latter, for obvious reasons.
The humble ones had help arriving where they landed. (The cocky ones did, too, but they’d never admit it. Blah. Let’s forget about them for a minute.) But the realistic, not-so-horrible-to-deal-with people know that someone taught them, critiqued them, or gave them a break when they didn’t yet have the clout to request special favors.
There are plenty of other writers who were better than the most famous of authors, yet many of their names have been lost to history anyway. The names we know are just the writers who got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time.
That’s not to say that hard work and raw talent aren’t important. Absolutely they are. But networking, developing people skills, and being willing to accept and give help are just as important as anything else in getting your writing out to the world. It takes other people to make up your audience; you might as well deal with your talent in human terms.
The world is made up of individuals. We each have our flaws, and it’s all relative. Make sure you can live with the inevitability of error, thank the folks who pushed you through, and give it your truest shot.
Be the best writer you can, work your hardest, and go with it. Understand that maybe you’ll only be the most well-known writer in your town or your company, and yeah, keep working to get better, but let the things you’ve accomplished be enough to encourage you on the difficult days.
(Like say, maybe, don’t freak out over a typo in your bio, when you should instead focus on the fact that you’re finally holding your glossy new book? Do as I say, not as I do. Cough, cough.)
It’s hard to logically manage emotions about something as close to your heart as your dreams. They’re supposed to be emotional and a little irrational. That’s how dreams work.
But really, don’t get hung up on supremely high goals like making the NYT national bestseller list or seeing your name on a cover at Barnes & Noble and let the lack of those dampen the smaller ambitions along the way.
Hope for those and shoot for the sky always, but take heart in that you’re moving, you’re growing, you’re trying, you’re doing. That’s what matters most.