Worst. Writing Advice. Ever.
Some of the worst writing advice I ever heard came from an author I admired. While leading a writing workshop, a woman asked him, “What advice can you give to someone who wants to write books?”
His answer went something like: Find a cabin in the woods and get away from everything. Close the door and write.
Perhaps he was speaking in a bit of hyperbole, but being that he was newly married and without kids, I think that he truly believed that was the key to writing a book.
As a mother of three and a freelance writer who juggled multiple clients and deadlines each day, while eking out a first draft of a book, I sat in the audience and I couldn’t help but consider how much scheduling and planning it had taken for me to attend that three-day conference. So there I sat, knowing that if I listened to his advice, I had two options:
- Neglect my family.
- Never finish the book and certainly not write any others.
Well, seven years later I call bullshit on that advice.
Don’t get me wrong; writing a book would be much easier if I had the means (both time and money) to hole up in a cabin in the woods (which I imagine also requires a pond reminiscent of Walden). But that’s not my reality, nor is it the reality of most writers (aspiring or already published).
The last year has only made that advice seem even more implausible. My last year has been full of trouble shooting virtual schooling IT issues; arranging “safe” friend gatherings for some semblance of socialization for the kids; weighing the potential risk of every activity, including grocery shopping, dentist visits and haircuts; rehabilitating an anxious golden retriever; caring for a geriatric cat who seems to have forgotten how to use a litter box; navigating a job change with my husband; deconstructing the experience of living in the Bible Belt during a contentious political season; remembering to look presentable (at least the top half) on days when clients require video chats….
And I’m no exception.
Every writer has had their own distractions to deal with over the past year. Mine are not unique, nor are they even an expression of the extremes that some have encountered and endured.
I can’t help but think that my last year as a writer would not have been possible if I would’ve heeded that advice. Yet, despite all the distractions and exhaustion of living life with a depleted surge capacity for 13 months (and counting), I:
- Edited my 80,000-word novel.
- Queried over 40 agents.
- Completed the first draft of my second novel.
- Rode the emotions of several rejections and many no responses.
- Celebrated seven full requests.
- Signed with a literary agent.
- Edited the manuscript again. And again.
- Delved into the edits of my second novel.
But do you know what I didn’t do? Camp out in a cabin in the woods. Trust me; I would’ve loved to at times, especially when I heard the sounds of an interruption coming up the stairs to my writing loft. Or, had to break from my work to calm the dog who feared the odd creak of the floor meant imminent danger unless she barked continuously at the top of her lungs. Or, when I buried the novel I had been working on during that conference to forge ahead with novels I felt had more publishing potential.
As I continue on my journey to becoming a published novelist, the advice that I keep in mind has nothing to do with a cabin. It’s the wise words my writing professor, Frances Sherwood, spoke nearly twenty years ago:
The key to publishing is perseverance.
For writers, perseverance matters more than escape. Persevering despite distractions, interruptions and pandemics; through pregnancy, breastfeeding, diaper changes, field trips, virtual classrooms and middle school; beyond first drafts, stalled works in progress and yet another round of edits; even after rejection after rejection after rejection.
So, Aspiring Writer Who Wants to Know the Secret to Success: choose to persevere. Keep creating. Keep writing. Keep building and typing.
And if a cabin getaway presents itself, sure, take it. But if not, persevere one word at a time.