Do you ever stop for a second, look at your writer goals, and think, F$()@$()@@)(@)CK?
I know I sure do. It’s like I’m standing at the base of a mountain, gazing up at that summit, and goddammit all, but that elusive peak looks impossibly far away. Worse? It feels like I’ve already been climbing for weeks!
I’ve been thinking a lot of late about how well mountain-climbing works as a metaphor for the road to publication. Allow me to share with you a few of the similarities I’ve discovered:
- It takes effort, training and dedication. If you went up to the foot of a mountain tomorrow and started going for it, guess what? It would end poorly. Same thing with writing. You have to prepare for it. You have to train. You have to learn.
It’s not just a matter of learning how to climb, either. Every mountain is different. To really prepare yourself, you need to study up on the specific challenges that particular upward slope is going to present.
Not every path to publication is the same. Not every genre is the same. Not every book is the same. With every endeavor, you have to do your research.
- Every climb makes you stronger. So maybe you didn’t get to the top this time. You built muscle. You built skill. Your next run at that sheer cliff face is going to go better than the one before.
- There are so many routes to the top. Most mountains have multiple trails all leading to the top. If you’re a strong climber, you may take the steepest path. If you’re a stronger hiker, you may take a more level one. If you’re a photographer looking for a really great view, you may go out of your way to find the very best vista.
Between traditional publishing houses, small presses, and self-publishing, there are so many ways to find success as an author these days. Pick the one that plays best to your strengths and your schedule and your preferences. And if one route ends up having a downed tree blocking the way, well… it’s never too late to go back and try a different path.
- Never climb alone. Never write alone. Have buddies. Check in with them regularly. Be responsible to each other for keeping each other going.
- Set up base camps. If you’re climbing Mount Everest, you’re not going to do it all in one day. You start out bright and early. You climb some six thousand meters. And then you set up camp.
You then work from that camp to get to the next one. Starting on the morning of Day 2, you DO NOT have to go all the way back down to the base of the mountain and start over. You get to start from Camp 1. You’re partway there. You use the height you already have to help you get to the height you’re trying to achieve.
Take your writing career one goal at a time. Write a book first. Then use that book to get an agent. Then use that agent to sell to a publisher. Then use the platform of that publisher to sell a bazillion copies.
Remember: Every new height you achieve is not one you have to give back if the next step doesn’t go the way you planned. If you don’t agent on your first manuscript, you still have the experience of finishing that manuscript to help you write a better second manuscript. If your first agented book doesn’t sell to a publisher, chances are, you still have an agent. Use her feedback and expertise to write the next book that will sell. If your first published book doesn’t sell a million copies, use the platform from that first publication to reach even more readers and sell even more copies on your next foray out.
In the case of a blizzard, there’s no shame in staying at the final camp for an extra day. Regroup. Wait it out.
Tomorrow, you get to climb again.
- There’s always a bigger mountain. Based on my conversations with experienced climbers, the sport of climbing is an easy one to get addicted to. As soon as you’ve summited one peak, you’re thinking about the next.
Same story as a writer. Once upon a time, my only goal was to finish a novel. The instant I’d accomplished that, though, I was already unimpressed with my effort in getting that far, and I was obsessing about how I was going to manage to get my baby published. Once that was done, I was impatient with myself for not having made a best seller’s list yet. And on and on and on.
Appreciate the view and the sense of victory you get every time you achieve a goal. But be aware: the next goal will always be waiting for you.
- In the end, you’ve got to love it. Mountain climbing and writing are both grueling, difficult journeys. They take their toll on your body, your time, your family and your soul. Both have incredible rewards.
But there are easier ways to get a workout. And there are easier ways to make an income.
To put yourself through either, you have to love it. So love it. Love climbing. Love the view from the top.
Love writing. Love stories. Love your world-building and your characters and your incredible imaginary little universe.
Be good to yourself. Believe in yourself.
Keep trying and keep writing.
And keep the faith that somehow, some way, you are going to reach the top.