Growth is painful.
I was a bit discouraged, blah, blue. But didn’t know why.
The first two books in my series are out. The third is in final edits and releases this summer. I’ve received nice blurbs from a New York Times bestselling author, a USA Today bestselling author, and an Anthony Award-winning author. If someone had told me this was in my future while I was pitching my first novel, I would have been ecstatic.
When I was querying agents and publishing houses I believed a signed contract would be the end of my angst. I would arrive on the happy shores of author-land, where the water was fine and all the drinks had umbrellas. I heard other writers say this wasn’t so. I didn’t believe them. Yet here I was in the drizzle of dissatisfaction sipping lukewarm coffee.
What the heck was wrong with me?
I was grousing about it to Megan on the way home from an author event. (By the way, I speak and teach fairly regularly these days. This is something my pre-publication self would have done a happy dance over.) She said something brilliant.
Whenever we move from one phase of our career to the next, we go through growing pains.
Growing pains. The words bounced around in my brain for the rest of the day. She was absolutely correct. My blahs had been diagnosed. All the wonderful things that had happened over the past year and a half had become a little ho-hum. My eyes had turned toward new aspirations.
Regardless of your place on the writing continuum, I’m sure some of you feel the same. I decided we could all use a pep talk.
When you have growing pains, here are a few ways to dull the ache.
Wherever you are, you’re not where you used to be. What were you longing for a year ago? Two years ago? How many of those things have come to pass?
When I was running races, I always had a time goal. Time is a nice, objective measure of progress. If I didn’t make my goal on a particular race, I could look back and see what my prior time had been. If I ran quicker than last year or the year before, I was headed in the right direction.
Maybe you’re pitching a manuscript, and you’re getting rejection after rejection. That’s hard. No two ways about it. But I bet there was a time you couldn’t imagine finishing a manuscript that was pitchable.
Rejoice. You finished a book. That’s an incredible accomplishment. You’ve got growing pains because you stepped across the line from toying with the idea of writing a book to doing it.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he says,
In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.
If you’ve completed a manuscript, you’re that much closer to true expertise.
Having goals is great. Feeling like a failure because you haven’t yet reached them is stupid. Not only is it stupid, it’s counterproductive. The more you or I wallow in what isn’t, the less likely it ever will be.
As long as I’m quoting Malcolm Gladwell, how about this one?
…If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.
It’s very difficult to work hard, assert ourselves, use our minds and imaginations if we’re sunk in despair. Instead, put those goals on paper and map out the journey to reach them.
But so much of this is luck, you argue.
I prefer the word opportunity, but regardless of the vocabulary, we have to acknowledge there are some things we have control over and some we don’t.
James Scott Bell in his excellent book, The Mental Game of Writing: How to Overcome Obstacles, Stay Creative and Productive, and Free Your Mind for Success, uses the analogy of surfing to illustrate this point.
Surfers can’t control the ocean. Some days surf is up. Some days it isn’t. But it is the skilled and persistent surfer who catches the epic wave.
At times growing pains tempt us to compare ourselves to other writers. There are only two possible outcomes when we do.
The first is we feel superior and get haughty. We believe our skill, our books, our scintillating personalities, our stupendous imaginations, all exceed the poor sod’s we’re comparing ourselves to. The opposite is more common. We compare ourselves and despair.
Although the former is temporarily more comfortable, it’s also more dangerous. Pride may not be painful, but it stunts growth. Humility is fertile soil. If we won’t be humble, we’ll eventually be humiliated.
Comparisonitis is a seesaw. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, but you never go anywhere.
That’s what not to do, but what should we do to ease our growth pains? How about plugging back into the reason you started this whole thing in the first place?
Most of us didn’t begin with the goal of becoming a New York Times bestselling author or winning a Pulitzer. We started writing because we had a story to tell. We wrote a little of this and a little of that and got bit by the bug. Writing is fun. Most of the time anyway.
I started a new story in a new series this week. I don’t have a lot of time to work on it, but every time I do, I get happy. My new story has no deadline. I don’t have an editor waiting for my first draft. It’s not sold. I’ll have to pitch it when it’s ready.
Hey, that sounds familiar. Isn’t that the very situation I couldn’t wait to escape from two years ago?
Grab your surfboards guys. Here comes another wave.
Greta Boris is the author of the 2017 releases, A Margin of Lust andThe Scent of Wrath, the first two books in her 7 Deadly Sins domestic suspense series. Her nonfiction work includes the Amazon Bestseller The Wine and Chocolate Workout – Sip, Savor, and Strengthen for a Healthier Life and Aspiring to Author – A Guide for Your Publishing Career. She’s also the Director of O.C. Writers, a community of over 900 published and aspiring authors in Orange County, California.
You can visit her at http://gretaboris.com. She describes her work (and her life) as an O.C. housewife meets Dante’s Inferno.