Do you have what it takes to be a writer?

 

There are generally two places when writers quit.

The first is after their first, second or third book. They expected everything to be easy and found out that publishing is hard. They assumed their book would be successful on its own merits, despite having an unprofessional cover, blurb and website. They thought it would connect with readers even though they haven’t built up a platform, traffic or email list. And usually, the first three books were written for themselves, without considering the market. They get frustrated and wonder whether they can really pull this off.

At that point, a lot of authors give up, because they aren’t willing to be flexible and pivot. They aren’t willing to learn the business, to find better editors or cover designers. To build relationships with other writers, and readers who love their genre. Or, most importantly, they aren’t willing to “write to market” (write something that more people will actually enjoy, by studying the bestsellers and seeing what readers are responding to).

I don’t believe in the kind of grit that means persevering with something that’s failing. If people don’t like your books, more marketing or promotion or time isn’t going to turn things around. But you can definitely hone your skills until you’re able to write a book readers love.

However, there’s another place that might be even more challenging, and it’s something I’ve seen a lot of recently. It’s after they’ve been doing this for years, and have had some success, and maybe have even quit their jobs to go full-time, and then the market changes or Amazon tweaks its algorithms and suddenly 80% of their income dries up.

This is the other place writers quit. After they’ve put in hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars and have a backlist that isn’t selling. It’s all too much time, effort and money and they’re ready to move on to other things. In this case, they may not be willing to change with the times and discover new ways to market their books. They may not have realized that reader demands change and each year they’ll be looking for different things. And this is where grit can come in handy: it’s basically, “how much does it mean to you?”

Are you willing to continue as a writer even when it’s hard, even when it’s no fun, and even when it doesn’t make any money? If so, why?

Your answer to that question is a good indication of your grit-level.

On the one hand, persevering with something that is emotionally draining but doesn’t result in tangible benefits may seem stupid. Why not get another hobby with more rewards?

On the other hand, the challenge of writing is part of the reason why the results are sweeter. One amazing review on a book you slaved over for a year can make everything seem worth it. Because you know how hard it was, even if readers don’t. There’s a personal satisfaction in challenging yourself to get better at one of the most difficult things humans are capable of. Writing a book represents hundreds of hours of work. And publishing a successful book usually comes on the heels of several big flops (failure is part of the education you’ll need to launch bestsellers.) So when you do see some success, after years of brutal work and effort, small measures of success can be more meaningful than a big trophy with your name on it for a less difficult feat.

For me personally, this is one of the reasons I’ll always go back to writing – because other things feel too easy, and leave me dissatisfied. True grit is not about continuing when things suck and ignoring all the bad stuff. It’s about recognizing that the “bad stuff” is helping you become better through resistance. It’s about savoring and celebrating the dark times, because they’re challenging you to grow into your best self.

“The reward of a work is to have produced it; the reward of effort is to have grown by it.” 
― Antonin Sertillanges

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.