When I started the Writing for the Long Haul series, I wanted to explore what long-term writing careers look like, and to start a discussion of how and why writers keep going after the first few years.
I’ve been delighted to see writers at all stages of their careers enjoying these posts on a not-often-discussed part of the writing journey. I’ve been enjoying them too, and three months in, it seemed a good time to step back and reflect on what I’ve been thinking about and observing as I read.
You, of course, may have been observing and reflecting on entirely different things–so feel free to jump in and comment with your thoughts on long-haul writing journeys.
– Long-haul writing careers have ups and downs: Many writers have discussed, in various ways, the uneven terrain of their long-haul careers, and many readers have found this the most useful part of the series. Writers don’t talk about setbacks much in public, so I’m not sure many new writers especially understand that setbacks are normal. A bad year (or five, or ten) is not failure. It’s just a bad year or five or ten. It’s easy for a career to look like it’s on a straightforward upward success trajectory over the short haul. Over the long haul, with occasional exceptions, things get more complicated.
– Sales figures are not a long-haul writer’s primary inspiration: Every journey shared here has been different, but no one has said they woke up every morning inspired to write by their sales figures. Poor sales may or may not stop a writer, depending, but either way good sales aren’t enough to keep going. The motivation and even the ability to keep writing are far more complicated than that, and continuing to write isn’t about reaching some magic sales threshold that inspires us or gives us permission to do so. Motivation comes from somewhere deeper, even if where exactly varies from writer to writer.
– Long-haul writers are flexible: Often the first book a long-haul writer published was in a very different genre than their most recent book. Some writers work in multiple genres at the same time. Long-haul writers may not be writing to market (like so much else, that depends on the writer), but they are able to shift their focus and the sorts of projects they’re working on over time.
– Long-haul careers are highly individual: For anything I’ve said above, you can probably find a series contributor who’s an exception, because no two writing journeys are quite alike. It’s writers more experienced than me who encouraged me, in the early years of my career, to honor my own process. Reading these posts, I think that’s because our processes become more and more individual as time goes on. The comparison game is always dangerous, but it’s also less meaningful the more time that passes. There may be specific roadmaps and techniques (though even those vary) for how to break in as a writer, but sooner or later the templates get left behind, and your career is your career, and not anyone else’s.
The writing for the long haul series is going to take a hiatus until fall, while I meet some of my own short-term writing commitments (translation: I need to hunker down and finish my book), but I do want to continue the conversation, so please share your own thoughts in comments.
Many thanks again to all the Writing for the Long Haul series contributors to date for sharing your thoughts, your processes, and your insights!
– Sharon Shinn on managing time
– Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
– Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
– Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
– Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
– Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
– Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
– Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
– Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
– Kathi Appelt on the power of story
– Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity