Let’s assume you are a good writer. You have learned the mechanics of language, you understand the structure of your chosen genre, and you have the ability to write a sentence, a phrase and a paragraph that has rhythm, resonance and meaning.
Let’s also assume that you have the desire for your work to be read by someone other than your cat. And let’s go way out on a limb and assume that by the time I finish writing this piece, there will still be book publishers in business, booksellers who have kept the faith, and book buyers with disposable income. For the majority of writers, these assumptions hold true.
So why do some writers succeed (which is to say that they finish their work, they get it into they marketplace, they continue to find inspiration and joy, they keep putting words on the page) and other fail (which is to say that their work languishes, they never send it out, they become someone who used to love words, who used to see the world through story, who used to have a dream of being a writer)?
There are, of course, as many answers as there are writers, but in my years as a writer, a writing instructor and a writing coach, I have seen some of the same ones occur again and again. Here are five:
1. Delusions of Grandeur.
A lot of first-time writers believe that they’re going to sell their book for several million dollars, lure Julia Roberts into taking an option on film rights, and land a spot on Oprah — all within a few hours of finishing their manuscript. It happens like that every once and awhile, but if you count on it, chances are you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Successful writers set goals that are much more attainable – like writing three good pages or getting one sentence to sing.
2. A Warped Sense of Reality.
Most would-be writers have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the job actually entails. You know all the drama, camaraderie and excitement you see on TV sitcoms about ad agencies and law firms and police departments and emergency rooms? None of that shoulder-slapping fun happens for writers, ever, because we’re always sitting alone in rooms.
Every so often, you may see a famous, bestselling writer under the bright lights, making witty comments and wearing great shoes, but when the show is over, that writer is going back to her quiet room and she’s sitting there, alone, for several more years until her next book is done. It’s exceedingly lonely work – and most people simply aren’t comfortable being alone with themselves and their thoughts for that long. They fail simply because they like the idea of being a writer, but not the reality.