Becoming a published writer is a journey. We don’t hide away our notebook scribbles for a decade and then wake up one day to find the Senior Editor from Penguin Random House banging on our door to demand that we hand them over. (Ahem, just in case: they’re in the white desk in my office, third drawer down on the left.)
And like any other path to success, the writer’s journey is rife with setbacks and obstacles – even some of our own making. #hardtruth
But there is a clear path, and although we writers are gentle folk, if we can find the nerve to follow the path and stay the course no matter what adventures befall us, our perseverance is often rewarded. (And even, sometimes, its own reward.)
Below, I’ve described the writer’s journey as I’ve known it, as someone who’s walked the full path a couple of times now and lived to tell the tale. In thinking about my own experiences, as well as the experiences of the writers I’ve coached and taught, I can absolutely see a clear path to success for the committed writer.
Each stage in the journey is reflected in specific characteristics embodied by the writer in that stage, as well as the feelings that go with it, and some key milestones which function as path-markers to light the way to the next stage in the journey.
Where do you see yourself in the writer’s journey? What stage rings true for you? (Are you maybe even a bit shocked to find yourself there?) I’d love to hear your thoughts – come find me over on Facebook or Instagram, or send an email to me directly.
**I use the pronoun “She” in this description, but please read with “They” or “He” if you prefer. It’s your journey, after all.**
The Writer's Journey
STAGE I. NURTURING NOTEBOOKS
At this stage, this writer is not yet sure if she’s really serious about her writing. She’s not writing consistently. She idolizes those she sees as “Real Writers” who are ahead of her on the journey and may not have realistic expectations of the writing life.
But this writer is still writing — she writes short pieces in her notebooks, writes on-and-off, and may not finish the individual pieces she’s started. She does a lot of journaling and finds it hard to separate her self from the writing. She avoids seeking feedback on her work and is afraid of criticism.
A writer at this stage in the journey has a lot of unfinished pieces and notes in multiple notebooks, file folders and boxes. She doesn’t know how to read as a writer and doesn’t have a community of other writers for support. She thinks it’s only possible to write (or to write well) when she feels inspired. She may have unrealistic ideas about the publishing process that she’s reluctant to release.
Above everything, a writer in this stage feels like an imposter, as though she’s “not a Real Writer.” She feels anxious but may sometimes hide this by presenting as over-confident. She needs constant external inspiration or motivation. Her sense of herself as a writer is fragile so she is easily hurt by feedback on her work.
A writer moves on from this stage in the writer’s journey when she’s created a consistent writing routine. She becomes aware of a realistic path for improvement and “success” as a writer. Most importantly, she begins to move her writing out of notebooks into a computer to be in draft manuscript form and she decides to commit to improving her craft.
STAGE II: COMMITTING TO CRAFT
Now this writer realizes that writing well is hard work but she’s committed to improving her craft. She’s coachable and seeks out feedback. She holds writing as part of her personal identity and self-image. She sees other writers as simply artists ahead of her on the path, rather than somehow holding all of the mystical secrets.
However, at this stage in the journey the writer may still be wracked with uncertainty and self-doubt and these fears show up as a worry that her writing isn’t any good. But she’s inspired by how good she feels when she’s writing, as opposed to when she avoids it out of fear.
She feels excited by “Aha” moments about how she can improve a specific element of her writing and grow as a writer. She’s sometimes hurt or feels exposed when receiving feedback on her writing, but she’s still open to it and seeks it out. Beyond anything else, a writer in this stage is willing to learn and is beginning to gain real momentum.
A writer moves to the next stage when she’s completing full drafts of individual pieces (poems, stories, essays.) She has created a regular and consistent writing routine that fits with her life and knows she can adapt this as she needs to.
She has learned how to read as a writer and uses it as a tool to improve her craft. She actively seeks out opportunities to learn and grow as a writer, investing in her artistic education.
In spite of her fear, she actively seeks feedback on her work and uses it in her revision and editing process to improve the work.
It’s exciting to watch this writer as she begins to build a writing community, both online and offline. She’s getting her pieces of writing out of her notebooks in order to complete them.
She’s looking forward to publishing.
STAGE III: PUBLISHING PIECES
The writer at this stage in the journey is beginning to feel the confidence that she’s built up through perseverance, and views other writers as fellow artists. She’s willing to learn and “fail better” even when it hurts. She’s sending out finished pieces of work and learning how to get published in literary magazines. Although she may still feel a bit uncertain from time to time as she learns to deal with the reality of rejection as part of a writer’s life, this writer now has a sense of herself as a “Real Writer” that is growing on her with every new piece of work she completes.
“Ow! Rejection is hard – should I quit?” This writer is still afraid her writing isn’t good enough, but she’s beginning to understand this as a normal part of being a writer. Sometimes she’s worried there’s a “secret” or “in” group within the publishing world that she’ll never be able to access. She is enjoying a feeling of connection as she builds community with other writers.
She’s so excited to see her work improve and over the moon with her publishing successes!
This writer is engaged in finishing her drafts and then diving into revision and editing. She’s constantly sending out completed work for publication and contests. She works actively with mentors, online and in real life, and is producing new work on a regular basis.
She’s learned how to deal with the reality of rejection and learned how to persevere, and she celebrates her successes when they happen! This writer is holding on tight to the dream of publishing her own book and she can begin to see that it’s possible. When asked “what do you do?” writing is one of the identities she will openly claim.
STAGE IV: FINISHING BOOKS
A writer at this stage in the journey is now rooted in a consistent writing practice and her previous successes. She’s committed to the long-haul practice of her craft and determined to complete a book. She’s organizing her life to make sure the writing happens rather than leaving it to chance. She’s dedicated and resilient.
She’s gaining in confidence that comes from dedicating herself to a regular writing practice and feels like a “Real Writer” most days. Until the book is finished, she fears she can’t finish the book, even in the face of the evidence that is her actually finishing the book! She also worries a bit about publishing, how that whole world works and if she’ll be able to find one. When she gets ahead of herself with this, her concerns about which publishing options to choose (traditional or self-published) make her a bit anxious and she worries about how she’ll need to promote herself.
This writer has a plan mapped out to finish her book and she works finishing her book into her life priorities. This writer begins to move into the next stage of the journey when she completes the first draft, types “The End”, prints out her final draft manuscript and holds the full book in her hands for the first time.
She also understands how to revise her draft and has a clear plan to do so, including seeking feedback from first readers and mentors/editors. She understands the realities of publishing and has built up resilience to seek publication without losing her self-confidence in the process.
STAGE V: PUBLISHING AND PROMOTING
At this stage in a writer’s journey, she is knowledgeable about craft and the writing process and keen to learn about this new phase of publishing. She has the experience of finishing a full book to give her confidence and momentum, and is aware of the realities and possibilities of the writing life. She is still writing regularly and has a community of other writers and mentors with whom she stays connected. No matter what successes she’s had at this point in her writing life, she understands that improving her writing is a continuous process.
This writer is so excited to be close to realizing a childhood dream! She now understands self-doubt as part of the creative process for all artists and knows how to manage it. She is proud of herself for the hard work she’s put into finishing her book. Sometimes she’s disappointed that the writing and publishing life isn’t as glamorous or easy as she’d imagined it, but she’s able to manage her emotions so they don’t stop her from achieving her goals.
By the time she reaches this stage in the journey, this writer has made choices about the best publishing options for her and her books and is actively seeking an agent or publisher OR researching the best self-publishing options. She accepts the need for some self-promotion to help sell her books and is learning how to make it happen.
In this stage, the writer is engaged in the publication process: soliciting, contracting, editing, copy-editing, fact-checking, proof-reading, publication and promotion. She is looking forward to holding her published book in her hand, celebrating with her writing community and loved ones and connecting with her readers.
…and then…when the the launch parties and book promotion are all done for the time being, the writer buys a new notebook (of course) and begins again – but this time she’s a few stages ahead of the game. She knows enough to feel confident in her ability to write the next book, even when it (hopefully!) throws up new craft challenges she hasn’t faced before. And she’s able to extend a helping hand to those who may be a stage or two behind her in the writer’s journey.