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Set Realistic Expectations and Keep the Dream Alive

Another one by Scott Rhoades!


There’s a common affliction shared among most–maybe all–writers: we expect too much too soon. And it can kill a writing career faster than the loss of a favorite pen.

Writing requires persistence. It takes time to write a book, and more time to write a book that sells. You have to chug along through endless days of work and rejection before good things start to happen. But it never fails. As soon as that first paragraph is laid down and we get excited about what we’re writing, we have visions of bestseller lists and blockbuster movies.

The problem is, if our expectations are unrealistic, the inevitable frustration that comes with being a writer and shakes our confidence can push us to believe it’s not worth the effort, and we decide we’re not good enough and give up.

First novels are rarely published. Same with second novels. Sure, it happens. Many successful writers, though, have multiple books in a drawer, an unread testament to the need to learn and gain experience.

Why should it be any different? You won’t play a symphony the first time you sit down at a piano. Your first painting won’t get you a spot in the Louvre. The arts take practice. They take work. They take patience.

So, what if you change your goal? What if you redefine success? You have no control over what publishers want, but you control whether you write and keep writing.

Writing that first novel is a major achievement, published or not. Arthur Plotnik talks about this is his (sadly, out-of-print) book, Honk If You’re a Writer, reprinted as The Elements of Authorship (also sadly out of print). Plotnik points out that many people decide to write a book. Of those, the number who actually start is very small. The number who get to The End is so close to zero that it might as well be zero. 

Make getting to The End your goal, not publication. That puts success completely in your own hands. If you get there, you’ve accomplished something a tiny percentage of people have ever managed to do. That’s a really big deal. If you make it, you’ve succeeded.



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Day 29, 2019

From my friend Scott Rhoades

Scott has written more than two solid years, every single day. He’s my very own Stephen King!

Here are suggestions about when to take a book to fellow writers for critique help.

When Should I Ask for Feedback?

Writing a book seems like a solitary activity and, in many ways, it is. The only way to write a novel is to spend hours alone at a keyboard (or notebook), typing away. But experienced writers know that writing is most often a community effort.

It’s natural to want feedback as soon as you have words on the page, but sharing your work too early isn’t usually the best strategy, and can even hurt your ability to finish.

Sharing too soon can mean your readers are so distracted by early-draft issues they can’t look for the big-picture concerns that are harder to spot.  

The more experienced your crit partner is, the more likely you are to get a great critique on a more polished manuscript. If you’re a less-experienced writer who is lucky enough to score a critique from an experienced writer, you don’t want to waste your editor’s experience with easy line edits when you can benefit from their deeper knowledge. You’re also less likely to get a second critique from an experienced author if your partner feels like it took an excessive amount of time to critique for little mistakes most writers should be able to find on their own (like typos and mechanical errors). 

Keep in mind that a less-polished manuscript draft is more likely to look like a victim of a low-budget slasher movie when it comes back. This can be discouraging, shake your confidence as a writer, and make it harder to finish your manuscript.

Should you never share anything early? Not necessarily. A group of less experienced writers might help each other more on early drafts. Experienced crit partners who are familiar with each other’s writing might share early drafts or even outlines to validate whether a story is going to work as planned. But even if you share the most detailed outline, chances are good that there are things in your head your partner isn’t going to see, and so it’s easy to miss important points.

To help your crit partners help you, it’s best to do some serious revising before you share. Not just a quick pass, but some real work. The better you make your story before you share it, the more a good crit partner can concentrate on bigger issues in your writing.


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Day 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Day 27, 2019

Today is my momma’s birthday.  (I said, “Won’t you stay with me till you’re 85?” And she said, “Yes.” But that didn’t happen.)

I am a writer because she said, “You are a natural.”

I am a reader because our house was full of books.

I love words because, when I was little, Mom memorized poetry with my sister and me. (Our first poem, when I was very little, was Omar Khayyam:

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.)

There are things I learned because of her, too.

I learned how to forgive.

I learned how to serve.

I learned some crap just doesn’t matter.

(It’s been a year and I can still hear the way she said my name. Her voice, low in the night, calling me from the other room. “Carol? Where am I?” “You’re home, Mom.”  “Home?” “Yes, Momma. You’re home.”)

Truly I had less than fifteen years with her because of choices she and I made.




That night or so before she left. All the words were gone. The voice. The songs.

The harmonies and sense of humor and the ability to read or even hold a novel. The skill to swallow or stand or keep her head up. (But, she reached for me when she heard my voice.

“Are you ready to go?” I said.  A nod. “Are you sure?” A nod. I won’t be able to bear it, I thought, but I said, “Okay, Momma.”)



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