From Nathan Bransford’s (a literary agent at Curtis Brown, one of New York’s largest literary companies) blog:
Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer
Writers aren’t generally known as the happiest lot. As a recent Guardian survey of some top writers shows, even the best ones don’t particularly enjoy it all that much. And in case you think this is a new development, an 1842 letter from Edgar Allen Poe to his publisher recently surfaced in which he was found apologizing for drinking so much and begging for money.
But believe it or not, writing and happiness can, in fact, go together. For our Thursday entry in Positivity Week, here are ten ways for a writer to stay positive:
1. Enjoy the present. Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellordom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the “if only” game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I’ll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I’ll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you’re actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It’s found in the present. Because writing is pretty great — otherwise why are you doing it?
2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It’s tempting to try and beat the system, whether that’s by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you’re not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don’t do it.
3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control. While it’s tempting to think that it’s all your fault if your book doesn’t sell, or your agent’s fault or the industry’s fault or the fault of a public that just doesn’t recognize your genius, a lot of times it’s just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.
4. Don’t neglect your friends and family. No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don’t like them very much.
5. Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Quitting a job you need to pay the bills in order to write a novel is like selling your house and putting the proceeds into a lottery ticket. You don’t have to quit your job to write. There is time in the day. You may have to sacrifice your relaxation time or sleep time or reality television habit, but there is time. You just have to do it.
6. Keep up with publishing industry news. It may seem counterintuitive to follow the news of a business in which layoffs currently constitute the bulk of headlines. But it behooves you to keep yourself informed. You’ll be happier (and more successful) if you know what you’re doing.
7. Reach out to fellow writers. No one knows how hard it is to write other than other people who have tried to do it themselves. Their company is golden. If you’re reading this it means you have an Internet connection. Reach out and touch a writer. And plus, the Internet allows you to reach out to writers without smelling anyone’s coffee breath.
8. Park your jealousy at the door. Writing can turn ordinary people into raving lunatics when they start to believe that another author’s success is undeserved. Do not begrudge other writers their success. They’ve earned it. Even if they suck.
9. Be thankful for what you have. If you have the time to write you’re doing pretty well. There are millions of starving people around the world, and they’re not writing because they’re starving. If you’re writing: you’re doing just fine. Appreciate it.
10. Keep writing. Didn’t find an agent? Keep writing. Book didn’t sell? Keep writing. Book sold? Keep writing. OMG an asteroid is going to crash into Earth and enshroud the planet in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter.
Thank you, Nathan, for that upbeat and uplifting post. Reading a really good book (try Sarah Dessen’s) reminds me of why I write. But really, it’s the thought process and people’s feedback that makes me really happy. I want to know other people can feel about my book as much as I do – it’s the most rewarding part I’ve experienced so far. Also, concocting the ideas and letting the story flow is truly exhilarating. I mean, everything is in your hands: the characters, their flaws (especially their flaws), their interactions, tensions, action, dilemmas… And then you get so attached to them, to the setting, to the world you’ve created in your head. I just think it’s unbelievable.
Nathan’s blog is amazing. He gives all sorts of writing advice, and even an activity where readers get to be agents for a day and critique other writers’ query letters. And the best thing is, he isn’t snarky like some other literary agents who blog. He’s really nice and friendly, and even though he rejected my query, he personalised the rejection letter and was encouraging in it. So thank you, Nathan, for putting so much effort into your blog for aspiring writers like me who just want to hone our craft!
And on a side note, keeping a writing blog now makes me more disciplined than ever, because now I have a greater responsibility to my readers (the handful of them – thank you very much for reading, I really really appreciate it). So I can’t afford to slack off because I publish one chapter everyday. I know this is quite shameless of me, but if you like my story, you can just tell your friends about it, and tell your friends to tell their friends, and so on. I just want feedback. That’s all I’m asking for. I want readers to respond to my writing. I had such a great time talking to YL and Yishi about my story. I’m glad they like it.
And I guess, like what Nathan said, I can’t wait around for happiness to come by in the form of a literary agent. I know, I know. Still, it would be an affirmation of sorts, you know, to have someone – an absolute stranger – believe in my work strongly enough to want to promote it to a publisher… *fingers crossed!*