In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
There were times, especially in summer, when it occurred to me that I was simply repeating my mother’s life. Usually this thought struck me as funny. If I happened to be tired, or if there were extra bills to pay and no money to pay them with, it seemed awful. I’d think, this isn’t the way our lives are supposed to be going.
Writing is hard. It won’t ever get easier. And worse, the beginning of your writing career will be filled with lots and lots of failure.
I sometimes think about all the hardship I’ve had over the past eight years to get where I am as a writer today. Eighteen novels. Dozens of short stories. Two Masters degrees in English. Thousands of rejection slips.
I wonder that if I could go back to my 2009 self, who was thinking of abandoning the dream of film-making for novel writing, and told him what I have been through to get to this point, I’m not so sure I would have ever tried the writing life. It’s lonely. There’s little stability. There’s not any guarantee for success… and what is success, anyway?
Is success having a novel traditionally published? Right now, that’s how I think of success, but having just one book traditionally published doesn’t in any way mean I’m going to be a successful author. It’s a great next step, one I really hope is in my near future, but that’s what it is really: the next step.
And that’s why you have to love writing. You have to get up every day wanting to spend a few hours in another world. You want to spend more time with your characters. You want to put your thoughts down on paper.
If all you think about is the monetary outcome, you’re never going to make it as a writer.
Times will be tough at the beginning. You might be one of the lucky ones and find success quickly, within the first couple years. Your first book might be the one that lands you an agent and publishing deal.
Or maybe it’s your second or third.
But it might also be your sixteenth, like it was for me.
There were a few years there where Stephen King wasn’t sure if he’d make it as a writer. We can laugh about it now of course, but the place he was in was a place of terrifying uncertainty.
I’ve been in that place for eight years to some extent, even after signing with an agent and having a book I absolutely adore out on submission to editors. Because there’s still no guarantee that anything is going to come of this. There’s not, and that’s the sad truth.
But as long as you keep going, and keep improving in your craft, the possibility of success is so much greater.
King found it after years (and after a few, at the time, unpublished manuscripts) with his hit novel Carrie. He didn’t have to worry any longer about re-living the life of his mother, whatever kind of failure he took that to be.
I haven’t found success yet, but I hope it’s out there for me, somewhere in the future.
In the meantime, all that’s left to do is keep writing, keep trying.
And one day, maybe when you’re least expecting it, and maybe when you need it most, success will find its way to you.
And all that failure you endured… will well be worth it.