If all the writing I do today is sending a note to my English teacher, does that mean it hasn’t been a good day writing?
Why is that advice showing up on a literary agency blog? Experience has taught us that although reaching deadlines is crucial, other less-common writerly accomplishments matter. And they contribute to a healthy writer life and ultimately to a long strings of days we can call “good writing.”
What if all the writing I do today is settling on a tagline for my work as a professional writer?
When agents and editors attend conferences, we often cross paths with writers who have been at it for many years. What separates those who we sense are making progress, even if it’s taking a while, from those who seem mired is often this. They haven’t yet figured out what statement, tagline, branding idea, or even category defines them as a writer. What is a tagline? It’s the expression–in a few words or a sentence–of the overarching body of an author’s work and what the reader can expect when the open a book by that author.
Fact: The hardest writer for an agent to take on is the one who writes a little bit of everything. Sometimes, miraculously, that can work. But it’s so not the norm that we shudder a little if a proposal crosses our desk and it lists four other categories of books the writer has in the works. We often ask, “Where does your heart lie? What do you most want to be known for? When readers open the covers of a book with your name on it, what will they likely find?”
Other writers have struggled within themselves, not just with agents and editors, to define their identity as a writer or the common ground in what they write. If all you did today was invest all your writing block into landing on something that works for you, good on you! That helps industry professionals, including bookstore managers, know exactly where to display your books. You will have accomplished more with that single act than 5,000 other useable words for your project.
Thanking someone from my past who influenced me as a mentor, cattle prod, or even as a patron?
Thank you, Mrs. Henry, for forcing me to organize my thoughts and narrow my focus for term papers in high school. I spend parts of every day helping other writers find their laser-focus now. I’m grateful, <insert name> that you wouldn’t let me give up on myself on those days, seasons, years, when I felt like throwing my typewriter in the pond (adjust for current writing tool or method of destruction). Thanks, Mom, for paying my way to that first writers’ retreat, and my first conference, and parts of others. I wonder if, as a stay-at-home mom, I would have ever had the courage to keep writing without those gifts.
Your note of gratitude, writer, may be the most important writing you do today.
Paying it forward for another writer?
For every moment of discouragement you’ve experienced, understand that your favorite author knows it well. Your best words today may be your writing a review. Talking about another author’s book with your friends and readers. Or even rustling up the courage to say, “Family circumstances are keeping me from attending the conference this year. It made a huge difference in my career. I’d like you to have my spot. Your way has been paid.”
This week, curiously enough, two separate writers tagged an author on social media and said, “I’m halfway through this book and it’s already changed my life.” A short post. A heartfelt sentiment. Imagine the author’s energy level now for pressing on!
What if all the writing I do today is reading about writing?
If I write zero words toward my word count, but I’ve polished a skill or discovered a new technique or conquered a bad writing habit, how productive will tomorrow’s words be? The same is true for listening to podcasts or watching videos about the elements of writing and publishing and marketing that scare me.
A farmer who spends no time poring over agriculture magazines or talking with his or her buddies at the feed mill about the latest techniques and productivity methods can still farm, but will find the land growing weaker. Harvest will be smaller than others who are keeping up with new discoveries or trusted methods they hadn’t yet been introduced to.
Reading about writing, reading writing like yours and unlike yours, listening to marketing and craft podcasts or videos can be a great time investment. But make sure it doesn’t daily take the place of planting seeds, watering, and weeding your own words.
What if I stop being bogged down with linear progression and write a random scene deeper into my book? Is that cheating?
Hardly cheating. It’s one of many authors’ favorite ways of sparking creating and making those word count numbers climb. If all the writing you accomplish today is 400 brilliant words you won’t need for eighteen more chapters, you will have that golden scene waiting for you, calling to you, as you keep writing. Count it a successful day.
If all the writing I do today is on a project that never sells, was it a bad day writing?
Nothing is ever wasted. Yes, we can waste time if our intentions are misdirected, misguided, or uninformed. The words? Not wasted. They teach us what won’t work and help us practice writing ourselves out of a corner. Those pages make us more conscious of pacing and flow and the power of language. They make you a writer–someone who writes because you’re compelled to do so.
Editors and agents and writing instructors or mentors will help steer writers to work on projects that have the best opportunity to sell–both in a contract with a publisher and to readers. But will it not also have been a writing life well spent if what you’ve written lights the eyes of someone who finds your work decades from now? Or if it moves some other writer to work toward the career you wished you could have had?
Or if there is just one voice–One Voice–from whom you hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?