Be a Writer

It’s Encouragement Week here on my blog! I’m featuring posts from years past, each offering a little inspiration for your writing journey. I’ll be away from the blog to observe Holy Week, but I’ll be back next week with all-new posts. I hope you enjoy this series.

***

Many of you know that my kids and I love to watch American Idol together, and as it happens, it relates directly to my blog topic for today. (Is Idol ever an inappropriate topic for a writing blog? I think not.)

I received a query awhile back that contained the following line:

“I can’t give you a hook or a synopsis—I am a writer, not a promoter. You really do have to read the book to see what an exceptional story it is.”

Now, I know most of you would never consider writing something like that. But I know you probably sometimes FEEL that way—that you just want to write your book and it’s really unfair for people to ask you to write pitches and taglines and author bios other types of sales copy. “I’m a writer but I’m really bad at selling things or tooting my own horn,” you might think. “Don’t publishers hire people for that?”

Sorry to say, it’s time for some tough love. I want you to ask yourself: Are you a writer or not?

The contestants on Idol are put through their paces every week, required to perform songs from specific eras or songwriters or collections. They’re not allowed to simply sing what comes naturally to them. I didn’t hear any of them saying, “But I can’t stand theRolling Stones, I can’t do this!” No, they stepped up to the plate and did what was asked of them. Why? To prove they’re really SINGERS.

Everyone has a type of singing – or a type of writing – that they’re best at. It’s important they find that niche and specialize in it. But there are times when we are all asked to step outside our sweet spot and perform. We might not be great at it, but we have to do our best and avoid making excuses.

If you’re a writer, then there’s no sense in insisting that you’re only a “certain type” of writer. When those hackles go up and you’re frustrated with your 87th try at the pitch paragraph for your book, ask yourself: Am I a writer?

If you are, and if you are committed to it, then you’ll find the strength to let go of the frustration, and just be a writer.

It’s all about your commitment. Think about the other commitments you make in your life. You take on a job. You get married. You have children. You call yourself teacher or nurse or business owner or American Idol. You call yourself husband or wife, mom or dad.

Then one day things get hard. Not just run-of-the-mill hard, but really hard, and you find yourself wondering, “What did I get myself into?” You think, “I can’t do this!” Then you realize, I made a commitment. I said I would do it… I made a promise… I am committed… I need to make this work. I have to do it, no matter how hard it is. When things are tough, it’s the commitment that carries you through.

In writing, when you come up against a challenge—say to yourself, “I call myself a WRITER. I committed to this writing journey. If I’m a writer, I can do this.”

Twenty years ago I read a great quote. It was in a quasi-spiritual new-agey kind of book but the wisdom was incredible and it has always stuck with me. The quote was: Argue for your limitations, and they’re yours. If you want to insist on your own weaknesses or shortcomings (“I’m a novelist, not a marketing person”), sure enough, those weaknesses will define you.

I encourage you to avoid letting your limitations characterize you. When the writing gets tough, the tough keep writing. Be a writer! And don’t let anything stop you.

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

  1. Lou Riddell says:

    >I think this is a very valuable article for writers in all stages of their development. I'm fairly new to the writing game but am driven by my passion and will do whatever is required in order to realize my dream. I only wrote my first synopsis back in January, and last weekend wrote my second – I was amazed at how much easier it has become. I understand what it takes – the hard work, the good times along with the disappointments – and I'm prepared to move Heaven and earth to fulfill my dreams.

    I'm sure many people will find this article an invaluable resource!

    http://www.louriddell.com

  2. Annie Jones says:

    >Great blog – really a boost I needed in the waiting-to-hear and trying-to-decide-what's-next stage. Good reminder to keep the right frame of mind, now especially.

  3. Jil says:

    >That's the kind of post I need to read every six months. Right on! Thanks!

  4. D. A. Baudoin says:

    >Rachelle,

    Thank you SO much for this post. It is as timely in my life as it is helpful. I'm in the dreaded "marketing" phase on several things, and it's enough to make a person feel like an idiot. But I will stick it out. Thanks for the pep talk!

  5. Kathryn Magendie says:

    >The "easy" part is the writing. The hard part is marketing and promo (and querying). I had to go outside my comfort zone, that part of me who wanted to sit at home and write . . . because it's important to me that I succeed and to succeed writers have to do more than "just write."

    It was the same feeling when I was asked if I wanted to write for a local publication. The editor said, "this isn't creative writing, it's different." My first inclination was to say, "But I write fiction ..whine whine.." Or, I could give it a try and flex my writing muscles, which I did.

    Take risks. Sometimes it works out and other times you get a No or are ignored. But, sometimes you aren't. Why not just try?

  6. Amanda G says:

    >Rachelle, thank you so much for this blog. Thanks for the encouragement of today. I know that I am a writer. I *want* to learn how to write a great synopsis. I want to be educated about the publishing industry; it fascinates me! The tough part for me is not getting so intimidated by what I don't know that I back into a safe little artist's corner and "just write the book." But this post gives me a push to fight and work hard, for my identity as a true writer and for my characters, who I believe are finally (after 5+ years and two scrapped WIPs) ready to meet the world.

  7. cherry says:

    >"Argue for your limitations, and they’re yours."

    While I agree with this quote completely, my opinion comes from a different perspective entirely. My lifelong limitation is fear. It's my unique 'thorn in the flesh'. At 60 years of age, I am beginning to cherish it, to see the benefits from it. Actually, I like my 'thorn in the flesh'; it's all mine. I've learned how to navigate life with it. I would know nothing of how to navigate with your 'thorn'. My unique weakness has demanded that I develop a dependence on my Heavenly Father's incredible ability in all things. I know the rules of grammar and understand some aspects of the craft of writing, however my limitation demands that I overcome it and keeps me writing from the heart. I have no choice but to write. I am determined. I love it. It is the communication method that God has given to me.

  8. Lauren says:

    >Not to mention, it's rather difficult to juggle school, work, homework, and book-writing all at the same time, which is mostly why my book tends to get neglected. That makes me sad, because I would rather be writing this story than going to class. But, alas, I cannot do that. Thankfully, summer is coming up soon and I will have A LOT of writing time. 🙂

  9. Lauren says:

    >Just the thing I needed to read! I've been writing this book for two years – which is very impressive for me and I'm actually immensely proud of myself for sticking to this story. I've been told to take a break – which I'm doing at the moment – to get a new perspective on the storyline – which I believe has worked to my advantage. My problem has been structure, organization, and execution. I can get the story started, but I'm having a very difficult time with the middle, and I'd really like to make headway so I can get to the nitty gritty of the end, and finally be able to sit back and say, "There, I've written a complete first rough draft." That would be nice, and I am most definitely in this for the long hall, otherwise I'd have given up on these guys long ago. But that's just the thing – I can't. I've tried telling myself to move on and start up something new, but I'm always pulled back to these characters and their stories. They just won't let me go, and I'm itching to tell their stories in full…

  10. Anonymous says:

    >I can't imagine anything more FUN than selling a book that you've put your heart, soul, sweat and tears into…describing it to strangers and trying to entice them to read it sounds like a BLAST! If they're not interested, move on to the next person.

    I can't imagine why writers would shy away from discussing their books with interested parties–their enthusiasm would be infectious. To me, that's the least of a writer's problems. Bring it on~!

  11. Ashley says:

    >Well said. I am renewing my commitment as of now!

    Thank you!

  12. Merryish says:

    >"Argue for your limitations…"

    Richard Bach! Probably Illusions, right? Or maybe Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I read both as a kid and bought into every new-agey word. 🙂 Great post, but also personally awesome to be reminded of my wide-eyed-wonder days.

  13. Erika says:

    >Thanks for the reminder that, like Idol contestants, we have to buck up and work harder. It helps to imagine Kara saying that we’re a little too pitchy, Randy telling us “Dawg, you know I’m a fan, but it just didn’t work for me tonight,” and Simon being brutally honest when our writing’s horrific. But take heart. Ellen will laugh and say “I liked it, but what do I know?” and Paula’s there (well, she used to be there) to tell us we look beautiful.

  14. Lenore Buth at www.awomansview.typepad.com says:

    >What a great quote, Rachelle. Years ago I read a self-help book, titled something like, "Your Mind Believes Every Word You Say."

    Same thought as your quote. At the time that phrase drummed through my mind and the beat got louder and louder.

    I've discovered it's true, not only in our writing but in our everyday lives. What we tell ourselves is what we live out.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  15. BiMbyLaDs** says:

    >Ok. Where is my laptop???!!!

    mutters to self: "I am a writer.. It doesnt matter that no agent has replied me. It doesnt matter that my one year old has uprooted the keys off my laptop. No excuses. My synopsis may be as long as the novel itself but I will work hard at it, because I KNOW that I AM A WRITER."

    Thanks Rachelle. I needed this!!!

  16. Denise A. Agnew says:

    >I think a key to a writer's success is to define why they're doing it. For me, in the end, I have to be happy with what I'm writing. If I write for trend or what is the soup du jour, I may not be happy and my writing might reflect that. An earlier poster said: "I believe that the reason writers struggle with writing a synopsis after the manuscript is finished is because their story is rotten. It’s better to find out that the story is rotten before we write the manuscript than after several weeks of work." I gently have to disagree. There are authors, like myself, who write by the seat of our pants. I write the book first, then I write the synopsis. For me the act of writing a synopsis first can mean my creativity is destroyed and my mind no longer desires to write the book. If I can't enjoy the process of writing first and for most, there is not point in writing the book. Lesson one, every writer is different. Some need to outline and plot and write a synopsis before they write the book, others do not. One writer is not better or worse than the other. They just use different methods based on what works for them. 🙂

    Denise A. Agnew
    http://www.deniseagnew.com

  17. T. Anne says:

    >Great post. I do think it's game on. As writers we need to bring it, and bring it ALL. Thanx for the reminder.

  18. E. Elle says:

    >Thank you for this post. I was actually struggling with something similar just the other day when I was working on a freelance article. I could not figure out what the editor wanted but I said, "you know what E.? This is what you do. Now just do it!" I did and the article was accepted. Words can't describe the sense of accomplishment I feel just because I didn't give up.

  19. V. Roth says:

    >Great post! Got me all pumped up to write outside my box. I like to think of the ability to market yourself as a writer as a "marketing muscle." If you never flex it, it'll stay small and weak. But the more you do, the more defined it gets.

    …now I also want to work out.

  20. Jeffrey Martin says:

    >Commitment is what establishes you as a sucessful writer/author. I believe 100% your writing careet is what you make of it. When the queries are getting rejected at warp speed, it's time to find out what we ALL our made of. Keep writing everyone…

  21. lauradroege says:

    >I went to a marketing seminar with Chip MacGregor and Jim Rupart. I was told that for me to build my platform, I needed to write articles dealing with the "themes" or issues in my novel.

    I wasn't thrilled by this advice. Nonfiction? ugh. (I didn't tell Chip and Jim, though. Shh. Don't tell them, either, okay?)

    But being a writer means means being a pro and doing the stuff you don't want to do: marketing, etc.

    Think about being a parent. Sometimes you get to do the stuff you love, like cuddling with your baby. Other times, you get to do the yucky stuff, like change diapers.

    So I have to discipline myself to do these things. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll adore writing a novel synopsis! (I'll never like stinky diapers, though.)

  22. Shen says:

    >Rachel, thank you for all the help here and in other ways.

    Have a blessed week.

  23. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God says:

    >Thank yoyu, Rachelle. After an illness and two bad falls, I needed a swift-kick-reminder that I made a committment to write and it's time that I got back to it.

    Be blessed,

    Lynnda

  24. Shawn Smucker says:

    >I think another related problem is that people want to be published more than they want to be writers. As Anne Lamott says, "they kind of want to write, but they really want to be published. You'll never get to where you want to be that way, I tell them. There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won't do any of those things; you'll never get in that way."

  25. SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. says:

    >And this is why, for now, I will consider writing a hobby. Something I enjoy doing, but not something I am quite ready to commit myself to with all my soul. I have a feeling that someday I will come to the point where I want it enough to do it, but for now it's enough to keep company with other writers and dabble.

    Thanks for the post, though. Very encouraging and definitely advice to apply to more than just writing.

  26. James Scott Bell says:

    >"Don't quit. It's very easy to quit during the first ten years." – Andre Dubus.

  27. insidethewritersstudio says:

    >It's hilarious to me that someone had the bloinks to write that in their query letter. I sincerely hope it gave you a morning laugh.

    (I'm horrible at queries, myself, and would like to find a business called "Query Writers: We get paid when an agent takes you on!")

  28. Sarah says:

    >This was water to my soul. Great encouragement- Thanks.

  29. sharonbially says:

    >Rachelle,
    A post today on the blog WriterUnboxed echoes a bit of the first half of your message above: http://writerunboxed.com/2010/03/29/loglines-and-your-story/
    Sound advice indeed.

  30. Sharon A. Lavy says:

    >Interesting post Rachelle. Thanks.

  31. Beth Coulton says:

    >I loved everything about this post, and echo the thoughts of many commenters here. You presented a lot of truisms; things we all know but need reminding of (daily, some of us!)

    I thought I was done with my perusings until I caught the last post where Steeleweed writes "One who writes but does not want or expect publication is not a writer, just someone who writes. Writing is easy. It's being a writer that's hard." Hmm. I'd never quite thought of it that way. I am not sure if I agree or disagree with that statement. I do believe that the physical act of writing is easy – I would go so far as to say it is even therapeutic, feeling the pen as it flows across the page, or clearing out our cluttered mind as we click along on the keyboard. For some, this is writing enough to call themselves a writer and they are content with that.

    Some of us do all of the above but feel the inward push to get it out there for all the world to see- we'll feel we cannot call ourselves a writer until we have the seal of approval of a publisher's name on our work.

    I believe it comes down to where we want to stop with our writing as an individual – are we happy with it tucked in our journals and computers, or do we pour through submissions requirements and query and propose and pitch? I'm not entirely sure that only the latter a writer makes.

  32. Kelly Combs says:

    >Love the encouragment, and looking forward to more this week.

    And of course I love American Idol posts too.

    Who are you rooting for this season?

  33. steeleweed says:

    >Agree 100%. I'm an IT specialist and while I hate the 3am phone calls, they come with the job and I've been doing it very successfully for nearly 50 years.
    I love to write and hate the whole selling process, yet I do it because it has to be done.
    One who writes but does not want or expect publication is not a writer, just someone who writes. Writing is easy. It's being a writer that's hard.

  34. Kuyerjudd says:

    >I very much enjoyed reading this post. I'm trying to make a deadline in three days, and this made me want to keep on writing so thanks. I'm looking forward to reading more of your encouraging posts. 🙂

  35. Jason says:

    >Yeah…what Timothy said… 🙂

  36. Jason says:

    >Great post! I'm actually at the query/synopsis-writing phase and I'm finding that I really enjoying writing about my story. Hopefully my enthusiasm will show through.

    But from a practical standpoint, explaining your story also helps you better understand it and know what is driving your main characters. I would bet I'm not alone in this, but writing the query and synopsis have helped me pinpoint areas for improving my characters and story line.

    I would agree about the marketing thing though–I'm not a marketing writer…seriously, I tried that and it's just not me. But I don't think you have to approach writing a query/synopsis from a marketing POV, even though it'll be used in that way. We can approach them as tools to help us craft our story.

  37. Timothy Fish says:

    >The more I write, the more I am convinced that I can’t write until I’ve nailed the hook and the synopsis. I believe that the reason writers struggle with writing a synopsis after the manuscript is finished is because their story is rotten. It’s better to find out that the story is rotten before we write the manuscript than after several weeks of work.

    I’ve been stuggling with a plot lately. I sat down with my protagonist and discussed it. Sara didn’t like it and suggested another plot. I tried her plot and even wrote the first chapter. Now, I’m more than 10,000 word into it and I still have the same problem I had when I wrote the synopsis; I don’t know Sara’s motivation for moving into the second act. It was foolish of me to write so much when I knew I had a problem, I know, but I can’t help but I can’t imagine waiting until after I’m 50,000+ words into something before I summarize the story into a form that I can tell whether it is good or not.

    As much as I would like to “just write,” much of the stuff that we might see as marketing stuff is just a byproduct of the work of a writer anyway.

  38. zaelyna says:

    >Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement. Perfect thing to read first thing in the morning 🙂

  39. Lydia Sharp says:

    >Excellent post. 🙂

  40. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought says:

    >I needed this today.

    Thank you.
    ~ Wendy

  41. Lisa Jordan says:

    >Even though I don't like the selling part of writing, it's simply one of the many facets of the profession. Here's the thing, though–if you don't like it or understand what to do, there are professionals out there to help you find ways to market your novels.

    If you're a parent and dealing with a child with an issue, you'd seek professional help. Same goes with writing. So many more writers are seeing the need for self-promotion, so it's not something we have to do alone.

  42. Buffy Andrews says:

    >Well said. Blessings, Buffy

  43. Christ says:

    >This post is absolutely, 100% dead-on. I stumbled across this site by chance, and I saw the soothing pictures and the clean look, and I glanced at some posts and it was very clear what kind of site this is: upbeat and geared around constructive discussion. My personal writing is somewhat dark and a little extreme, so I thought "Yeah there's no way I'm going to agree with anything on this site." I read this latest post just for the hell of it, and no, this is absolutely 100% spot-on; I love this post. And the people who don't understand it are, quite simply, weak. Straight up. (That's my dark way of expressing the sentiment here; let's call a spade a spade).

    What you can and can't do are irrelevant; what you must do is the only thing that matters. Raw talent is one ingredient for success, a key one, but that alone is not enough. There's no limit to the people with raw talent out there, but what separates the wheat from chaff, what separates the boys from the men is the ability to put in absolutely all work necessary in order to achieve a goal. If somebody has great raw writing talent but they come up blanks when it comes to creating a friggin tagline…they are simply weak, lazy, and afraid to try to figure out how to push the boundaries of what they're capable of. No idea how to come up with a tagline? Tough luck; you better figure it out. Complaining about it isn't going to solve anything; just buckle down, accept the fact that you have to do this, and figure out a way to do it. THAT is how successful people operate; less complaining and more doing, whether or not you like the task at hand. Your task may feel alien and outside your comfort-zone…but if success came easy, then what would be the problem? Anybody with a few drops of talent would be a success. Uh-uh, it doesn't work like that; people that are successes don't just have raw talent, they have an indomitable work ethic and they are fearless.

    And the comment above, about how the observations here are "true in all aspects of life, including writing"…that is also 100% dead-on. In any avenue of life, you have to keep your senses sharp and your skills up. Don't just hope that things will work out magically for you. Be prepared to do whatever you have to in order to achieve your goal. Stop whining, suck it up, and do what you have to do; that's the only way you're going to become a success.

  44. Mariam Kobras says:

    >Thank you so much, this is just the kind of reminder and kick we need sometimes. I loved your analogies! And it certainly helped me out of a hole today..

  45. JJ Beattie says:

    >Thank you; I think that's so true and I really needed to hear it today.

  46. Ronda Laveen says:

    >Your advice and observations about allowing your limitations to define you are true in all aspects of life, including writing.

  47. Katherine Jenkins says:

    >I think writing and publishing are two different things. You may be a great writer who is not interested in being published. So I'd say, you don't have to be good at marketing and selling yourself if you are not interested in it. I hired someone to help me with the parts I was unfamiliar with, like marketing. I hired a very good editor who had 15 years experience in publishing. She helped me land an agent. If you don't want to write in another genre, you don't have to. But then you may not be published. I don't believe in writing something I don't believe in. I guess I'm not willing to sell myself that much.

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