When trying to get from where we are as writers to where we’d like to be, we will need to follow a path to that publishing destination.
We are travelers, and we look for maps to guide us. We read books and articles on how to get started, get published, and market ourselves.
This guidance becomes our road map, our GPS system for success. Despite hundreds of maps (i.e. books of advice), few writers are as successfully published as they’d like to be.
What’s The Problem?
Is it because we can’t read a map? Usually not. Is it because we don’t really know where we want to end up? Usually not. Then what’s missing?
The starting point.
No matter what type of map you use (Google map, MapQuest, GPS or the old-fashioned paper kind), you first have to know where you are right now. Knowing your destination won’t help one iota if you don’t know your present location.
And why don’t we writers know where we are at this moment? Are we lost? Not really. More like deluded. We deceive ourselves about our true locations at the present time. (I do it too. We all do it.) And that’s one big reason why our “maps” don’t work and don’t get us to our destinations.
Not long ago, I asked a teacher-writer about this. (He’s taught writing at the university level for twenty years.) His classes focus on both writing and publishing your writing. He said one of the biggest problems he ran into was that his students who hoped to publish had no grasp of their current skill level. Most of them believed they were better writers than they were.
They’d been told all through high school that their writing was fabulous, but now they were competing with the cream of the cream in college. They did surface revisions, unwilling to start over or dig deeper. They were used to posting to their blogs (instant gratification in publishing.) After only one rejection by a print publisher, they often hurried to self-publish instead. Many of them felt ready for Carnegie Hall, but they’d only mastered Chopsticks.
Whatever their reasons–whatever our reasons–many writers do not have a clear grasp of where they are right now. They see the golden crowns of success in the future: bestseller lists, big royalty checks, crowded book signings. They’re studying several maps: MFA programs, online programs, quitting their day jobs to write for a year.
But they’re deceiving themselves about their starting point.
- Some of us need basic courses in grammar and punctuation more than an MFA program.
- Some of us need to keep our day jobs while writing furiously every lunch hour and all day Saturday for a year.
- Some of us need to study other successful writers’ published books more than we need to meet an agent at the next expensive writer’s conference.
- Some of us need to lose 50 pounds and deal with our back problems so we can sit for longer periods of time at a keyboard.
If you want to reach your writing dreams, you do need to know your hoped-for destination. If you don’t want to waste years and years re-inventing the wheel, you’ll need to find out how other writers were successful and check out their “maps.”
But if you don’t know your starting point–if you’re not willing to be very honest with yourself about where you are today–those maps and goals won’t do you any good.
Where Am I Today?
So take some time this weekend and, with pen and paper, ask yourself the tough questions.
- Where are you in the skill areas you need?
- Where are you an expert, but where are you still a beginner?
- What parts of the writing life stymie you?
- How much time per day/week do you really have–or can you carve out–for a writing life?
- How’s your health, your stamina?
Answers to these questions–honest answers instead of “I wish” answers–are what will be valuable to you. It will be your true starting point. Knowing this will help you choose a map that will actually take you from where you are and point you to your destination: your writing dreams.