When Erin Taylor Young and her husband bought their new home in June of 2020, they had no idea what was waiting for them! The challenges. The renovations. The hard work. Writers are often in that same place when they go beyond the idea of writing into the real, messy work of writing and the unforeseen challenges of a writing career. So here are some lessons Erin learned to help guide and encourage you on your writing journey.
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I’ve mentioned on this podcast before that my hubby and I have moved to Kansas. What I didn’t mention is that we bought a house bigger than we planned, and it needed more repairs and updating than we anticipated. So we’ve been in the middle of renovations, doing things like scraping popcorn texture off ceilings. As we’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed how many things—we’ll call them lessons I’m learning from everything that’s gone wrong—actually apply to the writing life.
So here are my observations, in no particular order.
What you think will be simple almost never is
For example, we had to buy a refrigerator. Why are there so many choices of refrigerators? And why do I need it to be WiFi enabled? With a bunch of doors? And a TV? We finally got one picked out only to realize that it had no wheels. How could we possibly slide a fridge into place on a brand new wood floor without scratching the daylights out of it? So we had to choose a different refrigerator that had wheels.
And then my hubby noticed the water connection pipe box thingy (this is why I’m not a plumber) looked askew. In fact, broken. Which meant he had to go buy $90 worth of special plumbing tools. And a new box thingy. And when we had a plumber come in for an entirely different issue (that’s another story) he looked at the refrigerator and said dealing with that broken box was a huge pain of a job that he didn’t have time for (it was the end of his workday already). He frowned. “You gotta cut the drywall out and so that’ll have to be repaired as well…”
So simply replacing the fridge turned out to be a huge rabbit hole we fell into.
In some ways, I think lots of would-be authors think writing a book should be a simple process. You know, just spew your story into the computer and voila: Royalty checks will start showing up.
But writing a good book? That can be a pretty big rabbit hole in and of itself. It’s much more complicated than we realize at first. Especially because we don’t even know what we don’t know about the craft of writing. And even when we learn our craft, there are still so many steps involved, such as revision, working with critique partners or editors, and so on.
Even when your book is done, it’s not done. Because then you have another rabbit hole of figuring out how to get it published. Do you go the traditional route: finding an agent, creating your hook, proposal, audience, takeaway, and so on? Or, if you’re indie publishing, now you’re the publisher and you have to deal with formatting, cover design, retailers, and marketing all on your own.
And it doesn’t stop there, because your career is just starting. You’re going to face a boatload of complicated challenges and decisions as you walk this road.
But here’s the bottom line: Even if nothing is as simple as I thought, that was okay. I learned from it. And now I’ve learned to keep this in mind when I jump into something else “simple.” Which will help me not get as frustrated when things get complicated. Of course, I’ll still get a little frustrated. That’s just human to do so. But my experience will help me handle it better the next time.
Sometimes, though, our initial ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it’s better NOT to know just how hard the journey you’re embarking on is, because you might chicken out. You may never try. And that would be a shame.
So if you’ve started on this writing journey and you’re feeling like it isn’t the cruise you signed up for—or if you’re at a stage in your journey where you thought things would be easier or simpler, and they’re so not what you’d hoped or expected—know that lots and lots of authors have faced and are facing the same struggle. You’re not alone. There is One who knows the entire journey. He’s had it planned since before you were born. No rabbit hole is too deep, no journey too difficult, when He’s your guide.
Everything is going to take much longer than you think
We thought we’d have all the popcorn ceilings scraped in 2-3 weeks. Wrong. Just the prep work—not even the actual scraping—takes forever. Laying plastic drop cloths over the floors to protect them from gloop falling from the ceiling takes forever. EVERYTHING seems to take forever.
We learned the hard way that if you don’t securely tape all the drop cloth pieces together, all the dried crumbles and dust that the popcorn turns into will squirt out all over the floors when you try to roll up the drop cloths. And you have to tape them to the walls, too. But when you pull off the painter’s tape holding your drop cloths to the the walls, it pulls the paint off too. So not only did we have the ceiling repairs from the scraping, we also had to repair the walls with joint compound and sand them and repaint…and so on.
If you think house renovations take forever, try waiting for an editor or agent’s response to your proposal. It’s going to take much longer than you think. Publishing is all about waiting. On yourself, on others, on God. And it’s often about hurry up and wait. You hurry to get something done by an agent’s or editor’s deadline, only to wait for weeks or even months to get a response
The key in all this waiting is to know that God is in control of the timeline. He will work His will according to what He knows is the best timeline for you, for all involved. And if you’re stressed because you’re behind a timeline of your own making, let the timeline go. Or make sure your deadlines (if it’s for a preorder or editing or whatever) are reasonable. NEVER agree to a deadline you know you can’t meet, and never count on everything going smoothly. Build in extra time for emergencies.
You are going to have to continually revise your expectations
Very little (or probably even nothing) is going to turn out completely the way you envisioned or intended. AND it’s going to be a less-than-perfect final product. AND you’re going to have to make changes on the fly.
There was a lot of brown in the house we bought. It had to go. Part of getting rid of it included getting rid of the beige carpeting. But the house had a LOT of carpeting—more than we could afford to replace. Until we got connected with a wholesaler whose price was low enough that we could afford it. Which, as it turns out, was a great thing because the carpets weren’t in great shape and we weren’t helping anything by getting crud from the ceilings ground into them. No matter how careful we were, that stuff got everywhere. It was worse than sand from the beach.
The catch with the carpeting wholesaler was that we had to use the type and color of carpeting that he dealt with, and when it came to lighter colors, there were fewer choices than with the more expensive carpet suppliers. My favorite color of what the wholesaler offered wasn’t as thick as my distant-second-favorite color.
So now what? I couldn’t have both the thickness I wanted and the color I wanted. Furthermore, we couldn’t re-carpet everywhere in the whole house, so we had to choose the wisest place to spend the money. The perfect house I’d envisioned didn’t (and couldn’t) exist except in my mind. I had to let go of it.
You’re going to run into these limitations in your writing career. The perfect book has yet to be written (other than the Bible). If you keep writing your book until you think it’s perfect, you’ll never finish. And you’ll end up discouraged. The perfect marketing plan doesn’t exist, the perfect career doesn’t exist. You simply can’t “do everything right.” You can try to set yourself up to make no mistakes, but nothing you do will ensure success. That’s in God’s hands.
What you can do is your best with every effort, every decision, soaking it all in prayer. Even then, your best will keep changing as your seasons in life, your expertise, and the industry changes. It’s all a process.
Another reason to let go of your perfect vision is that if you don’t, you’ll end up closing yourself off to ideas from others. Especially if you’re traditionally published, which is a team effort. You’re going to have to acquiesce to others who have more expertise. Editing, cover design, even your title…Publishing companies know their readers and they have an investment in your book and in seeing it do well.
We’re not saying you simply give in to every suggestion and be a doormat, only that you need to remain open to a bigger vision than you had alone. Be teachable. Surround yourself with people you trust and learn when to let go.
It’s OK, though, to say “I’m not sure I like this,” or “I was anticipating something different,” or “would it be possible to move in this direction?” And to trust your gut, so long as you’ve covered your decisions in prayer.
You absolutely don’t want to proceed with something you’re not comfortable with. For example, when we started painting, we chose a color that we liked. But when we put it on the walls, it turned purple. No kidding, it was purple. We didn’t know why, but we knew we didn’t like it. At all. So even though it meant more work and more money, we replaced the purple paint with a paint that kept the color we wanted to begin with. And boy, am I glad we did.
You are going to have to do hard, scary things that will push you beyond what you think ARE your limits
One of the difficulties we faced was our two-story foyer and staircase. How in the world would we scrape, sand, and paint the ceiling and walls? We didn’t have a ladder that tall—I didn’t even know if they made them. It seemed an insurmountable task.
We got an estimate to have the work done, but it was over $2,000. Definitely not in our budget. We had to figure out a way. You’re going to face those kinds of challenges in your writing. You’re going to feel like you can’t possibly do whatever it is you need to do. But you can do what we did:
We investigated. And we figured things out.
We found a ladder that would do most of the stairs—it had multiple ways to configure it. It’s a pain in the backside to move and adjust. It’s heavy (I can barely move it myself) and you need space to fold and unfold it. And we had to figure out how to level the ladder legs on the stairs. But we did it!
Then we rented scaffolding. Just putting it together was hard, and it felt rickety. That was nothing compared to being at the top of the ladder, working. I knew the ladder was sturdy and strong, and it was leaning against the wall, so I really couldn’t fall backward due to the physics of it all. But still, when I was way up high, it felt so rickety and light.
That’s how it sometimes feels when we’re trying to trust God in our writing career. In our heads, we know He’s the God of the universe…but do we always FEEL that? This is why emotions are a poor measuring stick for reality. Rather than basing your decisions on your emotions, find out the facts. Hold to Scripture about who God is and KNOW you can trust Him.
You’re going to be pushed. Writing isn’t safe. You have to be vulnerable and face challenges you never imagined. You’re going to feel exposed. Just know that’s how God wants it so we rely on Him, so HE gets the glory, not us.
Things are going to get messier before they get cleaner
When you’re renovating, you can’t be afraid to make a mess. You can’t be afraid of demo. Sometimes you have to tear things down to rebuild them better.
When we had our inspection done, we learned that we had mold under our dining room windows. We couldn’t be afraid to open the walls to see what we were dealing with so we could clean it up and rebuild everything. And when our carpet was replaced, there were several days where we were walking around on the plywood subfloor, and that was a mess. But it let us deal with annoying squeaks in the flooring. And at the end of the process, we were going to have nice clean walls, no mold, fresh carpet, and no squeaks. That made it all worth it.
The same will be true of book revisions. You may need to dismantle that book, and it’ll look like a disaster: chapters missing, paragraphs hacked. But imagine the final book in your hands, or a streamlined story that connects with readers. It’s worth the effort. They key is to have confidence in your ability to learn how to deal with the problems. Get an experienced editor to help you or a good critique partner. And read craft books. Writing is a skill you can learn!
Or think about your career as a whole—you may experience huge upheavals: messy experiences with your publishing company, radical changes in the industry, hard decisions. Things may feel like they’re in shambles before a better reshaping can happen. But again, God has foreseen all this, He’s your guide, your shelter, and your protection through this upheaval.
You are going to be tempted to grumble
One morning shortly after our offer was accepted on the house, Alan and I were walking on the trail behind the house and I heard a hawk (I love hawks!). The sky was blue, the air was crisp and a hawk was calling overheard. So perfect! I said to Alan, “I can’t believe we get to live here!”
Then the hard work hit, the difficulties, the constant trials. Every day had a new problem, that’s no exaggeration. My dream come true was SO much harder than I thought. It was easy to grumble and be frustrated. God was giving me my dream, and I was grumbling. Ever wonder why the Israelites could grumble so much on the way to the Promised Land? Well, I feel like I know firsthand. It’s hard!
This is going to happen somewhere along the way in your writing career. Problems, challenges, grumbling.
Don’t hear us saying your career is going to be a nightmare, because we’re not saying that. But none of us is promised an easy path on following God, no matter what our dreams are. Even when our dreams come true, they won’t be perfect.
We can’t lose sight of thankfulness, of gratitude. You can’t lose sight of the blessing that God is giving you even when things get hard. It’s remembering that God is with you, and He’s brought you to this place, and He has His purpose in everything you face. That’s what will strengthen you.
There is a joy that will keep you going if you’re willing to stop and notice it
We are created in God’s image, we’re imitators of Him, and naturally we want to create, to bring order from chaos. But it’s tempting to only see the big picture in your mind, and not be satisfied until that big picture is fulfilled.
But often the big picture is TOO big, and it’s constantly changing because nothing stays the same in this world except God. We need to stop and take delight in the small steps. Watch for those little bits of joy that God has tucked into every step of what you’re doing. He delights in bringing you joy.
For me, just finishing one closet, just seeing one mess cleaned up, one ceiling that looked pretty, that kept me going when I was willing to stop and be thankful for that one thing.
In your writing career there are lots of small steps to celebrate: finishing a chapter, cleaning up your writing space, creating a new outline, finding that perfect word you’ve been seeking, a successful brainstorming session, a nice reader email, a new contract, your first sale on Amazon, finishing your first draft, saying hello to another writer at your first conference, and so many other things!
In spite of any difficulties you face, the good things will still be good. We just have to stop and celebrate them, take time to enjoy them. Trials and hardship don’t negate the good. Remind yourself of everything God has done thus far. Progress even in small steps will be exciting as you see the results. And the progress will be a joy to help keep you going.
Sometimes you end up with exactly what you didn’t want, but it turns out that you love it for reasons you couldn’t foresee
In my case, one thing I most wanted to change was the kitchen cabinets. Yes, they were pretty in a certain way, but the stain had this caramel orange cast. But once we changed the lighting and restrained the wood floor to a lighter color, the cabinets lost their orange glow. The countertops, which I didn’t like because they also seemed orange, suddenly looked more like an outdoorsy natural stone, which I loved. I could never have foreseen that.
So I ended up with what I thought I didn’t want, but because other changes around the kitchen brought a whole different perspective, I’m pretty darn satisfied with how things turned out.
You’re probably going to have preconceived notions of who you are and what you like and don’t like as a writer, and how you want to work with something and how you don’t. That’s fine, but don’t let that make you miss what might actually be a good fit for you, even if you think it’s not. God Knows you better than you know yourself, and He knows what’s good for you and right for you. To help you thrive. To grow you. To put you where you can be the best version of you.
We’re so human. It’s easy to forget that God is in control and get focused instead on circumstances. But the renovations that need to happen in you, and your writing career, those are in God’s hands. You can trust Him with that. You can trust Him to make the end project more beautiful, more perfect, than you ever could have imagined. That’s because He loves you, and He loves the people who are going to be reading your books. And He loves the fact that we are willing to follow Him and do as He asks!While writers love the idea of being a writer, the real work and challenges of a writing career can make them falter. Check out these tips to help you thrive! #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet
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What challenges are you facing in your writing dream? Does it need renovating?
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Thanks so much to our August sponsor of the month, Stacy McLain. Stacy’s been working on her first book but also, like many, dealing with changes that this pandemic has brought to her life. We’re praying for Stacy and so many others affected by the trials in our world today!
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