Career tracks

I’ve been thinking about writing career tracks lately. Specifically, about how sometimes a mix of how publicity works and how we tend to talk about our own writing gives a skewed view of the full range of ways in which careers really get built.

Looking around, checking out Publisher’s Weekly and Publisher’s Lunch, reading journals, it can seem like practically everyone is an overnight success: another six figure advance on a book sold at auction here; another blogger talking about how they’d been writing for a whole year (or even two!) before their book sold and they quit their day job forever.

Six figure debut novel advances and quick first sales happen, of course. That’s one career track, and it’s a valid one. But–and this is what gets lost–it’s not the only one. Yet sometimes it feels like maybe it is, because when one isn’t selling, one generally doesn’t post about the fact much online, and one certainly doesn’t send out a “haven’t sold anything this year either” press release to Publisher’s Weekly. Mostly, I think we instinctively downplay how much time has passed instead. And we quietly work on, wondering why this writing thing seems so easy for everyone else. Until–finally!–there’s good news to report.

Then others–also quietly soldiering on, also feeling isolated–read that news, don’t see the decade or three behind it, and wonder, in turn, why writing seems so easy for everyone but them. It’s so easy for each of us to get to thinking that surely we must be the only one struggling, even though most writers aren’t overnight successes. It’s just that those are the stories we see.

So here’s something I don’t often confess in public: even though I started selling short stories early on, my first not-work-for-hire middle grade book came out 16 years after I started writing. It will be close to 20 years before my first YA is published. I’m glad I didn’t know these things when I first started writing. But I’m also glad I had (have!) enough stubborness to keep going. I think all writers need a healthy dose of stubborness, actually. Even writers who sell that first book quickly may wind up needing to be stubborn somewhere down the line. A writing career–maybe any career–is a complicated creature.

And there are many ways to build one.

And being stubborn is something to be proud of, too.

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