8 Things For Writers To Do While Waiting For ‘Overnight Success’

I heard a delightful interview with NY Times bestselling author Paula Brackston on the Grammar Girl podcast, in which she talked about the writing process and the life of a writer.

“I was one of those overnight successes that takes about ten years. I’d been trying to get a novel published for a long time. I wrote short stories and articles and things like that, and I also did an MA in creative writing. I had small children so I was beginning a family a the same time, and I just kept going.:

She goes on to give more details about how her career progressed, and she stresses the importance of persistence.

“If you give up, you’ll never know. Just be persistent, be passionate, really put your passion into the page because it shines through in the writing.”

This is the advice we always give writers, but somehow it has more weight coming from a successful author who has been in the trenches. The journey of a writer takes a lot of grit, to use a popular word these days, and not only in the beginning but all the way through.

So—what do you do while you’re waiting for that “overnight success” to happen? It can be hard when you’re sending things out and waiting for responses; when you’re waiting for an agent and/or a publisher to take a chance on you.

Here are some things to do during the waiting:

  1. Keep moving forward. If you’re submitting queries, then rather than putting all your eggs in that basket, make sure you’re also writing your next book. Don’t let yourself get stalled out on one step of the process.
  2. Keep learning. Take workshops, get critiques on your work, consider an advanced degree in writing if that appeals to you.
  3. Keep writing. As Brackston said, write articles, write short stories, find places or platforms that will publish your shorter works.
  4. Keep growing your platform. Use social media, your blog & website, your email list to gather a reading audience.
  5. Keep networking. Become a part of one or more writing groups that are right for you. Get to know other authors. Volunteer to read for them, so they might want to read for you. Help them promote their books. Become a part of the writing community.
  6. Keep building your submission list. Always be looking for more names of agents and/or editors to whom you can send your queries. Maintain a spreadsheet with the names, dates of submission and responses.
  7. Keep reading. I recommend author memoirs, since they can help you be more open-minded about your path. Read books both in and out of your genre. Read, read, read—it’s the best way to become a better writer. Shoot for 50-100 books a year (which is an arbitrary number, but it’s nice to have some kind of goal.)
  8. Keep listening. There are so many interesting podcasts these days. Look for podcasts for readers and podcasts for writers. Consider storytelling podcasts, which can help you sharpen your ability to tell a good story. Listen to interview podcasts, in which you can hear from authors, both fiction and nonfiction.

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