Journey from Aspiring Dreamer to Hardened Professional Author

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

One of the goals of this blog has always been to prepare new writers and develop professionals. In order to do this, I blog on any number of topics, ranging from social media to search engines, craft to family. Some posts are just to give you a laugh because Lord knows we always need more of those. Writers are human beings, and, if we focus only on one aspect of our growth, we can become unbalanced or even deformed.

When it comes to developing/ growing from that wide-eyed dreamer with a gift for words and transforming into a pro who can withstand the unrelenting crucible of this business, balance is vital. Why? I can tell you from experience that when we reach the mountain’s “summit”, the view is breathtaking…until we see the next mountain, the taller mountain. Oh, and to reach the top of that taller mountain, it means…

Another trip through the valley. *head desk*

Just Do It

I despise the term “aspiring writer.” We don’t “aspire” to get out of the chair. Either we sit or we stand. We choose and no one can make that decision but us. I prefer the term “pre-published” writer, because this makes us accountable and shifts our thinking. To continue the metaphor of mountain-climbing, there is a transition every climber goes through…from looking at pictures of people on top of Mt. Everest to making the decision to DO IT.

This person might be at the gym training, lifting weights, doing cardio, perhaps even learning to climb on walls and developing the strength, endurance and flexibility to climb a mountain. Training is key.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

We can’t just buy a bunch of fancy gear and show up in Nepal unless we really want to DIE. Climbing a mountain is a lot like successfully publishing. There are no shortcuts. We can’t pay guides to do what we must do ourselves. Yes, sherpas are key, but they can’t make the climb for us. They are there to assist.

But we still must make the initial decision to go for it.

Then we train.

If We’re Comfortable We Aren’t Growing

I have never climbed a mountain, but I did live my teens and twenties like a Mountain Dew commercial (and feel that every time the weather changes). I used to rock climb and go bouldering. Bouldering is particularly terrifying because boulders are BIG and they are ROUND. Round is particularly terrifying because to comes with BLIND SPOTS.

Bouldering is used to hone skills for bigger climbs. It develops strength, callouses, flexibility, and teaches that sometimes we have to reach for what we can’t see.

The going up the boulder is scary enough, but the coming down? THAT’S when it gets truly terrifying. Look down? That’s when you see how far you could really fall, and since bouldering is done without ropes? Ouch. And though it might sound cliche…don’t look down. Another interesting part of bouldering is one must reach hands and feet into the unseen and trust you can grab hold.

Same with writing. We will have to reach into the unseen or remain stuck. We have to let go of one place to make it to the next and there are no guarantees, which is why it is important to…

Have a Network of Support

I’m sure there are lone writers out there who eat nails for breakfast and spit them out as mega-best-selling novels, but they’re rare. These guys remind me of free-soloing climbers. These climbers scale huge rock faces using strength and body position to stay on the rock without the use of ropes.

I did this once…and slid a good fifty feet down a rock face, bruising, cutting and scraping every exposed area of my body. In my opinion, there are two types of free-soloers…Grand Champion and Stuff on a Rock. After getting a taste of being Stuff on a Rock? Ropes were AWESOME from that point on. Ego wasn’t worth it.

Same in writing. It’s one of the reasons I created the WANA community on Facebook and #MyWANA on Twitter and even WANATribe (a social network for writers and creative professionals). We need help. We need ropes other writers to be there when we are scraped and bruised and even when we fall. Because if we don’t fall, then we really aren’t trying that hard.

If we have a system of support, then falls can be setbacks instead of catastrophes. Writing has historically been a lonely and solitary profession because of the nature of our world. Now? We can choose. Other writers can anchor us, be there to lift us.

We can return the favor. We can also learn from writers who’ve scaled this mountain before. We don’t have to reinvent a new path. The top of the mountain remains pretty much the same. No one cares how we get there, so long as we get there.

Does anyone question the team with the group shot on the top of K-2? Do they say, “Well, you slid at least twenty times and nearly fell into an ice cave. Oh and then there was that delay because of weather. And you had to have a team of sherpas to help you. Your summit doesn’t count.” No. Either we finish the book or we don’t. Whether it took ten revisions, or a hundred, no one cares.

All they care about is, did we summit FINISH?

The Air Gets Thinner The Higher We Climb

Sure the view is breathtaking, but nothing grows at the top of the mountain. No one can live there. The air is too thin, the terrain too unstable, the weather too brutal, and there’s no food at the top of the mountain.

Each work is it’s own climb. Maybe it’s a short story (boulder) to train for bigger things. But I feel many of us (and I was guilty, too) believe that we can live on the summit, that the summit means we have made it and it will somehow be easier. This is a lie. When you land an agent, it’s the beginning of a new mountain. When we finish a book or even make a best-seller list, it only makes way for a new mountain. No one stays at the top of a best-seller list indefinitely.

We can’t live there.

The summit of any endeavor should be savored and rejoiced, but it comes with the acceptance that now we have to climb back into the valley because the valley is for the living and the growing ;).

What are your thoughts? Have you ever metaphorically slid down a cliff on your face? What did you learn? Are you grateful for new challenges or overwhelmed?

***For some guidance and training regarding mountain climbing becoming successfully published, feel free to check the announcements below.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)


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– To join the presentation, go to WANA International’s site at 8PM Eastern (New York) time / 5pm Pacific (Seattle) time.
– On the right sidebar, select “WANACon Open House – Feb 12, 2014” from the drop-down box under “Conference Hall A”.
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  1. On June 13, 2009, I conceived my Vampire Syndrome saga.
    The journey to being a published author has been the most rewarding experience of my life.
    I am forever grateful that you and your blog were there for me when I needed to hear your wise advice. I can’t thank you enough for everything, Kristen!

  2. I think this is the truth of any profession. I love your comparison to mountain climbing. It really puts it in perspective. Thank you this. It’s good to have a reminder and a good kick in the pants. I thought writing the novel, finishing it was something. OMG! What a bigger mountain after that. Bess you and your blog 🙂

  3. Thanks for the perfect timing. That mountain seems so far off this morning. I feel much better now!

  4. Beautiful and right on point. I’m sending your blog to my dear friend and pre-published writer. She is having a problem staying on track and understanding that critics and setbacks and time restraints do not change what she can do. Thank you for the wisdom and encouragement.

  5. Great post and so true! I am new to blogging but once I started, I became hooked! So many writers on here write to inspire and give great advice through experience. I love it!

    • Tamara LeBlanc on February 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm
    • Reply

    I’m, grateful for the many new challenges in my life. My personal life is pretty stressful. My husband’s illness is devastating and I hate that he’s been dealt this card, but I’m so happy to have a job that helps me focus on something (at least while I’m there) other than his cancer. My job as admin assistant at the church is also a creative outlet. I do the newsletters and bulletins and can put my own personal spin on them. I have fun doing them. I also have a boss who supports my writing career and allows me time to work on my novels right in the office. I’m very lucky to have such supportive people around me. It would be tough if I was all alone in this, worrying all the time.
    I really liked this post.
    Thank you for your wisdom and have a great week!

  6. I’ve covered some foothills, a mountain, and more foothills so far, and I’m preparing for the big mountains still to come. I have another writer friend who has scaled some big mountains, but still finds herself in deep valleys – I’m sending this on to her. Thanks!

  7. You have the bast analogies, Kristen! I made it to the top of a mountain today. I was on an Amazon Bestseller list for about 12 minutes and you’re right – the air IS thin up there. I got totally dizzy and thought I was going to throw up! As usual, LOVE your posts. 🙂

  8. The concept of returning to the valley really got me for some reason, so thanks. It reminded me of the Bruce Lee quote with a twist.

    “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there. You must go beyond them.”

  9. I’ve climbed many mountains over the years and have grown weary of slogging through that yet again, which begs the question – how badly do I want to climb yet another mountain?

    As an additional thought, I just posted on another blog that climbing that mountain requires one or both of the following: a team of people skilled in all the various aspects of writing for publication or learning how to do it yourself. One requires that you have the skill of team building, the other that you willingly put in the time an effort to learn all aspects and do it yourself. I doubt any successful people earn their success by themselves. But learning all the necessary skills precludes the fact that nothing stays the same. In this culture of rapid change, going it alone is almost a guarantee you will not succeed.

  10. Last month I was offered a job to write for a magazine I pitched to get me and my book interviewed in. I’ve never done anything like it before, but I knew it was a great opportunity that would open doors for not only my book, but my organization to help local authors, so I didn’t want to pass it up. Right now I feel like I’m sliding down the mountain as I struggle to learn and catch up. Thanks for this inspiring article, Kristen!

    • Aften on February 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm
    • Reply

    I saw a documentary on camp/climbing once…. The climbers involved had a timeline set with supplies on hand, ended up being stuck on a freezing mountain top for more than double the expected time- out of supplies and devastated at the thought of giving up. They finally finished the climb- having to wait out a multi-day storm just short of the top before standing on the summit and catching a helicopter to documentary awesomeness. I don’t want to feel like I’m waiting out a freezing storm, suspended on a sheer cliff being held there by little carabiners (I looked up the spelling- there were TWO options, what?!?) and totally out of food- but it feels that way. Mostly I have no idea what my next step is- all the time. I may be a pre-published author (I have self pub children’s books), but I hope to reach that FREAKING summit. Stupid summit and irrational fear of heights!!!

  11. I needed to read this today, thank you for your blog and your encouragement. I am a pre-published author who has been writing my whole life. I’m ready to begin climbing up my first hill. Hoping the mountain lies in the near future. I’m enjoying following your blog – Lisa

    • Laurie A Will on February 10, 2014 at 2:16 pm
    • Reply

    Lately, I feel like I am constantly sliding down the mountainside on my face. And I am mostly overwhelmed. I’ve feeling reached a point where I can see the top of the next mountain and all the required work overwhelms me. I am thankful for new challenges because I believe that without something to work toward life would be dull. I welcome new challenges new project etc. Lately, though instead of breaking down all the things I need to do next, the final revision and proofread, query letter, marketing, website building, into smaller digestible chunks I think about them all at once. That plus all work I’ve fallen behind with at home due health and other reasons, my head just wants to explode.

  12. I feel like that as a pre-published author (thanks for the new word) and as a Coordinator for my business. Every day I make slow progress on edits and slide down a few feet in the process. Work is the same. Every new project is a chance to succeed or fail and we always start in the valley. Once the peak is reached, we slide back down and start again. It’s what is invigorating and frightening about both worlds.

    Thank you for the inspiring blog. Puts success in perspective.

  13. thanks for your words of wisdom

  14. Kristen; Sometimes you scare me. As an unpublished author, I try to apply what I have learned to my writing. I think it has improved. But when I think about the other things a writer must do to become a published writer, I want to run and hide. But…I don’t run as far away anymore. Maybe, when my writing skills are up to the task, I will be ready to fight the rest of the fight. Thank you, Silent

    1. Great post. When my son was seeing a physical therapist she also reminded me how important it was to work his little muscles as that was the way to strength train. I agree that I am finding a number of similarities in the process.

  15. My human has climbed a mountain (Kilimanjaro) and my book comes out in April…she agrees they are very similar indeed!

  16. Reblogged this on Laundry Line Divine.

  17. The learning curve I have gone through has been exactly as you described. Even now I have learned so much more and this current revision is going to be my last. I am determined. I will be a published author for my birthday! The valley I will descend back into may not even be book 2 quite yet. It will be doing better at social media. This is such a deep valley. My life interferes and my ideas turn into minutia. I don’t have deep human ideas most weeks. And I don’t realize that I missed putting a post up for days. I know I will conquer this too. I know that each challenge will be met and dealt with even if it takes time. A lot of time. I am hopeful about this. There are days I wonder why I want to be an author, but I push through it. I look at my children and see the benefit they have gained from me doing something myself, continuing when it is hard and finally succeeding. I think back to when I was in 4th grade and decided I wanted to write a book. The road has been hard, the path has vanished and left my in wilderness, but yes I keep going. I will get there. Thank you for this post that affirms what I do and go through.

  18. Reblogged this on Visions and Revisions and commented:
    I like the idea of “pre-published” writers.

  19. Reblogged this on Back Row Thoughts and commented:
    Extremely inspiring post– hopefully I also stop “aspiring” to be a regular blogger and actually do it!!!

  20. Oh yeah, I fell quite flat several times Ms. Kristen! Ok, actually I face planted off that boulder repeatedly…but I always got right back up and tried climbing it again! So HA! 😛

    Seriously though, you couldn’t be more right and I truly appreciate all the help and support I get from my fellow Authors – and from my cover designer, my editor and my formatter! And the fans. Cause without them, I wouldn’t be where I am…six books out, at least six more to come this year…:D

  21. Although I have six published shorts on my bio, I’m facing my first mountain climb of finishing my memoir and looking toward publishing in 2015. This post could not have been better timed! Thanks so much for your straight shooting language.

  22. Reblogged this on A Keyboard and an Open Mind and commented:
    Kristen once again gives some great advice on pressing on as an aspiring – I mean, pre-published author. 😀

  23. I agree. Aspiring writer is such a non-committal term. Also love the mountain climbing analogy. There are so many hurdles or new summits in the world of publishing it can be daunting. Great post!

    • glenperk on February 11, 2014 at 7:59 am
    • Reply

    Kristen, this a magnificent metaphorical post. I’ve never considered the connection between writing and mountain climbing. Maybe it’s because I live in mountain country or maybe it’s because I trip over hairs in the rug when it comes to writing. 🙂 I’m guilty of calling myself an aspiring writer. It’s never bothered me that much because I think of it as semantical and don’t let it impact my writing or my drive; I let fear do the impacting. All that aside, I agree with what you’re saying about aspiring.

  24. <3 this. Thank you!

  25. As one of my favorites, Jimmy Dugan, says, “It’s the hard that makes it great.” This is great. Thanks.

  26. I like your term, pre-published writer. Yes, it does give me the feeling that I’m more accountable for what I want to achieve. I’m having a terrible time finding MYWANA on Twitter. I did find you though and am now following. I’m not all that fond of Facebook right now, sorry.

    • Zee on February 11, 2014 at 3:54 pm
    • Reply

    I love the idea of seeing each project or phase as a separate and unique mountain – we can’t live there; we must return to the growing and living.
    Wonderful, and fantastic timing.

  27. Sometimes it seems the mountain actually grows while you’re climbing it. It makes such a difference not to climb alone and have people to talk/moan to about all the pesky rocks. Thanks for a timely post.

  28. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Just embarking on a book and it is quite the mountain.

    • Kirk on February 12, 2014 at 3:08 am
    • Reply

    Like many others, I’m a pre-published writer. I try to look at the positive side of things and to a future where I’ve reached my goals. At the same time, I want to be a writer who gives back to others. I’ve been the beneficiary of some great advice and feedback, and would love to mentor newer writers when I’ve reached the top of the “published” mountain.

  29. Thank you very much Kristen. To me this post was quite encouraging – and challenging. In many ways. Thank you!

  30. Thank you for providing some much needed inspiration :).

  31. Sure takes a lot of will indeed, but worth it in the end

  32. Thanks for the words of encouragement–I need to remember that there is more to the challenge than simply the mountain. Visiting from Donna’s place…

    1. NICE! Tell her HELLO!

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