Recently I entered a new life stage: the Empty Nester parent. My oldest son, following his younger brother’s lead, moved out a few weeks ago while my husband and I were in South America. Now, we’re back…and the house is a lot quieter.
When we’re out on a walk now, Scott and I sometimes run into friends with children. They ask about our boys and when we tell them we’re empty nesters, they glance at their kid-and-toy laden wagons, chuckle darkly, and say how they’d do anything for a bit of freedom again.
Sure, I’ll admit it’s nice to have a freer schedule and a much smaller grocery bill (guess who can afford the fancy 100% vitamin D eggs now—THIS girl!). But once the kiddos are gone, THEY ARE GONE. It doesn’t take long to wish the clock could run backward, to have a few moments where I was my boys’ world, when they would rush home with fistfuls of drawings to tell me all about their day at school.
The irony of each of us wanting what the other has, right? Writing is that way sometimes, too!
Like when I started out, I wanted to hurry up and be “good enough to publish.” I just wanted to skip past the sweat and pain of that evil learning curve and hold a book in my hands. (Sound familiar?)
Well, fast forward to now. I have books under my belt (hurray!), but I need to market, run a business, deliver a cohesive brand, network, research, stay on top of all the changes that upend the industry, teach, create more books…and oh yeah, continually improve my craft because (spoiler alert) the learning curve never ends. I totally admit I sometimes yearn for that simpler time when I was learning the ropes, blissfully unaware of the mountains still to climb.
Back to Empty Nesting…
This new stage of life has me looking forward and back so I thought I’d share five writing life lessons that helped get me to where I am today. Then in a future post, I’ll list 5 lessons to better internalize moving forward in hopes of gaining an even greater level of satisfaction with my writing career.
Life Lesson #1: Open your mind to learning…I mean, really open it.
I run into non-writerly folks who think what we do is easy. I’m sure you do too…you know, the ones who say, “Yeah, I’m a good writer; I do it all the time for work. And I have the best idea, trust me, you writers would kill for it. When I retire and have time, I’ll publish a book.”
(Did you cringe a little as you read? Probably.)
Those of us on this path know storytelling is an art, and it takes a lot of time and energy to become proficient (like any other professional career). But we don’t always know this at the start. When I first began penning stories, I thought I only needed a bit of polish to become “good enough.” (Oh, past Angela, how naïve you were.) Little did I know I was years away from getting agents and hitting acquisition meetings. Years away from my first book (which turned out to be non-fiction, something else I didn’t see coming).
So, don’t be afraid to push aside your ego to learn. From experts. From other writers. From sources all around you. Do whatever it takes. This dream of ours is a big one, and that means it takes a bucket-load of courage and sweat to see it through.
Life Lesson #2: Find your tribe.
Most of the time, writing is solitary. But writing alone doesn’t mean traveling the road alone. Joining a community of writers can open up our world in so many ways. The insight, knowledge, abilities, and red pens of others helped me grow into a stronger writer. A tribe will also keep our feet on the path if we become discouraged and lose faith in ourselves. Others will see our potential when we cannot, and their encouragement reminds us to believe when times are tough.
Life Lesson #3: Fill your writing toolbox.
One terrific thing about being a writer today is that help is everywhere…all we need to do is take advantage of it! A vast landscape of blogs, websites, apps, software, courses, workshops, forums, and custom tools ensure help is available in all areas of writing, marketing, and publishing. I have amassed a huge collection of resources over the years.
While you can find so much for free, don’t be afraid to make an investment if you find a class, subscription, or tool that helps you become a stronger storyteller. We have a lot to learn and manage as writers, and time is at a premium. Invest in a support system that works best so you have more time to create new books!
Life Lesson #4: Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t.
This was a total game changer for me. We all know that this career is full of uncertainty and upset that can leave us feeling inadequate. We think an agent is key to getting our book in front of editors, but can we make them say yes? Of course not. Once an editor has our book, we want them to take it to acquisitions, but will they? Who knows. And, if it does end up there, will it come out on top and result in an offer? Will the publisher invest in promoting it? Can we get a Bookbub? Will it hit the bestseller list? On and on it goes.
Stressing about an outcome we have little influence over is a waste of energy and time. Instead, we need to put our focus on what we can control: that our craft is strong because we’re constantly in a cycle of growth and learning. That we research what agents and publishers are looking for (if we go that route) so we target well. We can invest time into understanding our audience, how to best deliver what they need, and how to market effectively so we can place our book in their hands. We can build a brand, network, and research strong business practices to manage everything as best as we possibly can.
Lesson #5: Be authentic in all that you do.
This industry is tough. We all know this. Discouragement can sometimes cause us to not do what’s in our heart and mimic others instead because we think that must be “the magic.” Don’t get me wrong, paying attention to our peers’ experiences, the market, and what readers want is important absolutely, but we should never lose sight of WHY we wanted to write in the first place.
Each of us is unique; only we can tell the stories we are meant to tell. I believe we were all called to this work, otherwise we’d choose something much easier. 🙂 So, make sure the spark of who you are is in everything you do. This authenticity is YOUR superpower. If it’s missing from your writing, your branding, your interactions with others…readers will notice. You’ll notice. Yet, when your purpose and actions align, you’ll feel fulfilled and love the work you do.
These are my big ticket lessons and I’d love to hear from you! What are some of the aha! moments you’ve experienced on your journey?