As I was brainstorming ideas for today’s post, I thought about lessons I’ve learned, wisdom I might share. After all, my fourth novel was recently published, and I’ve got another three under contract. By most measures, I’m doing all right at this writing and publishing thing.
At the same time, I thought, how much can what I’ve learned really help writers who are not quite as far along in their careers? After all, one of the things I’ve learned is that everyone’s process is different. Knowing how I got where I am is no recipe for you getting where you want to be.
So today, instead of telling you what I know, I thought I’d delve into a much bigger, broader topic: what I don’t know.
After writing (and rewriting) all these pages, pitching all these concepts, revising all these scenes, enduring and celebrating, grinning and weeping, hustling and collapsing, here are some of the things I still don’t — and will probably never — know:
I don’t know if social media sells books. Sure, I can tell you that I’ve built a following on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. I can tell you that people comment with “This sounds great!” and “I can’t wait for this book to come out” and “AMAZING!” Do they actually buy the book? Some of them, probably. But do I comment on other people’s posts with “This sounds great” and never get around to buying the book myself? Absolutely.
Yes, I have a general feeling that I’m selling more books than I otherwise would because I engage on social media with readers, other writers, and the book community — but there are no hard numbers to back this up. I cannot at all quantify what 15 minutes on Instagram adds up to, sales-wise. I can only say that’s 15 minutes I can’t spend on something else. So I engage on social media because I like it and because it’s fun. Because I can’t prove it does a lick of good otherwise.
I don’t know how to tell if my writing’s any good while I’m writing it. My most recent book was without question the hardest one to write, squeaking out just barely in time for its deadline, a flat-out mess of a process during which I was still researching while writing (the worst) and staying up after midnight every night for months to push, push, push forward. When I finished I was relieved. What I wasn’t: sure that the result I’d been pushing for was any good at all. This story has a happy ending — my editor read it and immediately said it was my best work yet, and readers seem to agree — but I can’t forget that feeling of looking at the completed draft and just having no idea whatsoever if it was my best work or my worst. Thank goodness I have a team of people I trust, but hoo boy. Should it feel this uncertain four books in? I don’t know. Does it? Oh yes.
I don’t know if I made the right decisions along the way. It’s hard not to compare yourself to more successful writers and ask, “Why not me?” And this is one of the big things you’ll never know. If I’d written a different second book. If I’d pushed back harder on a title. If I’d hired an outside publicist, written from a different POV, paid for a more extensive tour, pitched more books and written them faster — how would my career be different? Would I be more successful? I’m fully aware this kind of second guessing is utterly useless. That doesn’t make it any easier to resist.
It should be clear by now that I could go on forever. The list of things I don’t know is far longer than the list of things I do know, obviously. And that’s okay. We don’t live in a world of certainty, and luckily, being a successful writer doesn’t require that we be certain. It requires that we work hard and never give up. That, in my opinion, is the most important thing to know.
What’s something you don’t know about your writing career? Does it make you comfortable or uncomfortable not to know it?