A Writer's Super Secret Weapon

Recently I had a dear non-writer friend approach me, explaining they had a friend who was trying to get an agent with no success and would I be willing to talk with them, give them some advice.  Without hesitation I said yes.  The way I figure it, someone helped me along the way (a many of someones actually) and though I am no expert by any means, I have learned a few things.  The problem is, where do I begin?

When a fellow writer seeks the advice of a more established peer, there is always this hope that they are going to impart that one piece of wisdom that is the secret to their success.  If you just do this one thing, YOU too can be as successful. I found myself trying to assess everything I had learned over the years and narrow it down to one thing that got me from beginner writer to agented. What a nightmare.  There were so many twists and turns along the way, it became impossible to concisely pinpoint it to a single path.  That was, until I decided to write this post, and then it hit me.

Today I’ve decided to share the super secret weapon of every writer. I promise you, if you do this one thing, you too will be successful.  Are you ready for it?  Here goes.

Pay your dues.

What?  That’s not the answer you were looking for?

Five years ago when I started writing, if I had been told that I will get an agent BUT it will take five years, I would have quit. This isn’t an easy business to break into.  Heck, I’m not even published yet! Writing isn’t for the faint of heart.  Either get thick skinned or get out. Be willing to put in the work, and then more work.  And then when you think you’re done, send to a critique partner and have them kick your ass.

You see the thing is, it’s not enough to have a passion for reading or writing. (Or the desire to write about hot hunky teens guys without being considered a perv.)  It’s not enough to have a great story in your head that could be a best seller if only you had the time.  It’s not enough to take writing courses in college or get an MFA. It’s not enough to put words on paper and call it a novel.

Paying your dues means working hard to improve your writing, understanding what’s wrong with it and learning how to fix it. Paying your dues means reading vastly within your genre and creating a place for yourself among your peers. Paying your dues means making every effort to know the industry, and I don’t mean having a general understanding of how things work.  I mean knowing the industry so well you could write it’s eulogy if necessary. Paying your dues means getting it wrong until you get it right. 

Here’s where the “buts” and delusions come in.  There is no mathematical formula that calculates your height, weight, sex, age, and words per minute and estimates a time frame for which “pay your dues” should occur. The path is different for everyone.  There are those who seem to have found the fast track and cut to the front of the line. And then there are those who played by the rules, worked hard, put in the hours but never found their time in the spotlight.  It’s the way of life.  Period.  And neither is a slight against you.  Only you can dictate your future.  And if you don’t get the future you wished for, write yourself a new one.