Monday, August 29, 2011

Preparing for Success Part 1: The Mental Game

Preparing for Success is a three-part series targeted to aspiring writers. Any writer who decides to pursue publication, whether through self-publishing, e-publishing, or traditional publishing enters a crowded, competitive field. For most of us it will be a long, bumpy, confusing ride. If we use our unpublished time wisely, we will stand out from the crowd and our hard work will pay off.

Part 1: The Mental Game

The moment we decide we want to be published, a mental shift occurs. The safety of writing as a hobby is stripped away. Can I do this? What if I try and fail? Or what if I’m an instant success? We’re pummeled with excitement, euphoria, and uncertainty.

I can only speak for myself, but when I decided to pursue publication, I was certain I could write a good book and get it published. After all, reading was my favorite hobby; I knew a great story when I saw one. All I had to do was come up with a fabulous plot line, write the book, and send it to my target publisher. And if my first book didn't sell, surely my second book would. As I wrote my first novel, I skimmed the library’s copy of Writer’s Market, checked the publisher’s website, and took notes on how to submit to them.

Imagine my happiness months later when they requested a partial. This is it. All my dreams are going to come true. I’ll have a book on store shelves next year!

Four years later, I have yet to see my books on store shelves, but I’ve learned so much on my journey to this point that I’m—I can’t believe I’m admitting this—glad my first books never made it stores.

In fact, I’m convinced these years have been God’s way of preparing me for success. Each setback has strengthened me. Even with a supportive, fabulous agent, I keep my expectations realistic. My initial bravado morphed to true confidence in my ability to write a good, publishable book, and that confidence could only be earned by mastering the mental game.

Common Mental Traps Aspiring Writers Fall Into:

  1. I’m special/unique and above the average writer.
Initially, we might not realize how many people are aspiring to be published authors. We may have a sense of entitlement or a deluded idea that we are somehow above the trials of other writers. Sure, it took them seven years to get published, but that won’t happen to me. The reality? We have no idea how long it will take us to get published.
  1. I was born with writing talent. I don’t have to study.
Another pitfall of fresh, aspiring writers is the false belief that talent is a set trait. Most writers are born with special gifts, but talent must be polished, nurtured, strengthened. All writers need to continuously hone their craft.
  1. My degree in creative writing guarantees I’ll get published.
Sorry, but even with a degree, you’re going to have to study the market. You’ll need to read the genre you write, learn mainstream fiction techniques, and get a critique partner. Whatever your literary background, expect to spend a lot of time learning about the publishing industry.
  1. Rejected? I should quit. I’ll never be any good.
The first rejection can be brutal. I remember feeling as if I’d lost two pints of blood. It took me a few days to process everything. The only advice I can give is don’t give up. This is a setback, a learning tool, not the end of your writing career. Keep writing. Keep submitting.
  1. No one understands how hard it is to get published.
Well, duh! Most people have no clue how competitive the publishing field is. It really doesn’t matter. We can use fear to distract ourselves by thinking about the thousands of queries we’re competing against, but at the end of the day, we only have control over one thing: writing the best book we are capable of.
  1. I’m scared. I’ve invested years into this. What if it never happens?
I struggle with this one all the time. I still struggle with it. All I know is writing is the only thing I want to do with my life. It’s part of my soul. It’s necessary. And I want to share my writing with the world, so I keep going.
  1. It’s not fair! She got a book deal?
Ah, envy, that vicious bully. Some writers will get their very first book published. It’s true. And we can’t help but wonder if they found some magical fast track. How did they get picked up? Why didn’t we? Again—this doesn’t help us. It distracts us. If you’re struggling with envy, remember the countless other souls in the same boat as you.
  1. My book isn’t as funny/suspenseful/outrageous/etc…as so-and-so’s.
Good! We’re striving to offer something special in our books. When we get caught up in comparing our books to someone else’s, we diminish our own value. We don’t have to be like anyone else. Our writing should stand out for what we have to offer.

Mental Tools for Success

  1. Humility
If you, like me, sometimes struggle with pride, facing rejections can be extremely humbling. However, when we experience lows, we’re better prepared to empathize with others in our shoes. Even when I’m celebrating a writing high, I’m careful not to overdo my public excitement out of respect for fellow aspiring writers. Yes, we all celebrate our friends’ successes, but if we’re in a slump or received a rejection, reading post after post about the wonderful life of a fellow author can grate our nerves to shreds.
  1. Confidence
Confidence can be confused with pride or arrogance. Confidence in your writing is when you know deep in your soul that your writing is the best it can be at this time. I didn’t gain true confidence until I entrusted my writing to critique partners, studied the craft extensively, and took to heart the advice offered in rejection letters.
  1. Peace
I’ve made peace with the fact my current books may get turned down. Or they may get picked up. It may take months on a pub board to get a contract. It may take months for me to write my next book and maybe that will be my break-in book. I still have a nagging sense of wanting it now, but I no longer put unrealistic gauntlets down, like this MUST be the one. Really? Must it? My life will go on pretty much the same regardless.

Final Thought

Often, we put a time frame or other limitations on our writing aspirations. If I’m not published in a year, I’ll give up or If this book gets rejected, I’ll know it’s a sign I’m not meant to be published.
This kind of thinking doesn’t help us. Why put an expiration date on our dreams? We have a lifetime to do the things we want to do, so throw off the rules and embrace the fact that you’re a writer. You’re doing something amazing and courageous by writing and submitting your work. Be proud of yourself!

What is your biggest hurdle in the mental game?

Come back on Wednesday for Preparing for Success Part 2: Writing.

Have a wonderful Monday!


  1. Quite honestly, the fear of success and the fear of failure. I'm equally afraid of both. But with lots of prayer and strong will, I push down the fears and live to write another day. :)

  2. Awesome stuff, Jill! And I have to tell you, I had the EXACT same thought early in my career when Steeple Hill requested the full of my first manuscript. I was agentless. I had no clue about the publishing industry. I just thought my writing was "special" and I bought a market guide and queried Steeple Hill. They requested the full. I was convinced I was going to be published. Two weeks later, full was back in the mail box with a very kind rejection letter. I was stumped. It took two years before I got an agent and realized that first manuscript is embarassingly awful! Sometimes, rejections are God's way of protecting our reputation when we're too oblivious to protect it ourselves!

  3. Great post, Jill! I love your mental tools for success. Looking forward to the rest of your series. :)

  4. Sometimes you can't help but fall into those traps. The biggest thing I deal with is letting discouragement from Rs affect my writing time. I try my best not to let it.

  5. The best learning we do is through persevering. A good goal is realistic and achievable, so we move toward it one step at a time. Every now and then we need a reminder of which step we're on.

  6. This is just flat out wonderful advice.

    I struggle at various times with all of these issues in the mental game.

  7. Jill, this post is amazing! A whole page of wonderful encouragement. And I needed to read a couple of those today. They hit home. :) Thank you.

  8. Your dreams need no expiration date. Amen! I struggle with many you posted here. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. I agree - it's definitely a journey! But one worth taking. Love the blog, Jill.

  10. I needed this article today!! Thanks for writing and posting it! You're a God-send, Jill! :-) Everything you've written is spot-on.

    Good luck with your writing career! I hope you hit the big time!!:-)

    Jan Romes

  11. Just what I needed today! Thanks, Jill! Good luck with your own journey.

  12. I'm afraid I'm really a slacker and I'll wind up a little old lady still writing at my computer still hoping for an agent but haven' sent out enough queries to find one. Eeek! Am I pathetic, or what?

  13. Jill, I can't tell you how much this post hit home with me. I think I have a good book with a heck of a hook/plot, but I'm always second guessing myself and the writing. I wonder if I'm wasting valuable time and setting myself up for huge failure. I keep going because I know if I don't try I'll regret it. It's so wonderful to know how alike we all our, and this post is going in my bookmarks for those days when I feel lousy about everything.


  14. Loved this post.

    You've touched on every feeling or experience of the writer's mind. So much truth here.

    The mental tools are excellent.

  15. I love the line "Why put an expiration date on our dreams?" Why, indeed! Great post.

  16. Ralene: I know what you mean. How can we be scared of both success and failure? I don't know, and yet I am!

    Katie: Oh, yes! I was so surprised when my first rejection came. I hadn't let myself even consider one!

    Elizabeth: Thank you so much! I appreciate the encouragement. :)

    Laura: It's really hard to stay focused when rejections pour in. I have no magic formula to get back on track--unless you count crying, eating M&M's, and whining to friends.

    Olivia: Wise words, my friend. Perseverance is key.

    Erica: I do too. And I repeat some of them--why? Why do I do that? :) Oh, and I saw your 3-in-1 book at my grocery store today--congrats!!

    Jessica P: Oh, thanks! I'm glad I'm not the only one who deals with these!

    Lynn: Same here--it's nice to know I'm not alone!

    Pat: Welcome--and thank you! I agree, it IS a journey worth taking!

    Jan: I needed this article today too, isn't that silly? Thank you and right back at you!

    K.B.: Thanks, and you too!!

    Em: You are NOT a slacker. Do you hear me or do I have to come over there and shout? :)

    Stacy: I second guess my writing too. Two things help me get through it--multiple revisions and critique partners. They keep me focused!

    Loree: Thank you! I'm sure I missed a few other neurotic areas!

    Patrice: My dreams? They don't expire. No matter what else is going on in my life!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  17. OH, this is rich. So wise, Jill.

    My biggest challenges are:

    1. Deciding whom to listen to--the ones who say my writing is compelling and funny, or the ones who say I should self-publish.

    2. Jealousy of those who said they'd never write a book, or couldn't write, and got their first novel published with very little effort. I want to scream, "NOT fair!!" But you are right--that's a distraction.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  18. Oh goodness, what a GREAT post, Jill! I'm embarrassed to admit I did the time-frame thing with my writing. But I'll clarify that I didn't plan to walk away forever...I was just taking certain events as signs that I needed to step back for a while. But as my blog post today proves, God got the last laugh on that one. :)

  19. I believe there is a lot to the mental game. Most important, if you want to write and send your work out, do it and don't let anything stop you.

    You have some much needed advice for new writers.

  20. What a great post, Jill, one full of heart and helpful info.

    I struggle with doubts and discouragement. I don't like to admit it, but there are times I compare my work to others', which is such a colossal waste of time, and I have to remind myself once again that I'm called to write my stories, not someone else's.

  21. Wow! Fantastic post Jill! I could relate to so many of the mental traps (esp. #6!), and the tools you give are wonderful. It's like you held a rose-colored mirror up for all of us to gently take a good look at ourselves in. Thanks!

  22. Definitely the time frame. It's why I stopped doing 'i'll publish a book this year' type resolutions a couple of years ago. Because I can't control that. So I don't tell myself 'i'll sell a book this year', I tell myself 'i'll write the best book i can this year' instead.

  23. What a great post, Jill! I can't lie - I've been guilty of thinking some of the very points you shared with us. BUT, luckily I also have great humility and confidence to continue. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!

  24. What a great post. I felt like you were reading my mind! Thanks so much for your three pointers. I'm really looking forward to your next post :)

  25. What a great post. I felt like you were reading my mind! Thanks so much for your three pointers. I'm really looking forward to your next post :)

  26. Jeanette: We're all hearing a lot of conflicting advice right now. The self-publishing avenue works well for some people. It's important to think long-term. If our self-pubbed book doesn't do well in sales, it could affect our future chances with a traditional pub. Also, some genres naturally sell well through e-books while others aren't as strong. Many factors need to be considered.

    Sarah: First, HUGE CONGRATS!!! I'm Sooooo happy for you!!! And I know what you're saying. We have choices, and sometimes it means delaying our dreams. I took several years off of writing because I struggled to parent and write. :)

    Nancy: I agree--write it and send it. Don't let anyone stop you! Great advice!

    Keli: Oh, I do too! I've been reading all these fabulous contemporary inspy writers and I'm like, I'm not worthy!

    Ayda: I can relate to every point because I've thought them all! Not something to be proud of, but hey, I'm honest. :) We just have to hang in there and keep going!

    Kristina: Same here. I still get the urge to put a time frame on it. :)

    Tiffany: I love you because you are SO real. And because I'm guilty of all of these points and you don't mind! :)

    Melissa: Thank you! Maybe we share a mind? :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!


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