Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chris Eboch on Surviving the Writing Life

In my post last month, I talked about starting the new year by Defining Success for yourself, with tips on how to do that. That came out of several SCBWI schmoozes in Albuquerque on issues in the writing life. I thought I’d share some additional notes here, based on questions people had or areas where people were struggling. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in some of these questions and find guidance in the answers. These work even better as group discussion questions, so consider bringing them to your critique group or discussing them over coffee with writing friends.

Is there value in comparing your path to others? How do you keep from being frustrated and discouraged when others seem to be doing better?

– Keep in mind many people are happy to share their successes but may hide their disappointments. It doesn’t mean the disappointments aren’t there. At our meeting, every published author with more than 10 years since her first sale had had a gap of six or seven years between novel sales.

– Honor yourself for continuing to show up and try. Many people drop out and we never hear of them again. You are farther along the path to success than all those people!

– Try to put aside the concept of “failing” and instead focus on “learning.” So your manuscript was rejected by 50 agents. Are you a better writer now than you were before you wrote it? Do you know more about querying? Have you developed a new resistance to rejection? Then that process was a success.

– Understand that learning new skills takes time. How much time have you really put in – not in years, but in hours? You may have heard of the “10,000 hours” rule – that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. You may have been writing for 10 years, but at five hours per week, that’s 2600 hours.

– Remember that not everybody has the same obligations (family, job), training, financial resources, or family support. All those things affect your career path. Do the best you can with what you have.

– You are more than just a writer. Honor and celebrate your whole self.

– It’s not us versus them (unpublished versus published, or debut author versus famous author.) We are all on the same path. You’re part of that continuum. Some people may be further along the path, or moving more quickly, but this isn’t a race with only one winner.

Fellow Mayhemer Joy McCullough-Carranza adds, “I’m in a position where critique partners I’ve had for years have all gotten agents and most have gotten deals with major publishers and I’ve done neither (despite their assurances that it’s my turn! Now!). It’s difficult not to compare, and even more difficult not to become discouraged sometimes. But I’m still able to take huge joy in their successes. Their successes don’t diminish mine – if anything, they increase my opportunities and knowledge. I have walked with my writing friends along their journeys and feel like I know the ups and downs of that path so well already. They’ve got a wealth of experience to share, and they do so generously.”

More help:

Chugging Through the (Early) Stages of a Writing Career by L.B. Shulman: common psychological pitfalls from beginning to first sale.

When Rules Aren’t, by author Alina Klein: “There are no absolutes when it comes to story, and what is acceptable or worth telling.”

Have you struggled with this issues? Do you have additional tips?

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.


  1. These are great tips, Chris! Thank you for sharing them with us. I think many of us struggle with these feelings, especially when we see others getting agents, having their books published. Being happy for them and working hard on our own stories (the one we are writing and the one we are living) is the best approach. I would also add that we should nurture the small opportunities because from them bigger things can come. I know I have found this to be true. Approaching opportunities with an open heart and building new connections, positions us to be ready when the bigger opportunities arise; and if they do not arise, we still have small successes and good friends whose successes we can celebrate. Being published is great, but it is likely not the most important thing in our life. It helps to keep that in mind. Also, I have found that some writers simply do not know how to push themselves from a self-editing standpoint or know how or when they need professional help from an editor. They do not read enough books by writers who are really masters of the craft, and they feel one or two passes through their book are enough. These are the folks who write their first book in a month or a week. They are too easily satisfied with being done with the writing. The process of writing, of crafting a story, is not important enough to them to the degree that they can stay with it. This may sound critical on my part, but I don't mean it that way. Becoming a writer is a process that evolves over time. We must be willing to put in the time. I doubt many of this blog's followers fall into that category. I approach writing much differently now than I did years ago. Thank you for a great post that really got me thinking!

    1. Janice, those are very good points. I'm adapting these essays and adding some more for a book on "Surviving the Writing Life." May I excerpt some of this to quote you?

    2. Yes, please feel free to do so! All the best to you!

  2. Wonderful post, Chris! Even after achieving a goal that other writers dream of, it's hard not to compare yourself to writers who got a better deal or feel disappointed that what you did is not as big as you thought.

    Better to focus on the point of it all: crafting your skill as a writer, telling your story, and growing as a person.

  3. This is just what I needed to read. This is a wonderful post and reminder that all paths are different.

  4. Thought inducing tips. Especially like the 10,000 hr rule and the breakdown in hours a week you might actually be writing.

    Bottom line is we all travel the path differently and bring different skill sets to the trip.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  5. As always, you leave me encouraged and empowered.

  6. These are really great thoughts, Chris. Good food for thought, excellent perspective.

  7. Great discussion.

  8. Don't know how many hours I've put in learning how to write, but it feels like more than 10,000 hours. Always learning, always always unending process. Appreciate the advice here and encouragement. Have visited before many times, now a member.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!