Here at the end of another semester, I’m reading work from my MFA students and thinking how privileged I am to be at least a small part of their writers’ journeys. Some of the students are completing their degrees and thinking about their next steps. I want to tell them, as I’m telling you now, that talent doesn’t always guarantee success. In fact, I’ve come to know that persistence is equally important, and even then—even if you’re dedicated to your craft—there’s no assurance that your career will go the way you want. In fact, there will probably be numerous ups and downs, more than you’ll be comfortable accepting. The downs may very well outnumber the ups.
Don’t even get me started about the role luck and chance can play in a writer’s career. Let’s just admit breaks can come for us in ways we never could have predicted. We should never wait for them or expect them. We should work. We should practice our craft, so if a break or an opportunity comes, we’ll be ready to take advantage. Imagine how horrible you’ll feel if someone comes asking to see your work, and you have nothing to show.
Let’s also admit that talented, hardworking writers don’t always get published. If we’re totally honest, we’ll acknowledge that we never really know why. The capricious nature of the publishing business is beyond explanation, but if we can accept it, we can begin to focus on what we can control and stop worrying about what we can’t.
What we can control is the work itself. If we can be steady with our habits—if we can keep honing our craft—we may very well find ourselves being recognized by agents, editors, publishers, and readers.
The work is everything. As you go forward on your writer’s journey, do your best to put away envy and to escape the imposter syndrome that makes you feel you aren’t good enough, will never be good enough. That impostor syndrome never leaves us, no matter how successful we become. We all have that voice in the backs of our heads that tells us we’re bound to fail. Do what you can to silence that voice. Do what you love to do. Do it as well as you can. Let the results be someone else’s worry. Pay attention to the journey. If you can do that, it’ll always take you where you’re meant to go.