Here is Robin's blog post in its entirety:
One of the hardest stages of your writing journey—one that will take the most dedication, commitment, and self exploration—is the ‘nearly there’ stage. This is the stage where your critique partners love your work, you’re getting personalized rejections from agents or editors and highly complimentary reports from your beta readers, and yet . . . no sale or offer has materialized.
Remember those old cartoons, the ones where the character is in the desert, hot sun beating down on him, parched throat, covered in dust, nearly perishing of thirst as he slowly drags himself to the enticing oasis that is just within his reach—only to have it disappear just as he reaches it because it’s a frickin’ mirage?
That’s what the ‘nearly there’ stage feels like. Especially if you’ve been stuck in it more than a couple of years.
But the nearly there stage is a vital, absolutely critical part of our writerly development. In fact I know many agents and editors who would argue that this is exactly the stage that is missing from so many aspiring authors’ journeys and that lack has held them back. So I thought I’d share some thoughts on how to not only survive, but hopefully thrive during this stage.
Yes, I said thrive, because the truth is, this ‘nearly there’ stage where you’ve mastered the basics of craft can be a really, really fun part of your journey—especially if you take your focus off the finish line for a while and throw yourself into the spirit of experimentation and improving.
It can be a gift, a chance to strengthen your writing and your voice so that when you do get published, you have a greater chance of being published well, rather than simply being published.
The critically important tasks of the nearly there stage are mastering the craft at an advanced level, enriching the depth and quality of your stories, and coming to terms with the relationship between you and writing.
Most of us expect to take some time to Master The Craft. A year or two, maybe three. But when our apprenticeship starts to draw out far, far beyond that, it can become dispiriting and discouraging, and all too easy to throw in the towel.
We are so in love with the idea that someone is so naturally talented that they can sit down and write a book in six months, their first book, mind you, and have it published to great fanfare. Those are the publishing stories that get retold the most, so often that they almost become urban legend and that then becomes the expectation rather than the true outlier it is.
But as a society, we are far less enamored of the idea of long years of hard work, mastering the craft one component at a time, until we become proficient enough to master all the elements of craft within the same manuscript.
Donald Rumsfeld once took a lot of flak for talking about the known unknowns vs. the unknown unknowns, and while I’m not a big Rumsfeld fan (at all!) I do think he was on to something.
As writers entering the craft, there are things we know we haven’t mastered, and then there are things we don’t even realize are aspects of craft to be mastered—depth and layers and nuance and white space and subtext and all sorts of advanced techniques. This is partly because many of us come to writing without having been a critical, analytical reader. We come to writing out of the love and enthusiasm we’ve felt for books and we want to, in turn, create that same experience for others.
We often think we know how to write a story. After all, we’ve read thousands of them! It’s only after we dive in and our initial works are met with lukewarm responses, that we begin to realize that good writing makes stories seem effortless, when they’re simply not.
Improving doesn’t happen by accident. If you write a million words or invest 10,000 hours without the express intention of improving your craft and skill—and a plan for making that happen—you can easily end up no closer to your goal.
When I’ve done seventeen drafts of a book, it’s not that I was polishing my words seventeen times, but that it took me a draft to master each of the separate craft elements: character actions in one draft, plot in another, deepen motivation in the following draft, then add in description. Now redraft that description so that it is character specific and carries dramatic weight. Now refine character actions to include subtext, etc. and so on.
Now luckily, I no longer have to do seventeen drafts, but it is highly unusual for me to do less than six.
It has been years of practice that has allowed me to get better at juggling all those elements in a single body of work.
So, dive into this stage. Embrace it. Revel in it. You are about to set out with the sole intention of becoming a writing craft GEEK.
Perhaps the most important component to the nearly there stage is better developing the Stories We Tell. Take this opportunity to embark on a journey of self discovery. Dig deeper, look under the rocks and stones of your own soul and write as raw and real as you are able.
Self knowledge is also a huge factor in surviving nearly there.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Will you have what it takes? Are you truly committed to this writing thing? Even if it takes more than two or three years to achieve your goals?
There is no wrong answer here. Writing might be something that only holds a certain amount of appeal for you, an appeal that will evaporate when it does not come easily or quickly, and that’s okay.
You must know yourself. Come to terms with why you write and who you are and where the two of those intersect. Some people do write for validation and no matter how much they wish that away, it won’t change. Which is fine as long as they are aware of that, the risks involved, and understand how it shapes both their journey and their frustrations. Others write to better understand the world, to make connections, to explore the issues that haunt them, or simply because they can’t NOT write. It is helpful to know which category you fall into.
And speaking of journeys, in the writing journey, this nearly there stage is the equivalent of the Dark Night of the Soul, when all feels lost and as if all your efforts have been in vain. Just like a character in a novel, you will have to dig deep, take a leap of faith, and recommit.
You may even have to quit writing for a while, decide it is taking up too much of your life, distracting you from other things that require your attention. But there is a good chance that the writing monster has already sunk her long, seductive claws into you and you will not be able to leave her behind as easily as you thought.
In fact, a huge number of successful writers I know have all at some point quit writing and walked away at some point. Only to find that they couldn’t not write. It was as much a part of them as their bone and sinew.
And once you discover that, you realize that publishing really is only one piece of it. That recognition can allow us to take a deep breath and step back from the sense of urgency that nips too often at our heels. Or at the very least, give us the perspective and patience to keep on cheerfully slogging our way forward.