Writers fight a battle on at least three fronts: their personal artistic struggle, the challenge of creating good work, and the need to find a place in the market.
On a personal level, self-doubt can be the cancer of a writing practice. Look your doubt head on: you choose to be a writer. Make peace with the doubt monster as best you can. Find support: family, fellow writers, an editor who gets you, agents that support you. Create a supportive community. Block toxic naysayers.
Face your fears and write through them.
Writing is among the most accessible of arts — all you need is a pencil, paper and words. You don’t need a cast and crew. Writing, in the creation phase, is a very intimate art form, some would say lonely. I find it less lonely — because the words are the company I keep.
Whether writing fiction or criticism, practice is everything. Don’t stop. Find the rhythm that suits you — up all night, early morning brain. Coffee. Music. Cigarettes. You must write through those early days. You may be brilliant at school and, yet, when you write that first short story, or the fifth, it’s so much less than the books that you read, whether V. S. Naipaul or P. G. Wodehouse or Elena Ferrante. Continue, find your voice, find your format: short stories, poetry, novels, blog posts. For most writers, this requires great patience. To survive you must find joy in the process.
So: Write as if you were practicing for a marathon.
Finding a place in the market is the challenge most beyond your control. In some ways, it’s easier now with platforms like Quora, where you can write and connect without a gatekeeper. However, if you want to earn a living, as Dickens had to, then you must pursue a form for which there is a market.
While working a day job, I wrote hundreds of film reviews for a free Manhattan weekly before I kicked open the door at the New York Post. As a novelist, I wrote beyond rejection. I toasted the purchase of my first novel, Girl Empire, when it appeared to have publisher interest. It fell through. The book exists, I kid you not, on a floppy drive. My second novel, Playdate, got a prestigious publisher. I waited for the book’s publication to change my life. It didn’t. It wasn’t until The Last Woman Standing that I found a union of voice, subject, audience, agent and publisher.
By that time, I had learned my lesson. Keep writing. Keep finding subjects that fascinate. Change the world — as a creative individual, as a writer in the world, and as a professional — one sentence at a time.
To be a successful writer in the current environment, build confidence in your self, embark on the marathon that is a writing career, and be persistent. And, if you can, find joy in the creating.