Climbing Ladders and Reaching for Success

People are painting parts of our house today. High parts. The parts my husband prefers not to deal with.  He’s already power washed the siding and painted much of the trim. There are just these teeter-on-the-top-of-a-ladder and climb-on-the-roof bits that still need attention, and ladders and roofs are not his favourite places.

Unfortunately, short of renting a cherry picker or hanging from a helicopter, there’s no other way to reach them.

As I watched a ladder being maneuvered into place I thought of other lofty locales that we writers struggle to reach – not roofs, but the elusive goals of finished manuscripts, representation and publication, bestseller lists or other recognition in the literary world. 

We climb rungs toward those goals, working past writer’s block, tapping out words in the silence of night or early morning, revising until we’re fed up with the process, querying, schmoozing, signing, smiling until we’re weary from the effort. Each step in the process is an achievement, but is it enough to ensure success? Do we need to enlist the help of others to reach those just-out-of-reach dreams?

What part of the writer’s journey is the most difficult for you? Why? What or who do you rely on for help?

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17 thoughts on “Climbing Ladders and Reaching for Success

  1. Laura Best says:

    At the moment I’m dealing with other people’s expectations. It may sound silly but I feel a certain amount of pressure to produce something publishable even though most people don’t realize how difficult a feat that is. It’s great that people have confidence in me but they were asking at my launch when the “next one” would be out. Sheesh! My book’s only been out for six months. And I’m still trying to enjoy this moment.

    • Writing to a deadline, whether contracted or self-imposed, is bad enough. Adding public pressure to the mix must suck a lot of joy out of the writing. I sometimes wonder how authors who have multiple contracts on the go continue to love what they’re doing.

  2. joylene says:

    I’m feeling much the way Laura is, and my second novel isn’t out yet. And then there’s always the fear that it won’t be received as well. In fact, if I stop to think about it, there are more difficult times ahead and they often stagnant me. Better I don’t think, maybe.

    For instance, my editor wants me to revamp the second to last scene from my book. I hesitated the first few days and missed a deadline. Then I had a mini emergency, my mother-in-law had a blood clot in her leg and we spent the entire day yesterday in emerg.

    But while I sat there watching her entertain the crowd, I realized that I was stubbornly clinging to my prose and that scene for fear that cutting it would somehow ruin the story. Not to mention changing it requires mental work I haven’t pushed myself to do in a while.

    Yes, climbing those ladders are good for the soul. If we stand back and look at the huge job ahead (painting the house), no wonder we cringe. We could even use fear of heights to postpone it indefinitely, and who would blame us.

    Or we could see the undertaking as an adventure and seek help where needed, just like your husband and you have done.

    Bravo, by the way.

    • I’m sorry to hear of your MIL’s problem and trust she’s okay again now.

      Looking at a task in its entirety can be overwhelming, no matter what it is. But when it comes to cutting scenes we really do have to look at the full picture. Some of our favourite scenes are hard to part with but if they don’t benefit the story as a whole we have to be able to let them go. It’s hard to take someone else’s advice about it, but as the story’s creator we aren’t unbiased so sometimes we need help to make the right decision.

  3. This is a great analogy, Carol.

    In looking at writing a novel, I always slow halfway up the ladder. It gets so high, you know? And there’s fear that holds me back.

    But I can brave the height–I’ve done it twice thus far–though I find the top few rungs (what I’d consider editing and polishing to near-perfection) hardest to reach.

    • Thanks, Janna. Writers often mention the middle as their novel’s most difficult part. I’m glad your previous experience set a good precedent and you know you’ll make it over the hurdle if you persevere.

      That editing and polishing stage is one I find hard to get past. I think I enjoy doing revisions a little too much! 😮

  4. Proposal writing is the worst high-ladder, squeeze into the corner of the eaves task for me. All those requirements. And everyone wants something different. Then you have to update it from time to time.

    But these are high-class problems, eh? I have a roof over my head, plenty of food, and a God who loves me. Not to mention two hands with which to write, a computer and a brain full of ideas.

  5. Shari says:

    The hardest thing? Maybe not giving in to that little voice telling me I suck & I’ve got no business calling myself a writer, lol. It doesn’t pester me too often, but it can be most unpleasant when it does!

    More seriously, I think one of the hardest parts is pressing on when I’m stuck — when I’m at that point in the first draft where I feel lost in the forest & would give anything for a nice clear path to appear.

    I’m all for enlisting the help of critique partners or writing friends (or, say, my mom ;)) for support, encouragement, brainstorming, and sometimes a good kick in the pants as needed.

  6. Shari says:

    P.S. – and the eternal waiting. Definitely a hard, very-high-rung part of the writing life for me, lol.

    • I don’t know of anyone that can get rid of the pesky IC’s belittling voice. I think we all hear it at some point.

      Your critique partners are a definite blessing! I wish I had a local group like yours. I imagine they’re also encouraging during the waiting times, too. I hope there will be some positive news coming your way pretty soon.

  7. lydiajo39 says:

    Great post! Wonderful discussion. I don’t feel so alone.

    Sometimes the hardest part is just getting on the ladder in the beginning. Too many internal editors saying “you’re not good enough” or simply laughing hysterically.

    • That’s one of the great thing about the writers’ online community… that we’re never totally alone. As solitary as our writing experience is, there are always others who know what it’s like and are ready to offer encouragement.

  8. dave ebright says:

    I’ve made 3 comments in response to this post – & deleted them all. Last try – I “climbed the ladder” in my daytime career – Once there, didn’t like being on the upper rungs at all – or the investment of time it required to stay there. For me – I wanted to enjoy my family – raise my kids – coach sports – so I said adios to the corner office with the leather furniture & custom drapes, the fatter paycheck, designer suits, cross-country flights & the helicopter rides. Took a step back & went on to enjoy life on my terms & still managed a pretty nice career.

    With writing – I’ll be satisfied with satisfying me. Cool feedback is always great, but I don’t think I’ll ever set any serious goals (or lean a ladder against a wall to reach some precarious place). Guess I’m an oddball – I prefer to do things my way. It’s worked so far. An awesome 35 year marriage & 2 fantastic kids. The rest is all just a bonus. Good topic & analogy.

    • I like your attitude, Dave, and I share it. As an analogy, the “ladder to success” is okay, but “success” means different things to different people.

      The investment of time in a career is something we all have to consider, whether the career involves a corporate lifestyle, sports, the arts or whatever else interests us. More of us need to find a healthy balance that lets us pay the mortgage while still spending time on the things that are most important to us.

      It sounds like you made some great choices and have found that balance… in your work and your writing.

  9. christicorbett says:

    For me, right now, its the never ending cycle of changing things, getting approval or if it’s a “no, you can do it better,” then going back and changing again. All the while wondering if I’m on the right track.

    I hate ladders too!

    Christi Corbett
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

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