Stop Waiting for a Miracle

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I received an inquiry from a writer interested in one of Author Accelerator’s online writing workshops. I shall call him Joe.

Just to set the stage, Joe was writing about a $499 10-week workshop that comes with more than 12 hours of videos, in-depth assignments, case studies, bonus links, membership in a private Facebook group, live Q&A events, and personalized feedback each week delivered by a trained professional with 72 hours of submission. It is, in my mind, a pretty great deal.

Joe opened his letter by saying that, in the interest of getting down to the truth, he was going to ask all the things that we don’t normally ask in “polite society.” He then proceeded to demand an answer to 17 specific questions about the workshop, its value, and why someone such as himself would commit to taking it.

He wanted to know how this workshop compared to other teaching programs he had presumably already taken.

He wanted to know how this workshop compared to other writing books he said he loved.

He wanted to know the percentage of our workshop graduates who had gone on to publish their books and how much money those writers had made.

He wanted to know how quickly those graduates had produced those books.

He wanted to know which genres led most directly to the highest ROI (return on investment.)

He wanted to know which topics we found led most directly to the highest ROI.

He wanted to know if Author Accelerator was “one of those mills” that just take writers money, or if we rejected any writers who applied to the program — and what criteria we used to make those decisions.

Here is my reply

I assured Joe that Author Accelerator is not a mill and that, in fact, he was not welcome to be part of our program.

I don’t mind tough questions about the value of the service I am selling — in fact, I welcome tough questions, because I believe that the value of what we are offering at Author Accelerator is exceptional, and I will stand by it every day of the week. But I do mind disdain for the work that trained professional book coaches do and I especially mind the attitude of entitlement Joe displayed — the belief that there is a guaranteed direct path to book writing success and that it is my job to pave that path with a risk-free guarantee.

It’s the miracle mindset that makes me crazy, and it permeates the writing industry — from frantic writers at conferences who think that the right opening line to a query is all they need to snag an agent and a 6-figure book deal; to the programs that promise they can teach you how to write a bestseller in some preposterously short period of time; to the belief so many writers hold that just getting 55,000 words on the page is all it takes; to the people who write to me — a person who has spent my entire career developing strategies and systems for helping people learn to write the best books they can, and who, in fact, makes my living doing this — to ask if I wouldn’t mind just taking a “quick look” at their 70,000 word novel to see if I think it’s “good enough” or if they can just ask me a “quick question” about whether self-publishing or traditional publishing would be the best publishing path for them to take in their career.

The miracle mindset makes me crazy because it discounts the base-level truth that writing a book people want to read is hard.

Writing a book people want to read is hard

You are learning to master an incredibly complex intellectual and creative undertaking, working in the slippery realm of human nature and human emotion. You are imagining worlds and lives, trying to understand psychology and motivation, dealing with the passage of time and how story unfolds, trying to capture the way memory works, striving to make it all entertaining and engaging to readers in an increasingly noisy world, and no doubt trying to do all this while also holding down a day job, raising a family, caring for relatives, and making sure that the bills are paid on time.

Why would anyone think that a $499 10-week class could give them all that?

Or that it could happen without risk?

Is it because so many people write as part of their day jobs — emails and reports and presentations and pitches? Or is it because so many people wrote so much in college — essays and research papers and articles for the campus newspaper? Or is it because so many people read a lot, experiencing books from the reader side, where the stories are linear and contained and polished and complete?

I suppose it’s a mixture of all those things, but whatever it is, the miracle mindset is a kind of madness.

The opposite of Joe is Kate

Contrast Joe’s mindset with that of another writer I have worked with for more than two years, whose name is Kate. That’s her real name and she is one of the most inspiring writers I know.

Kate is retired after a long, illustrious career in another industry. She wanted two things in retirement: to learn to play the cello and to learn to write a novel people would want to read. Notice the language there — to learn how to do it and to learn how to do it well. That’s what the “people would want to read” part indicates.

Kate has written through injuries, through surgeries, through storms, through vacations, through a computer meltdown, and through a bout of depression.

She has listened and studied and tried, over and over and over again.

I think she must have rewritten her first chapter twenty times.

She had one revision draft that went so badly off the rails that she had to listen to me say, “I’m so sorry, but you made this worse.”

She had to listen to her significant other read a draft and find a pretty big hole in logic that neither Kate nor I had seen, which meant she had to rewrite a big chunk of the first third of the book.

She has written hundreds of thousands of words that have ended up in the trash.

Does she want an agent and big juicy book deal and for her novel to become a bestseller? Of course she does. We all do. But that is not why Kate writes. And her desire for that golden prize has not gotten in the way of her doing the work.

Kate is not waiting for a miracle. She is doing the work.

Some people will say, “That’s great for Kate, Jennie, but someone who can spend that much money hiring a private book coach for that long in her retirement has the privilege of being able to work like that. None of the rest of us do.”

But that, too, is the miracle mindset.

You don’t need a coach to help you do the hard work of writing a novel (although I obviously think it a powerful way to keep your project on track.) You don’t need a conference or a three-month fellowship on a remote island or a $499 workshop or a guarantee.

You just need to get out of the miracle mindset and commit to the long, complex and risky task of learning how to write a book people want to read.

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