A few years ago, I wrote a book that was everything. It was brilliant and compelling, imaginative and fun, heart-wrenching and heartwarming. I just knew this book was going to get me everything authors want and expect for their creative work: a fawning agent, a lucrative publishing deal, credibility as a bona fide children’s author, and perhaps even a movie deal for the entire series. Yes…this—my first complete novel—was going to launch my official career as a published writer.
Newsflash: it did not, and I was devastated.
At the time, I was experiencing writer’s tunnel vision—that point where a writer becomes so focused on one book (often the first one they’ve written) that they can’t envision a successful writing future for themselves that doesn’t center on that book, the book of their heart.
This is understandable. A writer’s first complete manuscript is often what enmeshes them in the world of creative writing. They long to see their beloved story on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. They want to share their characters with the world, because they know everyone else will love them as much as they do. Having this level of passion and dedication to a single book can be positive and productive, but it can also be harmful when all doesn’t go as hoped. (And given the statistics for traditionally published manuscripts, the odds are rarely ever in our favor…)
When writers allow their (writing) lives to revolve solely around that one book, they run the risk of falling prey to a “one shot” mentality. That is, the more their identity as a writer is wrapped up in the success of that one manuscript, the more personal the rejections seem, the heavier the disappointment hits, and the more impossible a future as a published author seems to become. It’s the literary equivalent of putting all of one’s eggs into a single basket.
While nothing can compare to the beauty of completing that one book (and the magnificence of seeing it eventually published), there are ways to break the spell of writer’s tunnel vision and imagine a full career that extends beyond it. Here are a few tactics that worked for me.
Ramp up your blog (or start one). Agents and editors often talk about developing an “author platform.” A platform can include not only a social media presence but also a website and perhaps even a blog. Some quibble as to when you need to build that platform—should you not worry about it until your first book is sold, or should you have one even before you’ve secured an agent? Of course, writing actual books takes priority, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from it and dabble in creative non-fiction (or even little baby fictions) for your blog. Not sure what to write about? Jane Friedman has a few ideas on that HERE.
Try your hand at short stories. While I spent four long years shaping, reshaping, and re-reshaping my first manuscript into something publishable, writers in my local critique group were finding success with short stories and flash fiction. When my novel was ignored (yet again) in an online pitching contest in 2018, I knew I needed a change, so I tried my hand at short stories. I’ve had four accepted for publication so far. That first “Yes” came about a month after that pitching contest “No,” so it was just the shot of confidence I needed to stave off writer’s despair. Short stories don’t require as lengthy of a time commitment, and they can generate new book ideas while fulfilling that need for writing creativity. Plus, published short stories can help build your authorly catalog.
Take an online writing course. Earlier this year, I signed up for a course at Udemy called “Writing a Bestselling Novel in 15 Steps (Writing Mastery).” Instructor Jessica Brody walks writers through the basic roadmap of successful storytelling with detailed explanations of each story beat, examples from books and movies, and an actual novel-in-development that she works on throughout the course. The best part is that she gives you tools to develop your own practice novel so you can actively go through the steps with her. By the time you are done, you have the basic outline for an entirely new book. Hey ho! I highly recommend this course, but there are several out there available through several online venues.
Attend a Creative Writing Meeting. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the world of our one true book that our minds can’t explore other possibilities. Dabbling in other worlds feels like cheating, and we can’t do that to our beloved manuscript. But, we can. YOU CAN. Writing a book isn’t a monogamous experience. Eventually, your book will go on to be read and enjoyed (and maybe even fan-fictioned!) by others. So find a local creative writing group, and step out on your book, if only for the occasional night. The writing prompts and camaraderie will do you good. If groups aren’t in your capacity or capability, set aside some of your usual writing time and poke around the prompt generators listed on THIS SITE.
If you have suggestions that helped you break free of writer’s tunnel vision, please share them in the comments below. Completing that book-of-your-heart is an accomplishment, but it doesn’t have to be your sole accomplishment. As a writer, you know to DREAM FAR but you must also DREAM WIDE. Good luck!
Thank you for the tips! The problem resonates with me. Every book I work on is the best book ever, at that moment. For me, there’s a great value in shelving things for a while, once I think I’m done with them. When I go back after a couple months, I can see the problems.
Yes! Time away from a manuscript in which you’ve become perhaps a tad too engrossed is valuable, so also a very smart tactic!