Let's Talk with Lois Winston

April 13, 2023

Busting a Writing Myth

Awards season wrapped the end of last month. Some people won. Some didn’t. There were some surprises and some expectations fulfilled. And there were the endless acceptance speeches about hard work eventually paying off, no matter how long it takes. All you have to do is believe in yourself and keep on plugging away because that’s what happened for those lucky few clutching a gold-plated naked man. If it happened for them, it can happen for anyone.

To some people, these soundbites are inspirational. Unfortunately, not so for most people. In every walk of life, there are people with dreams who work their tails off toward goals that are never achieved. The sad truth is that talent and drive will only get you so far in life. There’s a third component that factors in, and it’s never in your control. You need to be in the right place at the right time. For far too many people, when their ship finally docks, they discover it’s a leaky rowboat. Or worse yet, they missed the ship because they were waiting at the train station instead of the pier.

I’ve had my share of ups and downs in life and often have wondered about the paths not taken. How different would certain things have turned out?

Far worse, though, are the incredibly talented people I’ve known who never got the breaks they deserved. The publishing world is strewn with the ghosts of rejected manuscripts—many by gifted writers who wrote fabulous books but never had them land on the right editor’s desk on the right day.

One such writer was Karen Davenport, one of my first critique partners. Some books that I read are so bland that I can’t remember them a week later. I scratch my head wondering how they ever got published. Then there were Karen’s manuscripts. Her prose was exquisite. Her plots kept you turning pages. Her characters came alive on the page.

Years later, Karen’s stories have stayed with me. And yet, only a select handful of people ever had the pleasure of getting lost in one of her novels. Karen passed away years ago before ever seeing her dream of publication realized. She was the perfect example of how life is not always fair, no matter how talented you are or how hard you work toward your goals.

Karen was Anastasia’s biggest fan, and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her as I write. I can’t share her writing with you, but I can keep her memory alive by telling the world about her.

How do you feel when you hear people say that all you have to do is keep working toward your dreams or goals and you’ll eventually reach them, no matter how long it takes? Is your glass of goals half-full, half-empty, or merely half a glass, waiting to finish filling up?

While you’re here, VISIT our contest page! We’re giving away a book this month and it’s winner’s choice of one of the books in the contest graphic. Entry is from April 1-22.

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Posted in Let's Talk, with Lois Winston • Tags: , , , , |  39 Comments


39 thoughts on “Busting a Writing Myth

  1. Hi Lois, I’m half a glass waiting to finish filling up type. I believe that you need to be prepared by doing to the preparation work so that when the lucky bus stops for you — you’re ready!

  2. I do believe persistence pays, so you have to maintain hope and be driven to succeed. As authors, we have many more publishing choices now than we did when our careers started. It’s still a matter of luck to land a traditional publisher, but you can help the odds by getting paid manuscript critiques from editors, making agent appts at conferences, and researching the markets. This puts you a step ahead if not in the door.

    1. True, Nancy. Those things do help but not for everyone. Karen was a perfect example of that. She did get an agent, but it turned out to be a terrible agent who sat on the mss., never submitting them before eventually going out of business, wasting valuable time that it turned out Karen didn’t have.

  3. Half full by the wonderful things that already have come my way – in all aspects of life, but only half because I always anticipate more …. which on those days moves me to waiting to fill up. I’m sorry you aren’t able to share Karen’s work or help her family bring some of them to fruition.

  4. I’m with Vicki, though in my case the change of attitude may be due to aging. But I no longer need the fame–it’s enough if a few good people tell me they enjoyed my books and read my blog. Fortunately, I can live comfortably without my writing income. So I write because I enjoy it and because I cannot not write, but the internal pressure is not what it was twenty years ago. Even then, a good friend said to me, “Have you ever considered you’ve had all the success you were meant to have?” (I had some nice awards for western writing but have never cracked the mystery awards–that’s okay.) Now I think that friend was right–I’ve had more than my share of success, and I”m content.

    1. Judy, from what I’ve seen, you’ve had a pretty amazing career compared to many other authors. Not every author is going to make the NYT list or win a Pulitzer. If you’re content, that’s what’s important, but who determines that any of is has had all the success we’re meant to have? Maybe that friend was correct, but IMHO, it’s a horrible thing to say to someone.

  5. Lois, reading your post, I was surprised how quickly it ended. It was as if you were teasing me about Karen Davenport. You left me wanting to know more about Karen and her writing.

    As to your premise, I know several outstanding writers who never make the big time. It saddens me.

    Be Safe


    1. She was an amazing person as well as a fabulous writer, George. Sadly, we never met in person. She lived abroad for years, but her husband was retiring, and we were making plans to meet once she returned to the States. She died within days of being diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of cancer about a week before they were scheduled to fly back.

  6. Sadly, life just isn’t fair. In any career, there are those who make it and those who don’t. We can’t stop trying, otherwise we will not be at the stop when the bus shows up. Just the other day, I was thinking about Dionne Warwick’s hit from the 60s, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” That pretty much sums it up, both then and now.

  7. I believe in always doing your best in all walks of life. With writing, it’s like the real estate mantra of location, location, location. If you get your book to the right location and in the best possible shape, doors can open. They can also close. Knowing that those doors are out of your control is sobering. No matter where you are in your career, rejections and companies going out of business always knock the wind out of you. The thing is to then turn the page on that experience and look down the road again. We learn and adapt and keep trying. That’s the secret to being a writer.

  8. I think it’s a matter of expectations and what a writer considers success. I won many awards, published 3 books, had fans, spoke at conventions and yet some people would consider me a failure. No, my books didn’t make the bestseller list, didn’t get a contract from a major publishing house, didn’t have a promotion machine backing me. But, I had a ball, met wonderful authors and readers, learned about the publishing industry and connected with people all around the world. Sidelined by kidney failure, revived by a transplant, I keep my hand in by writing a newspaper column about reading to get people back to using the library. Locally, I’m a celebrity in a very small area. My glass is neither half full, half empty or dry as a bone. It is overflowing and fulfilling.

  9. Lois, I’m sorry that your friend never met her publishing goal. Maybe in the end it was enough for her to know that those around her respected her writing. Getting trad published has always been a numbers game, but these days it also entails being in the right place at the right time, with just the right book and the right personal backstory to go with it. Frankly, I don’t think talent has much to do success anymore. Fortunately with indie publishing writers have alternate opportunities at getting their work out there. Maybe that’s something some of her family can do in her memory if she has some completed work.

    1. Diane, I think publishing has always been a numbers game…and so much more. Karen died 15 years ago. To my knowledge, her family never pursued anything with her mss.

  10. Boy, I hear you! I began writing 31 years ago and was published not long afterwards! HOWEVER, what I laughingly call my writing career has never even quite hit mid-list. I make enough money to add to my social security, but even though my books are exhaustively researched (I write historical cozies set in the 1920s and have done for more than 20 years), people with lousy research are making millions and I’m still just stumbling along. A few people like my books, and I adore them for it, but I wish there were more of them, y’know???

  11. I am content to merely read and review, if only I didn’t have so many emails flooding my inbox.

    1. I once heard a lecture where an author said that success is a ladder. Every step we achieve takes us higher but we’re always looking at those rungs above us and hoping, striving for more. For an author, it starts with just putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write a story and moves through completing one, submitting, acceptances, etc. all the way to the top, which might be making bestseller lists or winning awards. We tend to envy those above us on the ladder, without realizing how much those below us envy our achievements. Most of us here are somewhere on that ladder, and only we can say how far up we need to get to consider ourselves successful.

  12. Lois, this idea for a post has sparked such high interest. Congratulations–you’ve woken us all up!
    I think a lesson to take from your story about Diane is that life is valuable because of death. Car crashes, tragic discoveries of metastasized cancer, tornadoes and mudslides and earthquakes and floods–each and every one of us could be gone in a second. Pursuing goals is one thing that fills life with meaning, and so pursue them with all your life force. But still, you have to brush your teeth. Real life isn’t Hallmark, where even true feel-good stories get dressed up to be more inspiring. You’re right that more of us give our all and fail than make it to the top. But it’s the journey, right? And, like the lottery, you’ve got to be in it to win it. So do your absolute best, throw your hat in the ring now and then, and if you’ve still got breath in you after you didn’t make it, then try again.
    I enjoyed this post and all the comments. Thanks.

  13. That’s a wonderful way to remember your friend. I suspect we all know someone who never got a chance to show others what they could do. I’ve also known some who didn’t get what they wanted right away and quit–something I’ll never understand. Like many others, I believe in perseverance, learning and growing. Perhaps it’s in our DNA. Anyway, a good post to remind us to take stock every now and then and appreciate what others are going through.

    1. Susan, I think many of those who quit if they don’t succeed right away think that writing is easy, and we all make James Patterson sums of money! 😉

  14. This is why I publish indie. I know too many people whose books died when they did because they were never able to find a publisher. I know someone who is waiting for an agent to drop from the sky for his truly excellent books, in my writers’ group. But I also know one member who died who works will never see the light of day. One member of the group is doing the Magical Agent Dance and so far not a nibble.

  15. I agree. I have met many talented writers over the years and yet, so few of them were noticed by the right person at the right time. I am a believer in right place at the right time as well as perseverance and dedication to writing. I’m sorry for your loss, but you have wonderful memories.

  16. Such a thought-provoking article and comments from everyone! I love the bus stop metaphor. Patience, perseverence, but also getting in right position. Nothing worse than waiting at a bus stop on a day the bus doesn’t even run.

  17. I think I am a glass half full kind of person. I am trying to look at the positive in everything. As for working towards you goal….that is how life is. You have to work to achieve anything you would like. Just don’t let yourself get down.

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