I recently finished reading The Rise and Fall of The Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, by Stephen Brusatte. In reading the book, the thing that struck me again and again (aside from how cool dinosaurs were) was just how old the Earth really is. It operates on a timeframe that is far, far longer than our human brains can readily grasp. Time in geological/evolutionary terms moves slowly.
Earth has been here for 4.5 billion years. (Give or take.) In total, dinosaurs roamed Earth for almost 200 million years. They disappeared 66 million years ago. By contrast, creatures that resemble humans appeared +/- 2 million years ago. Modern humans (recognizable as we look today) have only existed for about 130,000 years.
Try to get your head around that timeline. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
We are mere blips in the total time that Earth has existed. Even the dinosaurs were specks on the cosmic timescale, and they were here a lot longer than us. So far, at least.
So what is the point of me telling you just how tiny and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things? The point is this: Nothing of significance on this planet happens overnight. Time is required for anything to gain traction and staying power. Maybe not millions of years, but certainly weeks, months, and years. You know… Time.
Plus, there has to be a whole lot of stuff that comes together just right. The dinosaurs would not have had a chance to evolve were it not for the mass extinction and climate change at the end of the Permian period that wiped out the other animals of the time. Had the asteroid not hit Earth 66 million years ago, the dinosaurs might still be ruling the planet and our mammalian ancestors wouldn’t have gotten their chance. And so it goes.
Time + Luck = Success.
Yet despite the evidence that the world does not operate on short timeframes, we humans are impatient critters. We want everything to happen right now. If not sooner. We demand everything happen faster, even when it’s not good for us. We have no patience for time to do its work. This is true in everything from working out, to weight loss, to product development, to economic/political change, and yes, to our lowly writing.
Writers often forget that the universe plays the long game. We want publication right now. (This is, incidentally, often what leads people to self-publish work that isn’t ready for publication.) And once published, we want our millions in our bank account tomorrow. Preferably tonight, but we can wait until tomorrow if we must. But not without a lot of eye rolling at the inconvenience.
Our speed-demon selves aren’t helped by a publishing world that has also forgotten how to play the long game. It demands success right out of the gate. No time to warm up for you. No time to improve your craft and learn something. You have to be great immediately and you’d better be prepared to write three books a year. Five would really be better, though.
This need for speed leads to a whole lot of loss of perspective. We think that overnight success is a thing, when really it isn’t. Most writing success stories are the result of months and years of writing, querying, rejection, maybe a published book or two, and then finally the book that takes off and makes someone a star. Overnight it ain’t.
I see writers all the time these days who are ready to throw in the towel after one book. “It didn’t take off and make me millions,” they wail. “My writing career is over!” Maybe, but doubtful. More likely what’s needed is more time. Put more work out there. Spend more time cultivating your fans. Improve your craft. In other words, wait for time to do its work and then see what happens. You may still not succeed, but expecting stardom on the first try goes against the universe’s love for the long game.
There are also a lot of authors who freak out if their sales dip, even for one day. “I’m falling into obscurity! It’s all over!” Maybe, but not likely. Probably it’s an off day. Or market forces outside your control are pushing everyone’s sales down. Maybe that one book is getting stale and you need to put another one out to reinvigorate your brand. Whatever it is, it’s worth, you know, being patient and seeing what happens. You can wait out a crappy economy, put out more work, and make more connections. Only then can you judge the permanence of doom.
A writer’s brand isn’t built in a day, yet we act like insta-fame is the norm. We get on social media and moan when the followers haven’t shown up after a month. We cry when our first advertisement doesn’t boost sales. There’s much gnashing of teeth when our blog statistics don’t tick upward at exponential rates. And the thing is, this is all pointless stress that we inflict upon ourselves. Fame does not happen that fast. (Unless you do something spectacularly dumb to get yourself noticed for the wrong reasons.)
Yes, it’s hard to be patient and wait for time to do its work. But that’s really what needs to happen. Everybody just needs to slow down and remember the formula of the dinosaurs’ dominance. Time + luck = success. (It’s also worth remembering that success is often transitory. “Killer asteroids” happen, even in writing careers. But that’s a post for another day.)
Of course, you have to hustle, too. You can’t just put out a book and expect time to take care of everything. Time favors preparation. There is work to do on social media and more books to write. You don’t get to go to sleep and wake up like Rip van Winkle in some new universe where you are suddenly famous. However, there’s no denying that the work you do will take time to bear fruit.
There are ups and downs and the world goes around. Check your impatience and gain some perspective. It’s taken billions of years for Earth to get to this point, and it’s working a lot harder every day than you are. The planet has put in a ton of work to get to this point, and it’s still not stable or secure. Surely you can understand that it’s going to take more than a week for your writing career to achieve stability and security. (Assuming we aren’t torpedoed by an asteroid next week, that is.)
(Photo courtesy of whitejillm)