Seasons of the Writing Life

Once upon a time, a writer spent his or her time writing. With a quill. At a desk. In a forest glen, surrounded by songbirds and burbling streams. And then, when a new book was released, doing a few public readings and book signings before going back to writing.

Those days are gone.

These days, I encourage writers to think in terms of writing seasons.

Writing season

When you’re planning and writing your debut nonfiction book or novel (please don’t call a novel a “fiction novel,” that’s just all kinds of wrong), you’re in a demanding but often intoxicating writing season. The world is your oyster, so to speak; and your main task is to write. In that season, you will also learn to write a strong proposal or two … or three, since many authors’ first book to be published was actually their second or third book to pitch and/or write.

Platform-building season

Unlike the “once upon a time” days referred to above, however, another season coincides with that writing season; let’s call it “the platform season.” During this season, you experiment with various attempts to enlarge your reach and increase your engagement with readers, potential readers, fans, and followers. You work to build an audience, regularly doing something—big or small—so when your debut project is pitched, an editor and publisher can see that you get it, that you understand part of your job as an author is to be enlarging and engaging with a following. Pro tip: This season never ends.

Pitching season

When your proposal (and, sometimes, full manuscript) is ready, having been critiqued, edited, and proofread  repeatedly, you’ll enter the networking and pitching phase. You may ask your well-published writer friends who represents them, what publishers and editors they most enjoyed working with, what are their recommendations, etc. You might email agents or meet with agents and editors at writers conferences to get to know them, show them your work, and see what doors open to you. Pro tip: This season ebbs and flows, but also never ends, though it does change if and when you begin working with an agent.

Editing season

Soon after your book is accepted for publication, before it makes you rich and famous, you’ll enter an editing season. This season overlaps and infiltrates (and sometimes upends) the above seasons. But it’s important nonetheless. You’ll enjoy and/or endure multiple exchanges with an editor about changes to your manuscript and will review numerous incarnations of your work, possibly culminating in the careful review of galleys, or page proofs, which will be your last chance to find and correct mistakes or make changes.

Marketing season

Once you have a book scheduled for release, you begin a marketing season, which will overlap the above seasons but will occupy a greater percentage of your time and effort as release day approaches and comes and your book becomes available. It is always in your interest to partner with your book’s publisher to make sure it sells many, many copies, because your sales history will become a crucial part of future pitches.

Writing season

Long before most of the above seasons have played out, you’ll enter a new writing season in which you start or continue work on the next book. And maybe the one after that. Pro tip: This season never ends.

What about you? Have you found it helpful (or not) to think of your writing life in terms of “seasons?”

 

30 Responses to Seasons of the Writing Life

  1. Shirlee Abbott February 13, 2019 at 5:01 am #

    Not so much seasons of writing, Bob, but seasons of life: I started writing when I had children at home; writing was squeezed into available moments. I moved on to life after the last kid leaves home: more control over my schedule, writing became part of my daily routine. I’ve stepped into semi-retirement; longer chunks of time are devoted to writing. I’m figuring out how to redistribute this new time over the seasons of writing you describe.

    Thank you for calling them “seasons.” I’ve been thinking they were spinning plates. A season moves, but more slowly than a plate. A season doesn’t break when I drop it.

  2. Roberta Sarver February 13, 2019 at 5:59 am #

    Shirlee, I like your description of “spinning plates.” Sometimes it feels like that as we juggle all the things writing involves. But it’s rewarding.

  3. Damon J. Gray February 13, 2019 at 6:06 am #

    Interesting take on it, Bob. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of seasons, but certainly differing, and overlapping activities. It is almost like the stage-gated approach to projects we use at work. Even there, we find loops back (this season never ends/overlaps) to prior activities, so there are comfortable similarities.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. HEATHER FITZGERALD February 13, 2019 at 6:28 am #

    Hmmm, I think we need to coin a new word for seasons that never end! Thanks for telling it like it is, however. Like it or not, it’s all part of the writing package these days. But, when someone discovers the secret to time travel, I’m going to slip back into the ‘Once upon a time’ days of writing 😉

  5. Sherri House February 13, 2019 at 6:30 am #

    I’ve been living in the “songbirds and burbling streams” season for 40 years. I love it here, but maybe it’s time to let the season change.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 13, 2019 at 7:24 am #

      Write your season, Sherri. There are people to whom the hope of songbirds and burbling streams would mean more than you’ll ever know.

  6. Sharon Connell February 13, 2019 at 6:53 am #

    I’ve always thought of them as steps, or phases, but I like “seasons.” Especially since my desk sits next to a window where I can look out to rest my eyes and see what the trees look like, the birds, squirrels, and other animals are doing, and gaze at the Texas sky. Right now I’m in the writing season, which like the natural seasons returns often.

    You mentioned not calling your book a “fiction novel,” but you never said what new writers should refer to it as. I’m assuming you mean they should pick a genre and call it such.

    • Linnea February 13, 2019 at 8:01 am #

      Sharon, I think what Bob means is that a novel IS fiction so calling your book a fiction novel is redundant.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler February 13, 2019 at 8:37 am #

      Sharon, “novel” is just fine. Or, of course, you can modify it with a genre (“suspense novel,” etc.). But “fiction novel” is redundant; all novels are fiction.

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 13, 2019 at 7:22 am #

    There were days when I pondered
    time-passages of work and life,
    leaves’ turnings, springs’ graces squandered
    by a man whose arrogance was rife
    with entitled aspiration
    and the presumtion of a course
    of which he held no hesitation
    in using up God’s wealth-disburse.
    But walls of flames surround me now
    and pain drowns out the singing birds
    and I am broken to the plow,
    making hope in Hell alive in words.
    And when I have this day endured
    comes eternity’s season with the Lord.

    • Judi February 13, 2019 at 8:31 am #

      What a hard season you are in, Andrew. Praying your day is light with God’s presence.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 13, 2019 at 8:36 am #

        Many thanks, Judi. This morning is becoming kind of impossible; it is only God’s strong arms that are – quite literally – keeping me on my feet.

    • Judith Robl February 14, 2019 at 5:27 am #

      Oh, Andrew. Some of life’s seasons seem all too long and too hard. Just know how precious you are to God – and to those of us who love you from afar. Pax Christi.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 14, 2019 at 7:34 am #

        Judith, thank you so much. This is an especially rough day, and Love is my life-vest in a cold and stormy sea.

  8. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D February 13, 2019 at 7:39 am #

    Bob, I guess you would say that I’m in between seasons right now….five books written, none published yet….Oh, make that six books- my dissertation on House, M.D. was published…the real world makes getting the dissertation published like a Sunday walk in the park….It went from being written (in 12 months) to being published in 16 months. I was spoiled….

  9. Martha Rogers February 13, 2019 at 7:54 am #

    I’ve always thought of life in seasons and if I applied it to writing, I would see Spring as that first stage when everything is new and we’re testing our wings. Ideas are budding, but it takes nurturing them to bring them to the season of blooming. . . summer. Marketing is the hard part. In the fall we reap the harvest of our spring and summer, but it does take work. In the winter we’re ready to hunker down and get busy on another project to plant and nurture in the spring.

    Facing my 83rd birthday in a few months, I’m in the winter season of both my life and my writing. I want to get those stories in my head on paper. So far, 54 of those stories have been published, but more are waiting to be told.

    I’ve been through all the seasons you’ve listed for writing and they are so true. For all of those who are still in the early seasons, I give you Galatians 6:9. I was 73 before my first book was published, but when God decided it was time to reap the harvest, He filled the barn to overflowing.

    • Judith Robl February 14, 2019 at 5:31 am #

      Oh, Martha! You give me such hope. My writing season came late in life as well. But I’m only 79 – at least til June.Thank you for your comments.

  10. Carol Ashby February 13, 2019 at 8:07 am #

    Bob, since so many of the seasons never end, I guess it’s rather like the “seasons” in Hawaii, where nothing much is different except during the “hurricane season” when one makes landfall. To maintain sales levels, I find the marketing season never ends, either.

    I’d never encourage someone to tell an agent they had a fiction novel, but I’ve discovered something interesting about what readers call them. When we enter a search term at Amazon, it offers frequently searched related terms as choices. When I enter “biblical fiction” in the All Departments search at Amazon, the very first term it offers is “biblical fiction novels.” Since I’ve never used that search term, it isn’t just parroting back something it thinks I’ve searched before.

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield February 13, 2019 at 4:41 pm #

      Martha,
      You may have no idea how much hope you give! I am/have been a student, wife, teacher, mother x4, student again, missionary to Chile, teacher again, grandmother x10, student again, dissertation consultant, volunteer… and through it all, a writer. Like Sheri, I got to see my dissertation published. I write for a newspaper column. I’ve have had articles published in the academic press and Guideposts. But none of my nine completed books are published–YET! You are the proof that the hope expressed in “YET” isn’t in vain. Thank you!

  11. Lisa Simonds February 13, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    “A season doesn’t break when I drop it.” Shirlee, that’s funny!!!!

    Thank you, Bob, for the post. Putting language to a thing gives mastery over it. (I learned that from reading a book.) “Seasons” is beautiful imagery to put to the phases of the writing life.

    Now, I’m a Texan, and down here we only have two seasons. So I’m picking up what you’re putting down for Writing Season and Marketing Season. I’m in Marketing Season this year – love it! But for a few months, I was trying to do “Writing Season” at the same time. Why? Just a dummy, I guess. There is a meme floating around the internet in which Mother Nature told Texas you can’t do all four seasons in one day, and Texas said, “Hold my beer.” Maybe that influenced me.

    Thank you for another fantastic post!

  12. Sy Garte February 13, 2019 at 9:35 am #

    Thanks for this post Bob. Currently living in a few of those seasons (the editing one just ended) and thinking about what comes next.

    Andrew. Please know that your words on these threads are inspirational, moving and of great value to so many of us. You may be broken on the plough, but the Spirit has chosen you during this time to bring hope and consolation to your struggling colleagues, and you are blessed beyond measure. Peace.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 13, 2019 at 11:28 am #

      Sy, you just brought light to what has become a very hard day, and I’m deeply, eeply grateful for your kind and affirming words.

      It’s such a privilege to be here!

  13. Kay February 13, 2019 at 10:08 am #

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom regarding the “Seasons of Writing”. Excellent info!

  14. Joey Rudder February 13, 2019 at 10:36 am #

    I find it very helpful to look at my writing life as seasons. Thank you, Bob. It helps me to understand the importance of overlapping seasons and the need to manage my time. I’ll keep working on time management as I strive to build my platform and as I write my second fiction novel. (Haha! Just kidding.)

  15. Melissa Henderson February 13, 2019 at 1:14 pm #

    I had not thought of writing “seasons”. Your explanation is awesome! 🙂 Seems some of my writing “seasons” may overlap at times. 🙂

  16. Maco Stewart February 13, 2019 at 1:28 pm #

    A great post, Bob, and not what I was expecting. These are words of wisdom in a memorable frame.

  17. claire o'sullivan February 13, 2019 at 1:37 pm #

    Good post.

    I have been thoroughly confused in areas (seasons). As for the pitching proposal/manuscript, I was not one-thousand percent certain of what to do about editing and when and where.

    A good, polished manuscript came to me, more through an agent than anything else, however, it still evaded me, and I lost the thought within the email exchange somehow.

    But going forward, I have spoken with other authors who have obtained editors prior to submitting or even pitching. That makes sense to me, and I am glad you clarified it for this country bumpkin.

  18. Linda Riggs Mayfield February 13, 2019 at 4:57 pm #

    Bob,
    You bring such clarity to the muddy waters of the writing life! I live in the Midwest, where we have seasons. (Although several often seem to appear in one week, I think Lisa’s Texas story tops that.) Vast numbers of people from here flee to Florida for the winter (“Snowbirds”) to experience one less season of weather. I think I’ve been Snowbirding to avoid the platform-building season. Hmm. Maybe it’s time to “stay home” and work on building that “snow fort.”

  19. Terri Gillespie February 14, 2019 at 4:43 am #

    Loved this blog, Bob. It was a funny slap in the face reality check.

    I guess, being a writer is living it everyday. There’s always a current of thought pertaining to writing. It may ebb and flow and wax and wanes depending upon our “season.” But, it’s part of who we are.

    Thanks for your wise counsel.

  20. Edward W. Finch, III February 14, 2019 at 6:52 pm #

    Thought provoking, but I think you need a better metaphor. By definition seasons come and go, but reoccur in sequential order. Once past the first book launch, the seasons become nearly constant – except for the writing season. The writing season is what we are all about. I don’t know in my limited exposure anyone who writes because they love to market.
    Perhaps a better analogy would be a river. A river has currents and certain geographical features; unpredictable at times, but repeating although not necessarily in any given order. Somethings must be avoided and other things must be and still other things should be (like the waterfall of professional writing-about-writing).
    Nope. Nothing like seasons. Writers are not farmers who labor through each season with regularity: preparing the soil, planting the seed, tending the crops, harvest time. Writers (of fiction at least) are an adventurous lot; traveling the waterways in a canoe of our own making. Never exactly sure of what is around the bend. It can be an adventure.

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