Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Lonely Writer's Companion

“How Do You Stay Motivated?”

Welcome to the new improved Lonely Writer’s Companion! The format’s simple: You send in your questions, and each month I’ll select one to answer. Email your questions to me c/o (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.)

"Typing 'The End' does not a final draft make. I don’t care how much line editing you did . . . "

Question: This month’s question comes from Jim B., who asks, “How do you keep yourself motivated in today’s tough publishing environment?”

The Lonely Writer responds:Oh, Jim B. I hope you’re not looking for cheerleading or hopefulness, because the Lonely Writer prefers the truth to rose-colored platitudes. That said, I’d like to come at this question from two different angles—what you can do for your manuscript, and what the brave new world of publishing can offer once you’ve done it.

So, first, your manuscript. Typing “The End” does not a final draft make. I don’t care how much line editing you did along the way; how brilliant your spouse insists it is; how many commas you changed to periods to please that particular person in your critique group; or how plain relieved you are to just get the dratted thing finished. You’re not finished—unless you want to be. And if you want to be, there are vehicles out there to independently publish your first draft without a lick of revision or rewriting.

But if you want your manuscript to be more than the work of someone who didn’t want to bother revising or rewriting (which, in my book, is what separates the real writers from the wannabes), then you’re going to want to put it away for a while and then revisit it to see what’s missing and what doesn’t need to be there. A professional manuscript editor can help you at this point (see my September column for more information), as can any number of books about editing your own work. I now enjoy revision and rewriting as much as (if not more than) creating the first draft. If you are passionate about good writing, you cannot skip this step.

"Polishing your manuscript no longer means you’ll find a traditional publisher."

Still, I must be the bearer of bad news, with a good news chaser. Polishing your manuscript no longer means you’ll find a traditional publisher. But so what? Publishing with a traditional publisher offers you roughly 10% of net sales, while creating your own imprint, or using someone else’s, will garner somewhere between 50% and 80%—of gross. Many well-known writers are now choosing to offer their backlists independently, and the onus no longer applies to going your own way. You do need to do your own marketing, branding, and outreach, but there are websites to help you with these things, too.

Most of us who’ve been in the writing business a while are doing a balancing act—buying back the rights to some of our older books in order to reissue them independently while continuing to publish some titles through traditional presses. The latter offers us the assistance of established and respected editorial and marketing departments but less money (far less money, usually). The former gives us control and monthly checks, but also means we have less time for writing because we’ve got to do our own outreach.

"Writers write no matter what 'the publishing environment.'"

But I see I’ve not really answered your question about how I stay motivated. Motivated to do what? Write? I can’t imagine not writing—I’ve been doing it my entire life. If you aren’t compelled to write every single day, if writing isn’t so much a part of who you are that you could abandon it, then you’re not a writer. Writers write no matter what “the publishing environment.” We write because it’s what we do. I hope it’s what you do, too.


Got a question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion? Email it to me c/o (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.) Your question could appear in a future column.


Find Your Story Writer Your Memoir
Find Your Story,
Write Your Memoir

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
and Lynn C. Miller
Buy This Book via

PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (, creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She's an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: