This one's tricky. Looking back, I wish I'd known a lot of things about writing and publishing.
But then I second-guess myself and think, No, I'm glad I didn't know this or that back then . . . it might have made me give up.
Here are five things that I think would have helped, many of which I learned the hard way:
1. You will have an apprenticeship.
That means not to plan on success out of the gate. Sure, you may be one of the lucky ones who hits a home run on their first try, but the chances of that are less than the chance of getting struck by lightning.
Most of those overnight successes you hear about took years to actually happen. Like a concert pianist who spent years on their craft, writers must spend time (and lots of it) learning their craft. Writing well isn't easy.
Case in point: Uber-famous and successful Brandon Sanderson has exploded onto the fantasy scene. But it took writing something like THIRTEEN books, religiously honing his craft for YEARS, before his "overnight" success arrived.
2. You Will Be Rejected.
I don't know a single author who hasn't faced rejection at some point. Not even those lucky enough to get their first book accepted. Eventually everyone gets rejected in some way. Many times. The way to success is often paved with the stones of how you cope with that rejection.
Do you wallow and weep and tear your hair out and quit?
Do you whine and complain that someone's an idiot and that no one recognizes your brilliance?
Do you allow yourself a few tears but then come back and think, Hmm. Is there any truth to what they said? How can I take this and grow?
(Note #1: There are some big life lessons there. This doesn't apply to writing alone.)
(Note #2: Large quantities of French Silk Pie have been known to speed along the grieving process. Anecdotal reports, of course.)
3. At some point, you'll have to step out of your box.
For that matter, you'll probably have to step so far out of it that you don't know where your box is anymore.
I'm naturally a very shy person. I feel comfortable chatting it up with friends I know well, but I have a difficult time making new friends. (Example: I've been in this neighborhood for about 8 years, and I don't think more than a couple of people really know me or consider me a friend. Sad, really. And largely my fault.)
But the moment you have a book out, you can't sit in your happy bubble with your computer, living in the little world of your own creation. You have to do things like book signings and speaking engagements and other things that scare the living daylights out of you, like talking to complete strangers about your projects, maybe even teaching about this thing you know internally but have never put into words. Even exciting, wonderful things can be terrifying. (TV appearances and radio interviews, anyone?)
4. Your safe little bubble isn't the best place in the world after all.
I've had some of the greatest experiences of my life since blasting my little box to bits and pushing myself to step into situations that were uncomfortable at first. One of the greatest benefits include amazing writing friends who are the best support system I could have. Another is the honor of being involved in things like the LDStorymakers conference and the inception of the Whitney Awards.
Or the year Heather Moore and I chaired the conference, getting to host the agent and editor who came . . . and then hanging out and talking with them for hours after the rest of the attendees went to bed. (One of many priceless experiences.)
5. There is no finish line.
Somehow we writers get the idea in our heads that when X happens, THEN we will have arrived. THEN we'll be happy. THEN it'll be easy. Or whatever.
Here's the thing: "THEN" never arrives. Really. Your contract isn't the end of the race; it's the beginning of a new lap. Every new step is just that: another step. There will always be another level to reach for.
And (here's a depressing thought) no, this gig doesn't get easier. You'll always hit the 2/3 mark on a manuscript and be absolutely certain there's no way you'll finish a book this time (or whatever your personal Achilles' heel is).
In some ways, that's a good thing. I figure that if I ever think that I've arrived, that I'm totally awesome and have this thing down, then that's also the day I rest on my laurels and stop caring about the craft, about my readers, about growing.
It's the day my work takes a nosedive. *Shudder.*
Growth is good; I never want to end up stagnant. So, no looking for a finish line.
Instead, work what's in front of you now and reach higher. Always.