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The Four Phases of a Writer’s Life

February 10, 2012

I don’t consider myself to be much of a writer, since I barely have time to scratch out even a lousy blog post once in a while. But that doesn’t stop me from daydreaming about it during my commute home from work, when I imagine myself as a celebrated author and much sought-after thought-leader. I picture the many calls and emails I would get from agents and publishers, all clawing to get a piece of me because my work is in such great demand.

“These people are so annoying!” I would complain to my wife. “Why can’t they just leave me alone to work on my craft in peace?”

My brash agent, Marty, would try to manage it all, calling me frequently with updates. “Screw Thomas Nelson!” he would bark over the cell phone, dismissing their offer for a six-figure advance. “We’ve got Crown salivating for a 3-book deal and Hyperion is chasing us like a stray dog in heat!” I attempt to calm Marty down, admonishing him for his colorful use of foul language. But I’ll admit, he sure knows how to get it done!

Then I would run through a roster of friends and acquaintances, as well as people I don’t even know, imagining their reactions upon hearing about my runaway publishing success. “I knew Brad was multi-talented,” they would say in utter amazement, “but, golly – now you’re telling me he’s on top of the New York Times bestseller list?”

Although I am not very experienced, there are a few things I have picked up on. One observation is that writers go through four distinct phases. These are then repeated in a never-ending cycle. Surely, the harmony of this spirit-filled journey must represent the beautiful integration in the soul of a writer’s life.

Phase 1: Self-Aggrandizement.

In this high-flying phase, the writer brims with confidence, thanks to an inflated sense of talent and perceived importance to the literary world. However insane it might be, this madly unrealistic self-perception keeps the creative juices flowing. One can often detect hints of the writer caught in this phase while listening in on his private conversations:  “Honey, I honestly believe that what I’ve written here will change the world.” Or, “I can’t possibly take  a blog sabbatical. My readers are counting on me!”

Phase 2: Bitter envy.

Here is when the writer comes across news of his friend’s success, which spirals into an emotional frenzy as he immediately draws comparisons to his own less-successful situation. Perhaps a friend sends an innocent Tweet sharing some good news: “Thank the Lord, my draft manuscript was picked up at the writer’s conference last week. I am so amazed that this international publisher has put so much faith in a first-time author such as me!” Or he sees yet another story in the New York Times about some blogger he has never heard of with some lame idea who is now discussing licensing deals, movie and television production rights.  The writer is now fuming with jealousy and envy regarding the obvious injustice. “Why is everyone else getting a shot but me? I am far more talented than that idiot! When will these fools start to take notice of my work?”

Phase 3: Utter dejection.

The writer then goes through a very dark stage marked by feelings of worthlessness and despondency upon the realization that his talent is mediocre at best, and that the public really doesn’t care all that much about his work. You may not hear from the writer during this phase, as he prefers to stay quietly sequestered at home with the curtains drawn, watching reruns, or slipping back into former addictions.

Phase 4: Resignation and Acceptance.

“Oh, I just surrendered it all to the Lord,” you will hear the writer say with a sigh as he takes a sip of herbal tea. Here you will notice a spiritual resurgence as the writer finally lets go of those far-fetched fantasies and detaches his personal sense of self-worth from the amount of public attention he receives.

It’s all in God’s hands now, so why not go back and write some more? You do love the writing so much, after all.

Upon reviewing a couple of drafts the writer begins to say, “Hey, you know what? This material  is not really all that bad!” Surely there must be someone out there who will agree. And come to think of it, a little acknowledgement of the work would be nice once in a while.

And the cycle continues…

Thanks to Nance for the cool picture!

26 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2012 7:00 am

    I think you just described my average week.
    For me, what gets me is who people group me with. When people refer to me in the same sentence with blogs I respect, I’m on top of the world. But then when someone is like “Oh, Dottie has a blog where she posts pictures of her dog. And you have a blog too, huh?” – that’s when I tend to get a little more dejected.

  2. February 10, 2012 8:22 am

    Oh yes. Those cycles look very familiar to me. Well, except the part about Marty. Who is he? 😉

    • February 11, 2012 5:18 pm

      I am sure Marty exists as a literary agent archetype. Some day he will be mine. Mine, I tell you! Mine!

  3. February 10, 2012 8:29 am

    This is really a fun piece! But I would content there’s a fifth stage, and I think it’s something The High Calling promotes. I’d call it something like Work & Promote. Work your writing thing, to the best of your ability, however big or small, and Promote the heck out of others. There is no one better at this than Glynn Young.

    • February 11, 2012 5:18 pm

      Good idea, Megan. You can tell I never made it to that stage. Perhaps that is the root of the problem?

  4. Phil permalink
    February 10, 2012 8:31 am

    Brad, repeat after me…”It is my hobby, it is my hobby.”
    You are better blogger than I am hockey player…if it makes you feel any better.

  5. February 10, 2012 12:47 pm

    Very funny. Just, please, don’t forget about all the little people when Marty is brashly managing all your success.

  6. February 10, 2012 1:15 pm

    This is one seriously funny piece. I seem stuck in steps 2, 3, and 4, though.

    • February 11, 2012 5:32 pm

      Well then you are in great company, me dear. I read once that writers were the most egotistical, driven, insecure bunch on the planet. Writers, and comedians.

  7. February 10, 2012 1:56 pm

    nail on the head and totally funny! bingo, baby!

  8. February 10, 2012 2:46 pm


    At least you spelled “utter” right. I reckon this post would have taken a whole different route had you erroneously used “udder.”


  9. February 10, 2012 3:09 pm

    Round and round and round again. You’ve nailed it. And, yes, you ARE a writer!

  10. February 10, 2012 7:19 pm

    Now I know what’s wrong with me- I’m not really a writer… I never started with Phase1-high confidence.

    I put a few words out there at a time and build a tiny bit of confidence with the little feedback that pushes me to maybe write that next post!

    Except I do align with the write whether anyone reads it cause I love to do it! That is the part that makes me realize it is all God anyway!

    Great post and stuff to think about!

  11. February 10, 2012 9:31 pm

    This is just way too familiar to me – and painful while I laugh. Never actually had a big burst of phase 1, too familiar with #2, and sorta stuck in phase 3 at the moment, seriously considering just dropping the whole dang thing. Waiting for the cycle to work its way through and to fold me into the grace of #4. You have nailed the proverbial nail right on its sad little head. Thanks for this.

  12. February 11, 2012 9:25 am

    Further proof that I’m abysmal at this. I can’t even go through the proper phases.


  13. February 11, 2012 9:29 am

    It sounds like we can all relate to one cycle or another! Thanks Bradley. Nice to know you are human too.

  14. February 11, 2012 12:27 pm

    I look so terrible in honesty. So ridiculous in truth. Thank goodness fashions change so quickly. Gives us a chance to look back with a little perspective. And maybe laugh a little bit, too.

  15. February 11, 2012 2:48 pm

    Never actually experience Phase 1 but can definitely relate.You’re a wonderful writer with interesting daydreams!

  16. February 11, 2012 3:41 pm

    First credit where credit is due…such a cute picture. I barely could start reading when my mind began its own piece about how the butterfly might possibly wanted to be up their with the birds and not lunch! Heh!

    Yes, how long did I spend valuable hours trying to convince my friends and family I was a writer, and not just a blogger. Validation to others is in that mix somewhere…

  17. February 11, 2012 3:42 pm

    I must get rid of this foul comment face…E Stelling at your service…Creative TMI is my real writing face…

  18. February 11, 2012 8:44 pm

    Ah the mirror (and the mild disappointment of being so predictable!)!

  19. February 12, 2012 8:44 pm

    I was relieved to find only four stages instead of a ten-step program. “Hello, my name is Jerry…”

  20. February 12, 2012 10:52 pm

    Yeah, this looks familiar. What about the phase where you think you’ve lost your mind? Doesn’t that belong in a writer’s journey?

    I also think I’m in these varioius phases at the same time. It’s not like an addiction program (I think you don’t have to go in order?).

  21. February 15, 2012 8:40 pm

    LOL, Brad. The truth of seasons. It’s all about maturity, right? Coming full circle, in a way. What did those old Taoist t-shirts say? Accept, Embrace, Let go.

  22. February 17, 2012 8:19 pm

    I seem to think I’m in the acceptance phase after the first paragraph and from there it is all down hill. Thank you for the article and a new approach to writing.

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