little truths

by Toni McGee Causey


There are things I’ve been thinking about lately. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that debut novelist, or even further back, to that almost-sold writer, and say, “Here. You’ll need to know these. They will keep you from lying fetal in the corner in a year or two.” But then, it’s most often the bad times that teach the best lessons, and maybe–just maybe–knowing them ahead of time wouldn’t have really worked. Still. If I could, maybe I’d go back and tell myself a few of these little truths:


1) You cannot drive forward by solely focusing on the rearview mirror. You can only see where you’ve been, and what you did, and if you don’t look forward, you’ll run off the road, sooner rather than later. Likewise, you cannot grow in your career or as a person when you’re always focused on what you did before that worked and assume that if you just did it all exactly the same again, everything will be fine. Eventually, the terrain in front of you is going to change. You have to let go of who you were yesterday and look out there to see where you’re going right now to make sure you’re aiming for who you want to be.

2) Life has a funny way of taking that nice, gently climbing terrain you’re ambling on and dropping off into a canyon, without any roadside warnings. Remember, there is almost always a bridge over or a road around or, short of that, a plane. In other words, canyons aren’t the end of the trip… they’re just an opportunity to see something different, learn something new, find a new path, and become a better you. Quit griping, put your foot on the pedal, and head in the new direction. You’ll get nowhere staring at the canyon.

3) There will occasionally be bad reviews. Think of the coconut factor, and let it go. (The coconut factor: coconut, is, and will always be, disgusting, ptui, nasty, awful, horrid, and useless as a food item. Even the smell is unpleasant. But there are entire swaths of people out there who love it, for reasons beyond understanding, and think you’re crazy for not giving it a five star review. Sometimes your book is just going to be their coconut. You can’t fix that, nor change it, nor should you even care. The world needs people with all sorts of tastes… especially the coconut farmers. C’est la vie.)

4) People will astound you. Really, this is the best part about this business — you will have fan letters which will choke you up, friends who stand by you when you’re down, who reach a hand out and pick you up, others who will encourage you and still others who will give you much needed advice. You will realize that this is what makes you wealthy, not contracts, not lists, not print runs.

5) You will come to realize that everything that led up to the first book contract was the equivalent to internship/training, and signing the contract is the equivalent of signing an employment contract. Meaning, that sale is not the end of the road, the “arrival” of success, but simply the end of one phase and the beginning of another: the job. Just like any other employment, there will be good days and bad, things that go beautifully, and things that don’t. No job is perfect. It simply can’t be. Every single job has obstacles and learning curves and opportunities–and writing is no different. Expect those curves and you’ll be fine.

6) Though you’ll still hate coconut.

7) You’ll be faced with obstacles and you will choose to grow.

8) It will hurt.

9) Like hell.

10) But it will be worth it. It’s hard to see, sometimes, when you’re deep in the woods, lost, in pain, but you’ll take that dark and those woods and learn from them, and what you end up with will be so much better, that if given the choice to go back and live life without having had the pain, you’d choose the same path. 

11) You will one day be very very sleepy after writing a blog really late into the middle of the night, and you will accidentally splatter toothpaste into your eye. It will really wake up that eye. I do not recommend this.

12) When dealing with staircases, don’t assume the last two steps are merely suggestions and skip them altogether. Trust me, gravity works, concrete is not soft, and purple toes are not next year’s must-have accessory.

So tell me, ‘Rati, what little truth have you learned lately?

24 thoughts on “little truths

  1. anonymous

    That offering to take all of my brother’s stuff that he needs to put in storage because he is selling his house because he has been out of work for two years and needs to ‘stage’ his home and I have the room to take all of it except that I still haven’t found room for all of the stuff that I moved out and moved back in when our house burned down in 2000 (Iknow…ten years ago…..get growed up already) and all of the stuff that I took from my mom’s house when she moved into the ‘old folks’ home" (her label) was a big mistake………and that is the truth so help me God.

    Loved this post. Writers are human? Who knew?

  2. Cornelia Read

    1. The older I get, the more "nice" matters.

    2. The only people who are "normal" are those we don’t know well.

    3. The book is *not* writing itself while you’re procrastinating.

  3. billie

    This, too, shall pass.

    I learned this a long time ago, but am reminded of it recently, and the new part for me is finding the thought a comfort instead of a trigger for my terrible impatience.

    It’s nice to see some of my bad traits are improving after so many years!

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Toni

    Sorry to hear about the toothpaste incident – did we hear screaming from the other end of the house last night…?

    (I don’t want to worry you, but I’m writing this from your kitchen while you sleep…)

    OK, things I’ve learned:

    1) Clean the bath before you get out of it.

    2) A frying onion will always convince hungry people that something is cooking, even if the meal is an hour away.

    3) Always set the blade of the chopsaw spinning BEFORE you drop it onto the piece of wood you’re trying to cut, otherwise it will kick back and attempt to remove your best writing fingers…

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Love this post. My little truths lately:

    1. Take my own damn advice and just finish the draft five pages at a time- worry about fixing it later.

    2. My mother was oh-so-right all those years that she kept telling me, "Honey, you’re overextended."

    I have been overextended for my entire conscious life. I am working on releasing that, now.

  6. PK the Bookeemonster

    I’m one of those that like coconut. In fact, this summer I’m hooked on coconut Popsicles by Dreyers. And I love the smell of that suntan oil — is it Tropicana? — that smells like coconut. But I substitute the word mayonnaise for coconut and I get your meaning. 🙂

    Yes, we do learn more from the mistakes and painful episodes and that we go through them is not an accident. However, I’m also learning that when the path is smooth it seems to mean that I’m on the right course. Right now I’m starting up a new mystery newsletter (first issue in August as a soft release) and so far everything has fallen into place (except trying to contact publishers for short book excerpts). So also "trust the process and don’t go looking for bumps in the road if they’re not there."

  7. Louise Ure

    Sorry about the toothpaste and the toes, Toni.

    I told a bum on a park bench yesterday when he said he was a good person because he hadn’t killed anybody and hadn’t been in prison, "Don’t tell me what you haven’t done. Tell me what you’ve done to make a difference?"

  8. judy wirzberger

    Inspiration is like hair on a woman’s chin. She may not see it, but it’s there.

    Life sucks – sometimes lemons, sometimes sweet lemonade.

    Somebody (who will remain anonymous) needs a garage sale

  9. CJ Lyons

    I don’t know much and what little I do, I owe to the wonderful folk who have paved the road before me:

    ~writers have the BEST job in the world (this I did figure out myself)

    ~the Reader IS God when it comes to writing as a career (this I learned from Jeffery Deaver)

    ~always be a "first-class you instead of a second-class imitation of someone else" (this came from David Morrell)

    ~No Rules, Just Write! (this I learned from my students)

    ~Three secrets to success: Vision, Passion, Commitment AKA "Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!" (thank you, Coach Eric Taylor)

    And lastly, just for Toni: ice, ice, ice, elevate, elevate, elevate…..

    Great post, Toni!

  10. Allison Brennan

    There are many things I’ve learned over the last few years. And I’m still learning!

    1) Favorite quote that’s true to this day: "Perfection is not attainable. But if you chase perfection, you can catch excellence." — Vince Lombardi. You can learn from your mistakes, you can improve, if you keep pushing to do better, write with your heart and passion, and edit with your head.

    2) "Writer’s write." — Stephen King. I tell myself this every single day. Especially when I want to procrastinate.

    3) Some decisions are harder than others, but that doesn’t mean you can avoid them.

    4) Sometimes, you have to step back and play video games with the kids. It’s humbling.

  11. Eika

    College students don’t get to set their own work hours during summer vacation.
    College students don’t have the nerve to refuse work, no matter how much it interferes with prime writing time.

    *sighs* That’s me right now. They scheduled me for 40 hours, and I need the money, so it’s great. But 5 PM-1 AM? Really? Five days in a row? Ouch.

  12. Paula R.

    Hey Toni, such a great post. This is a life lesson, if I have ever read one. One very important lesson I learned from one of my drill sergeants…"Suck it up and drive on." It didn’t really click for me until I faced something I thought I would never be able to get pass. I said this mantra over and over, and I am still driving on. I tell my students this all the time too. You can’t change the things from the past, just learn from them, suck it up and drive on. Then another one of my faves, which billie mentioned, kicks in, "this too shall pass." If I keep those in mind, I will continue to make it through every second of every day. Thanks for the life lesson here.

    I hope you eye and your toes are feeling much better today.

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

  13. JT Ellison

    I’ve learned too much this year to put on paper, but the most important ones:

    Writing gets harder, not easier.

    When laundry is done, fold it immediately, and unpack suitcases immediately, or you will send the next week telling yourself that it needs to get done, and it won’t.

    Give knowledge freely and without reservation.

    True friends are the ones who don’t try to change you.

    Toni, glad the foot isn’t broken. Rest!

  14. Tom

    Big one, recently; you’re going to have to hurt your protagonist for your readers to care about him/her.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. It just became appallingly clear in a different way all of a sudden.

  15. Mary

    My choices made me the person that I am. If I could change those choices I would no longer be me.

    Ooo Toni, I’ve done the toothpaste thing. Sort of makes you want to break through walls, doesn’t it?


    Giggles and Guns

  16. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thank you for this, Toni. I needed this today.
    Now I bury my head back into the manuscript, study my wife’s critical notes, watch the folks outside the cafe window having fun at the beach.
    Maybe I should stop writing at cafes by the beach? I’ll put it on my list.

  17. Pari Noskin Taichert

    I just got back to the computer after a vacation and my whole post tomorrow is about what I learned last week.

    Lesson learned today: Even though they’re a painintheass, dogs make a happy home even more complete. (We just got them back from the kennel.)

  18. Catherine

    I was surprisingly succinct about my every moment counts truth. (last night my time)

    The expanded version is that I find that moments that I think are mundane, the absolute porridge of life often turn out to be pivotal….from a hindsight perspective.

  19. Barbie

    Seriously, I wanna be you when I grow up. These blogs are why I fell in love with your writing and why I think you’re the best thing aside double fudge chocolate cake. YOU are awesome! 🙂 ♥

    (Though, I like coconut. It’s actually quite good)

  20. Robert Gregory Browne

    One of the things I’ve learned is that no matter how good you might think you are, no matter how much confidence you might have in your work—even if it flags at times—you can always be better. And if you don’t get better with each book, then something is amiss.

    Try reading the writers who inspire you and you will be humbled. And being humbled is sometimes a good thing.

    Oh, and all editors are different. Don’t expect them to be the same or you’re in for a shock.

  21. toni mcgee causey

    Oh, I loved all the answers today, folks. I read them and enjoyed them as we were touring around south Louisiana with Zoë and Andy, not catching fish (though it was a valiant try), eating boiled crawfish (and watching Zoë peel them, priceless lifetime memory) and generally having an absolutely amazing time. I love days like this. Thank you all for your lessons–especially the eye remedy. 😉

  22. June Shaw


    Where did you find boiled crayfish today? They weren’t too hard? (For those of you not from LA, our crayfish season is about over–damn it.)

    Sure wish I’d known about the toothpaste and such. I’d have told Al, and he could’ve told Sharon. He came to Houma today. Oh, wait a minute. I can email them now: )

    Enjoyed your post.

  23. toni mcgee causey

    June, they were in this little place called Wiggins Restaurant, in Morgan City. We just happened upon the place and they were boiling some; as luck had it, we didn’t have to wait long. Luckily, they were actually quite good. A tad bit more difficult to peel than normal, but seasoned well.


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