It’s discouraging sometimes, walking into a bookstore and eyeing all those books. Look at all those successful writers who have written so much good stuff. Will you ever have your own small space on a Barnes & Noble shelf?
I don’t know what your bookstores are like. But near my hometown, there’s a Barnes & Noble so big they have an escalator AND an elevator to get to the second floor. Maybe that’s typical in bigger cities. But I could live in there, literally.
When I headed up to Naperville for John Green’s book tour stop, I spent a few hours in Barnes & Noble just looking. Just marveling at all the things all those authors had crafted.
Fiction is a side project for me. But it hasn’t always been. Back when all I wanted to do was write novels, I often felt that chronic discouragement you’ve probably felt. If so many other people have already published so many things, is there really “room” left for you?
There is. Even if you only ever end up self-publishing your fiction, there’s a place for you.
Because being able to write makes you an asset in more than one area of your life. I know that some of you cringe at the thought of writing press releases or grants for the rest of your life. Those are options, sure, but writing doesn’t have to be a primary part of your day job for your skills to make a difference.
If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of people who just can’t write well. There are plenty of reasons for this. For many, English is a second or even a third or fourth language. No judgment there. Some people are just blissfully unaware that their written communications are virtually illegible.
And there’s also an opposite end to this spectrum — people who are experts in a field who don’t know how to use simple, straightforward language to communicate messages (a fault that I spent two years academically training to correct in my own science writing — you’re welcome).
A good writer isn’t necessarily someone who has published 20 books, whose work has been picked up by HuffPost or NYT or insert website you’ve always dreamed of having a byline in.
Sometimes, good writing means an employer hires you because you’re the optimal bridge between a company’s messaging and a loyal, understanding customer base.
Sometimes, it means websites or companies hire you on contract to write a few things here and there, because your writing resonates with people and it’s enjoyable to read.
“Success” means something different for every writer. No two writers follow the same path to get to the various milestones in their careers.
If you end up with a book on any floor of Barnes & Noble, well, you’re awesome! You deserve a cookie.
If your day job is insert not very exciting or easy to explain to outsiders thing here, but once a week you contribute to a column writing about a subject you really like, you’re awesome! You deserve a cookie.
Maybe you’ll work with educational companies, writing textbooks. Or with scientists, helping them learn to write about metabolism in a way that makes sense to someone who doesn’t know what metabolism is.
However you end up using your skills, you’re contributing to the bigger picture.
You’re doing work that matters.
The world needs more writers who make reading easy, enjoyable, and worthwhile for everyone. Figure out what that means for you specifically, set your goals, and get to work.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.