There’s a difference between being realistic about your goals and sabotaging your own potential.
I’ve told readers of this blog a hundred times over that making a living as a writer, succeeding in this creativity-based business, is hard. I don’t sugar-coat it. I have shared my own triumphs and struggles as I have moved through various stages of building up a career in writing over the years. Never once have I told you, hopeful aspiring writer that you are, that you cannot do this.
However, I have also never held back the truth – that it takes a unique kind of willpower to get through the most difficult parts of this writing career building process. A combination of characteristics many of us have to learn to craft into personal habits over a span of years.
It occurred to me this morning that your goal of “becoming a writer” has likely met with one of three general responses as you’ve grown up – either those around you were overly encouraging (a sort of “you can do anything you put your mind to” philosophy), extremely discouraging (“not many writers actually end up writing full-time, and if they do, they never make much financially”), or responses have always been relatively neutral (“we won’t actually mention how unlikely this is for you, but go chase your dreams anyway”).
I have encountered writers both in the wakes of success and failure who have approached the topic of aspiring writers (I prefer to call them “creatives in the active pursuit of reasonable writing projects”) with a surprisingly negative attitude. Those who have succeeded really seem to want up-and-coming writers to know how much they had to struggle to get to where they are, and often point to luck as their catalyst for a best-seller or a shiny new award. Those who have failed seem to feel the need to warn fellow writers that pursuing a career in writing will always lead to disappointment … always.
(While that’s true – some disappointment is inevitable – it’s not all dark and twisty.)
I must confess that maybe I have made the mistake of taking on a grossly negative persona in the past, at least mildly. Because being realistic, while it might seem the appropriate thing to do, is often taken too far. So much so that we highlight only the dark side of realism, and ignore the bright spots. Without even realizing that’s what we’re doing, maybe.
It has always been my goal to do two things: approach writing with an honest, tough-lovey lens, and give you the starting tools to help you navigate your way through your path toward success. It’s not that this whole writing thing is impossible – it’s that many people will never follow through with their goals, at least they won’t if they’re not willing to actively pursue them. (How to do this is a big topic – if I’ve written about it before, here’s a link, and if I haven’t, I will very soon.)
But many people are wired to pay attention only to the negative viewpoints on things. That’s just how it is. It might be very hard for you to hear anything else besides, “Writing is hard and if you’re too lazy you’re never going to make it.” That may be true (honesty, remember?), but that doesn’t mean you are not capable of success. It just means you are going to have to work really hard. And many don’t want to hear that. Or maybe they just can’t.
Here’s what happens when you keep hearing how much of a struggle writing is. You start to approach every writing project already in the mindset that this is going to be a struggle – and that you have to struggle if you want to succeed.
I have good news: it’s not true. At least, not completely.
Because, yes – writing is a struggle in the sense that you have to put up with a lot of resistance before good things start happening. That’s what I, and maybe many other writing bloggers, mean when mentioning “the struggle.” But that does not mean every single minute of writing has to be painful. And it also doesn’t mean that if you’re writing something, and it feels good, you’re automatically doing something wrong.
As I’ve said before, your mind has a major influence on your perception of a task. So if you walk into your office before you even start writing, thinking about how unpleasant it’s going to be, guess what? It’s going to be unpleasant.
But if you walk into your office and think, “I’m going to write today, and no matter what, it’s going to work out in my favor,” then maybe today won’t be so bad.
Rejection doesn’t have to mean failure.
An unresponsive audience doesn’t have to mean you’re doing something wrong.
Poor sales doesn’t have to mean you didn’t do your best.
We’re just trained to think that way. Because we keep paying attention to the successes and failures of the writing world that keep telling us how much it sucks to be a writer.
It really doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe if we all stopped approaching this so negatively all the time – myself included – we’d stop struggling, and start accomplishing more things.
I’m going to try really hard to pay more attention to my “being a writer sucks” mentality this week, and I hope you’ll do the same. I’ll return with an update on my experience for you next week. (There will still be posts in-between, just about other, more positive things.)
Now stop whining, and get back to writing. ;)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.