Do you want to dominate the competition?
Do you want to develop a brand that will give marketing consultants dry heaves?
Do you want to crush your next book project and so that readers riot in the streets demanding a follow up book and the global economy crashes?
Then don’t read this post.
This post is for the people who write because they can’t fall asleep at night as ideas bounce around in their heads. They scribble notes throughout the day, trying to capture that brilliant insight that bubbled up in their brains while showering. They read books and keep thinking of what they would have done differently. They can’t stop themselves from going out in the evening to tap away in a café or sneaking away in the morning to fill a few pages of a notebook.
As my friend Rob Stennett put it: “Writing is my full life crisis.”
There’s a divide of sorts among writers and other creative types. The divide is between the people who love to write and those who love to write as an entrepreneurial endeavor. Both are good and fine and great and healthy. I lie awake at night thinking of ways to improve my writing, while they lie awake at night trying to think of ways to grow their writing business. The difference may be subtle, but I believe it’s very real.
I read books and blogs by the entrepreneurial type big shot writers who build huge businesses around giving writing advice. They have good things to say, even if there are days when I want to print out their pictures and lay them in the rabbits’ litter box so they can be shredded, eaten, and then pooped out.
Here’s the problem: The big shot, dominate-the-world writers make the lovers of writing feel like crap.
I write because it’s a holy calling, an itch I can’t stop scratching, an art that I’ve sacrificed my reputation and bank account for. It’s not that I want to be foolish or wasteful with my work. It’s just that I write for the love of it. I’m not wired to think of the big picture. I’m not a businessman or marketing genius. Even if the big shots see writing as a “calling,” there’s a noticeable difference between those who can’t help thinking about the big business picture and those who get a cramp trying to think about their writing as a business.
I can only think as far ahead as the bottom of my page. I don’t really know how one goes about dominating Twitter with constant witty and conversational tweets as part of a writing advice empire. I refuse to write my own version of pandering self-help business-speak wishy washy drivel. I’m terrible at building a media empire. It’s not that I’m lazy or afraid to work on promoting my writing. It’s just that I’m so consumed with the work of writing itself that I struggle with putting together orderly promotion campaigns. I soldier on. I network. I really like chatting about my books with anyone who will listen. But this business of dominating and crushing it and branding myself and being this persona is too foreign.
I used to really beat myself up over all of this. I would watch other writers “dominate” the industry by putting together marginally readable self-help nonsense and then I’d consider packing it in. How could I ever make it as a writer if I struggle so mightily where these big shots have risen to great heights? Even if the big shots shared their super duper top secret tips and tricks for crushing and dominating, would I ever be able to really pull it off? They suggest stuff like:
You don’t need to sleep! Work all night and you’ll dominate!
You don’t need to work all night! You only need a four hour work week!
You don’t need to work harder, you just need to be nice and honest!
You don’t need to learn how to write, just surround yourself with positive slogans and buy a typewriter!
You don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but I can help if you buy my books, sign up for all of my amazing top secret groups, and send me your bank account number!
Some writing big shots have put together some great books. I’m not out to slam them all. However, I often hear and read advice from these big shots that isn’t really appropriate for everyone. They give their paths to success and awesomeness, promising that you can be awesome like them, forgetting that many of the people they write to are WAY, WAY different from them and driven by different things.
Also, I’d bet my bank account, which is tiny by the way, that they’re not really sharing ALL of their secrets for success. Some had amazing mentors, worked their way up in a great job that taught all kinds of lessons, pestered big name influencers to help jump start their careers, and so on.
So here’s my advice for you writers who love putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard: Ignore the hype and clamor about dominating and smashing and being awesome and anything else that pulls you away from the love of writing and your personal calling.
If you want to give the advice from the big shots a chance, go for it. I’ve tried it sometimes, but don’t beat yourself up or doubt your calling if it doesn’t work. There’s a good chance that their advice is best designed for people like them. You may be a completely different person with a totally different calling and path forward.
I believe with all of my heart that God gives each person gifts and talents and that we honor him best when we use these gifts and talents to serve others. If you can’t stop yourself from writing, nurture it and work at it. Wake up early or stay up late if you must, but remember why you’re making those sacrifices.
If you’re making those sacrifices in order to dominate, you may see it all fall to pieces when you can’t reach the same heights as the big shots who rake in thousands by telling others exactly what to do. If you just love to write, you need to ask yourself whether you’re in this writing thing in order to dominate like the big shots or to nurture a holy gift that’s been entrusted to you.
I learn best from other writers who give very general, humane advice that can be adapted for individuals. The more specific the advice, the more grandiose the goal I’m being pushed toward, the more my BS sensor kicks into action.
Not everyone is lucky enough to recognize what their true passions and gifts are. Invest time and energy in them and even market your work, but don’t diminish your talents if the results aren’t as amazing as you’d hoped.
Keep jotting down ideas, revising your drafts, and sharing your words with anyone who will read them. If you aren’t noticed, try something new, ask a friend for advice, check out what other writers do, read a book, and keep practicing. Maybe a big shot really can help with something. It’s always going to be hard work to write whether you write for the love of it or for the business of it.
Sleepless nights, interrupted showers, and piles of scribbled notes are wonderful. They may not lead to everything you’ve hoped for, but there is beauty in faithfully working at our callings. Learn, change, evolve, grow—I’m not telling you to stay the same. I’m just telling you that we’re all wired a little differently, and the big shot advice givers may be far more different from us than we realize.
Our results may vary significantly from theirs. That’s OK. You have a gift, and there is value in using that gift.