Have you ever really stopped to consider the question, “If you could be anything in the world, what would you be?”
(Since first grade when you wanted to be a unicorn, I mean.)
I spent the last few years asking myself that question a lot. Ever since I graduated, actually. It’s one thing to be in school and to have big dreams. It’s another thing entirely to be in the “real world,” staring apprehensively down the path to those dreams.
For years I’ve known I wanted to be a writer. But I always tried to dress that dream up in something more professional to make it more acceptable. First I wanted to be a journalist. Then a technical writer. Then a freelance writer specializing in God knows what.
I didn’t really want to be any of those things. I wanted to write books.
Can you relate? Have you ever wanted something that didn’t feel attainable enough, so you wrapped it up in something else that was?
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Writing books can be a discouraging activity. Think about it: You could have writer’s block, financial insecurity, skepticism from loved ones, and repeated rejection to deal with.
And sometimes, even in those good moments when you’re making progress and writing along just fine, you might stop and think, What am I doing? Who’s actually going to read this? This won’t matter to anyone.
Fellow writer, can I take you by the shoulders for a minute and shake some truth into you? Yes? Great. Here goes:
Your dream is only unattainable if you keep treating it that way.
Repeat after me, if you want. Sometimes it helps to confess things out loud.
This, today, is reality. Everything you choose to do with this day is reality. Whether you put your manuscript in the desk drawer and go to dental school, or you polish your manuscript and publish it yourself. You get to decide.
Alright. Pep talk over. (Mostly.)
If you’re struggling to balance your writing goals with your current reality, remember this:
The key to balancing reality with your goal of being a novelist is to stop treating writing as an unattainable dream.
Writing is a career like any other. It requires a specific set of skills (please tell me you read that in Liam Neeson’s voice), goals, and a plan. The longer you look writing as a hobby or just this fun thing you’d love to do for a living, the longer it will remain just a dream.
People write for different reasons. Some write just for the joy of it and have no intentions of publishing or making an income. Others write solely to publish for money. I like a bit of balance, personally. But if you want to write for a living, then you have to look at writing as a business. If writing is your business, then books are your product. And if you’re running a business, you probably won’t ignore it for weeks at a time or dismiss it whenever someone asks you about it.
When you look at it as the business it is, in which you have to produce X product in order to meet Y sales, then not only will others start taking you more seriously, but you’ll start taking yourself more seriously.
(And if you write just for the joy of it, then keep doing it. Miraculously, some writers actually have day jobs they like!)
So how can you realistically work toward your writing goals each day?
#1 – Tell someone. Accountability helps, and if you tell your spouse, mom, best friend, cat, or anyone else you trust, then that person can hold you accountable when you start to question yourself. (Except your cat. She’s probably a jerk like mine.)
#2 – Develop a plan. This does not have to be complicated, so don’t stress about it. All it takes is an end goal in mind, such as a novel, and one simple step toward that end each day, such as 500 words. Make sure it fits your lifestyle so you don’t get overwhelmed.
#3 – Hold yourself accountable. People help, but self-discipline helps more. Whether you have to set an alarm on your phone, post sticky notes on your mirror, or write your daily goal on each day of your planner in bright pink Sharpie, hold yourself accountable to your daily goal.
#4 – Follow through. If you set a realistic goal that fits with your schedule, such as writing 250 words during breakfast and 250 more right before bed, it’ll be much easier to follow through each day. If you work full time and set a goal of 2k words per day, you’ll probably burn out more quickly and give up. (If you do, I’ll send my jerk cat after you. And let me tell you, she shreds. Her name is Black Sabbath for a reason.)
#5 – Don’t compare your progress to someone else’s. That is the quickest way to get discouraged and give up. Author A may have seven books published already, but her life is not your life. Her schedule is not your schedule. She’s doing what she can, and it’s up to you to do what you can.
Yeah, you have rent. Maybe a mortgage. Utility bills, a car payment, student loans to pay off. You have social obligations and a full-time job and maybe little ones to feed. Your own life shouldn’t stop just because you’re writing about someone else’s. Responsibility and moderation are necessary for maintaining a sense of balance in your life.
But consider this: If you were serious about becoming a lawyer, you wouldn’t just read a few law books in your spare time or audit a class or two every year. If that was the career you wanted, you would probably find a way to go to law school, pass the bar, and get a job. Same thing with becoming a teacher, mechanic, doctor, or basically anything else. Sure, you might spend some time thinking about it first. But then you’d do something about it.
Becoming a professional writer is no different.
It takes desire, education, and planning.
It takes a realistic approach to accomplish a goal. Not just a dream.
If you can, try to get out of your head. Yes, you will have discouraging days when you doubt yourself and your ability to write. You will have days when you’re totally convinced that you’re wasting your time and that no one will ever read your books, let alone buy or recommend them. When you have those moments, don’t stay there. Give yourself five minutes to feel it all: the discouragement, the self-doubt, the negativity, the money worries, the fear of rejection. But when those five minutes are up, you leave that mindset and you sit back down and you start writing again.
I’m still doing the freelance thing. I write and copyedit and pick up projects to help pay the bills. (I’m still doing the discouragement thing some days, too.) But one major thing has changed:
Now I’m focusing on what I know I want to do. I finally admitted my “unattainable dream” and decided it wasn’t so unattainable, after all.
Have you discovered that your “unattainable dream” is actually a realistic goal? What step can you take toward that goal today? Let me know in the comments below, and join the Ladies in Read on Pinterest for more writing tips and inspiration!