Do You Want To Write, Or Do You Have To Write?

When it comes to desire, knowing what you want is key to determining how you will get it. And sometimes, figuring out what you don’t want will better help you know what you do want. You may not know until you’re in the middle of it. That’s OK.

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My twin brother is an excellent cook. A long time ago I asked him why he didn’t go to school to become a chef, or work in a restaurant. “Because that would have taken the enjoyment out of it for me.”

Another one of my brothers has a knack for buying a used, somewhat beat up car, fixing it up, and reselling it for a profit. When I asked him why he didn’t do this as a profession, he replied pretty much the same way.

It’s an interesting thing that for some the thing they love to do is best enjoyed when there isn’t so much at stake, like drawing a salary from it or depending on it to pay the bills.

Yet in one of my first posts on this blog, I cited one of my favorite quotes from Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” No matter what I did for work, I always tried to make that my criteria. Was it something I wanted to do? Was it fun? I took jobs that paid less because I knew I’d enjoy the environment or the people or the tasks more. And I quit jobs when they stopped being enjoyable.

Of course, the older I got, the harder it was to maintain this criteria. It was especially difficult, for example, to walk away from my last teaching position that came with a yearly salary, health insurance, and retirement benefits (difficult to get those things on a non-tenure track).

But I wanted to do what I loved. I still loved teaching, but I loved writing novels more.

I wrote about a friend for whom writing her first novel had been a lot of fun. It had since felt like work. I grappled with the same thing last year, when the cart came before the horse or, in this case, the contract came before the manuscripts were written, or in the case of Big Skye Littleton, the idea hadn’t even been conceived yet. It wasn’t a good way for me to work, I’d discovered. Writing then became something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.

And now, when so much is riding on rankings and royalties, I wonder if writing will continue to be something fun, something I enjoy, something I want to do every day. Although I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. Especially not as a job.

By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing for fun, or for your friends, or for yourself and no one else. Even if you’re writing novels. Or screenplays. Or short stories. There’s no rule that says you must publish, must find a way to make it your full-time job, must use it to pay the bills.

There’s also nothing wrong with making writing your full-time gig because you do love it so much.

Or walking away if it stops being fun.

I don’t know if I have a resolution or even a conclusion to this topic. Except to say this: When it comes to desire, knowing what you want is key to determining how you will get it. And sometimes, figuring out what you don’t want will better help you know what you do want. You may not know until you’re in the middle of it. That’s OK.

It’s even more OK to change your mind. Give yourself permission not to be a full-time writer, if you decide that’s what you don’t want. Give yourself permission to be a one-novel author (there are many out there). Give yourself permission to be a hobbyist. Or give yourself permission to do it for as long as you love it, as long as you want to, as long as it’s fun.

As for me… well, I’m still having fun with the writing part of this gig. I think I’ll keep it up a little while longer.

Please Note: From now on I will be posting every Wednesday instead of Tuesdays and Thursdays. I hope you’ll continue to follow us!

 

better to know

Nothing to Lose: 3 Steps to Beat the Writer’s Biggest Fear

Being an author isn’t just about writing and publishing and selling books. It’s about mindset. It’s about desire. And it’s about conquering the fear of losing everything you worked so hard for. The fear of losing the joy.

A good friend wrote her first novel around the same time I wrote my first. She’d had a lot of fun writing it, and when she was finished and found that it was good, she’d decided to self-publish it. Fortunately, she came in during that golden age when self-publishing was shedding its stigmas and the Kindle was turning e-books into a cool commodity. Like me, she soon won the attention of a publisher, who offered her a contract and re-issued her novel. It continued to do well.

However, she has yet to publish a second.

The most common misconception people have about authors and publishing is that everyone has a Stephen King or EL James level of success. They think we become instant millionaires, quit our jobs after we sign the contract, and live free and clear.

The truth is that the majority of authors sell fewer than 10,000 units per year. We keep our day jobs. We raise families and struggle to make ends meet while we also carve out time to write the next novel, and the next. Even with four or five books under our belt.

I was one of the lucky ones. For the first five years since resigning from my teaching position, I’ve been able to make a living. But I confess: were it not for my husband, I would have been pounding the pavement for additional employment this year. And that’s with 10 books and seven translations. My husband tells a similar story: “I used to say I was an author who occasionally worked a pipeline job. Now I’m a pipeline worker who occasionally writes novels.”

I thought it would get easier. It seems to be getting harder. And I had to come to terms with that this year.

As for my friend, I totally get where she is coming from. And I think many authors, in one form or another, have been where she is. Like her, writing my first book was fun. I spent more time writing it than any other novel to date—not only because I was teaching a full course-load, but also because I was under no pressure to publish. Thus, I could revise it, share it with critique groups, and revise it again. Faking It had already been two years old when I started querying literary agents. It was four years old when I first self-published it. Five years old when it hit the big time. And six years old when it was reissued and hit yet again.

When I’d first self-published it in paperback, I’d sold less than fifty copies in six months, and thought that was a terrific start. When I uploaded it to Kindle and sold 73 copies in the first month, I was ecstatic. (I sold only 12 the second month.) Every sale was a celebration. Day by day, I continued to promote and sell it, all while writing the second novel, and starting the third. And still enjoying the process.

In short, I had nothing to lose. Neither did my friend with her first novel. Or my husband with his first. Which made their successes that much more exhilarating.

But after the success—after that first contract, when now you’re tracking more than sales and rankings, your outlook changes.

Because now, there’s a demand for a second novel. And a third and a fourth. A demand for better numbers. And more followers. And you need to get it done and published as quickly as possible to keep up the momentum and not to lose your followers.

And there’s the magic word again: lose. Because this time, you have a lot to lose. And if you did quit your job, then you have even more to lose.

Suddenly, 72 sales per month is nothing to celebrate. It’s something to lament, to worry about, to lose sleep over.

Suddenly, you’re in the business of writing and publishing. And for some, that’s when it stops being fun.

Being an author isn’t just about writing and publishing and selling books. It’s about mindset. It’s about desire. And it’s about conquering the fear of losing everything you worked so hard for. The fear of losing the joy.

So how do you maintain the joy and relieve the fear?

By knowing what you want.

It’s OK to keep writing books as a hobby. It’s OK to publish them on your own time and schedule and appreciate every sale you get.

It’s OK to stop at one book and appreciate the ride it took you on.

It’s OK to want more success, and to set goals and make a plan to achieve them.

It’s OK to want to maintain the momentum.

As long as that’s what you want.

And as long as you also remember why you started writing in the first place.

You started writing because you enjoyed it. Because you loved the process. Because you loved the escape. Because you loved the story you were telling, and the characters that came into your life, and the conversations they had. You started writing because you couldn’t not do it.

Because you had nothing to lose.

And the mindset to maintain, difficult as it may be, is to act as if you still have nothing to lose, even if you have everything to lose.

So how do you do that?

 

  1. Gratitude

Give thanks for every book sold—even if you’ve only sold one per month. Give thanks for the reader who took the time to post a review, even if it was unfavorable. Give thanks for the reader who took the time to write you a personal note of thanks, telling you how much they loved your book. Give thanks for the fun you had when you wrote it, for all those who helped you birth it—editors, beta readers, distributors, friends who told their friends to buy it.

Gratitude is the reminder of why you keep doing what you do. What’s more, gratitude keeps the worrying at bay, because gratitude also keeps you in the present moment. You don’t judge how well or poorly it’s doing, whether it’s better or worse than your last book, whether it’s better or worse than someone else’s book that is selling more. You simply appreciate what it is, where it is, how it is, and that it is.

 

  1. Positive Aspects

 When I fear loss, I begin listing all the positive aspects of my current situation, such as:

I’m not at the place where I need to look for additional employment. Even if I was, I know I will be OK because I can keep writing if I want to.

I’ve already had the kind of success many writers dream of and beyond what I imagined.

I am paying my bills each month, and I have a beautiful home in a lovely neighborhood in a majestic part of the country. But I also know how to live in a two-bedroom apartment if need be.

I remember that the most important thing is to live joyfully, regardless of which form that takes.

Positive aspects pivot you away from worry to better feeling thoughts, including gratitude, and help you see your situation in a different, better perspective. As Wayne Dyer says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

 

  1. Affirmations

Affirmations keep you aligned with your desires. I always structure mine in the present tense:

I am making a sustainable living as a full-time novelist.

I am a thriving author who publishes and sells books.

I give thanks for every sale and every reader.

It’s fun to be a writer and an author.

I bring joy to everything I do.

In fact, one of my repeated affirmations is Jerry Greenfield’s (of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame):

if it's not fun graphic

You’ll be surprised as the pressures begin to melt away, or, if not disappear altogether, diminish greatly, freeing you from the fear that is stopping you of writing your next book, or moving forward in a way that is in alignment with what you want. It’s all about breaking free of that fear. It’s all about the mindset.

What is The Writer’s Habit?

Covey’s definition of a habit jumped out at me: the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Moreover, “In order to make something a habit, we need all three.”

In essence, that’s what I was communicating; that to be a writer, one needed knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do it, or craft), and desire (wanting to do it), and that each feeds off the other.

Knowledge, Skill, and Desire

It took me at least seven years to finish my book The Writer’s Habit. I knew I wanted to write a book predominantly for aspiring novelists using a rhetorical approach rather than a literary one. (That is, focusing on elements like audience, purpose, genre, stance, and style rather than plot, theme, symbolism, climax, and exposition.) That’s not to say one is better than the other. But, given my training in rhetoric and composition, it made more sense for me to approach novel writing from that perspective.

What I struggled with, however, was how to put the information together in a way that neither felt too textbook-y nor too I’m-trying-to-be-OnWriting.

It wasn’t until this year, as I was finally finishing the book, that I found the angle, the way to tie everything together. I had unearthed my copy of Stephen Covey’s renowned The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and read the first pages as a refresher. Covey’s definition of a habit jumped out at me: the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Moreover, “In order to make something a habit, we need all three.”

In essence, that’s what I was communicating; that to be a writer, one needed knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do it, or craft), and desire (wanting to do it), and that each feeds off the other.

And so, I organizing the book accordingly.

Knowledge (what to do)

In this section, I give a basic overview of the definition of rhetoric, its origins, and how to apply the rhetorical situation. I also discuss into writing for audience (and when to ignore them), writing what you know (and its sometimes misunderstood meaning), and the assertion that “writers write.”

 

Skill (how to do it)

Here is where theory meets practice. The most comprehensive section of the book, I introduce the craft of storytelling in which I feature these key components: narration and description, intention and obstacle, story structure, character development, dialogue, and setting. Many of this blog’s future posts will highlight lessons or features of each.

Additionally, I discuss the writing process, including drafting, organization and arrangement, stylistics, revision, and editing.

As with music and sports, the more you practice, the better you get.

Desire (wanting to do it)

The more I speak to aspiring writers, the more I believe that desire is what holds many of them back. And it’s not necessarily that they don’t want to do it, it’s that they’re afraid to do it. They’re afraid of not having the time, not being good enough, or old enough, or young enough, or rich enough, or smart enough, and so on. They fear failure. They fear success. They’re unwilling to persist. They’re unwilling to learn. They’re unwilling to commit. I say that not as a judgment, but as the reaction to that fear. I’ve been there, if not in the creative or the writing aspect, then certainly in the commitment as an entrepreneur.

This section of the book also touches on the business of being a published writer. I’ve learned even more since publishing The Writer’s Habit, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned.

Desire is the aspect of The Writer’s Habit that I tend to be most passionate about (although I definitely geek out when talking craft, process, and heck even just simple rhetorical situation stuff). And you’ll see why when I begin unveiling the online courses.

Overall, I aim not to teach writers to write, but to develop and master the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire so that writing becomes a habit, regardless of the scope. And what I love is that its lessons are quite versatile.

Moreover, I don’t want to only share my successes, but also my mistakes. Like anyone else, I’ve made them, and I’ve come to see them as necessary stepping stones on the path toward actualizing my goals as a writer and an author.

 

The bottom line: I want The Writer’s Habit—and this companion blog—to convey the joy that is inherent in my writing as well as my process. Joy doesn’t necessarily mean the happy-feel-goods. Writing—especially as a job and a profession, can be arduous or laborious at times. In fact, sometimes it can be downright tedious and discouraging. But I can think of no better gig than one that allows me to use my imagination, connect with readers and other writers, and navigate through this life journey with humor, depth, and wordsmithing. I’m a lucky woman.

 

 Activity/Discussion: Do you see writing as a habit? How do you combine knowledge, skill, and desire? Do you think you need more practice or development in one of those components? Please respond in the comments!

Have you seen my author website? I invite you to visit and sign up for my author mailing list. You can also sign up here for The Writer’s Habit mailing list!

the writers habit cover