Does your writing career need to go on a diet so that it can get stronger again?
It’s no secret that losing weight is one of the most common new year’s resolutions. The resolution is triggered by an ah-ha moment that too much of a good thing wasn’t actually a good thing after all.
I think that the same sentiment can be applied to our writing careers. In the pursuit of building platform, landing an agent or trying to support our lifestyles, sometimes the “career” part of our writing career can get big and bulky.
Your writing words are a living part of who you are. Your writing words deserve to be healthy, strong and agile to meet the challenges and rigors of the creative process. In contrast, when your writing words get weighed down by a writing career filled with too many expectations, it may be harder to woo the words to come.
In the fall, our Books & Such agency team read Elizabeth Gilbert’s NYT #1 best-seller, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear* We enjoyed discussing Gilbert’s insights and stories about what it means to love writing and overcoming the fears that keep us from enjoying the writing process.
If you’re familiar with Elizabeth Gilbert, you know that she wrote the oft-debated best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love. What you may not know is that Gilbert kept her day job until after that book was a success. In Big Magic, she writes about how Toni Morrison, JK Rowling and Ann Patchett did the same. She spends a lot of the book encouraging creatives to focus on writing and trust that the career part will catch up. Gilbert warns that weighing down our writing with our expectations can wreck our creative process.
I love how Gilbert writes about this:
“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.
But don’t count on the payoff, I beg of you – only because such payoffs are exceedingly rare, and you might very well kill off your creativity by holding it to such a harsh ultimatum” (pgs. 155-156).
As you enter a new year and consider your goals for your writing careers, is it possible to remove the excess “career” weight from your writing? I’m not saying that you need to stop writing blogs, doing podcasts or posting on social media. However, do you need to drop any excess weight that slows your writing down or drains your writing joy. One of the most common “weights” is our expectations around how we think that our writing careers should flow. Goals are good, but expectations are a tension that we’ve got to carefully manage. Take a moment and think – are there any rigid expectations that you’ve put on your writing career, like working with a specific publisher, expecting a specific annual income or a certain book contract to go through, etc?
As a new agent, I’m working with a few hopeful authors and potential clients. As we discuss their writing careers and how to position themselves best for representation or a future book contract, the goal is to focus on growing as a writer and trust that the career will follow in its time and in scale with whatever size that God knows is best for each person.
That’s my encouragement to you today. In 2021, take time to get clear on how you will grow as a writer and how will you measure your growth. Need a first step and second step? You may already know this but a great first step is attending a writer’s conference. Second, keep joining us on the Books & Such blog twice a week. Why?
We celebrate writers here!
We want to champion your commitment to cultivating your writing gift.
We pray for your words, your work and your willingness to take risks and reach for new goals.
Most of all, we want you to write – and write well without letting unrealistic expectations steal the joy of your words from the world.
In one of my favorite sections of Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert explains how she made a vow as a writer when she was sixteen year old. I’m not saying that you have to repeat this for yourself, but I hope the following inspires you to make a renewed commitment to your writing this year:
“I promised that I would try to be brave about it, and grateful, and as uncomplaining as I could possibly be. I also promised that I would never ask writing to take care of me financially, but that I would always take care of it – meaning that I would always support us both, by any means necessary” (p. 140).
QUESTION: What is your dream for your writing in 2021? How do you maintain your joy of writing?
*There’s a lot of secular content and some foul language. If you’re sensitive to those elements, you may want to check it out of the library first before you order it.
Kristen Joy Wilks
That was such a weird and beautiful book! Inspiring as well. So, going into 2021 I am actually thinking about sitting down to record my writing goals today, thanks for the reminder! This year I am challenging myself to enter a new contest, revise and self-publish something so that I can offer a high-quality free book as a newsletter sign-up incentive, revise and submit at least one manuscript to agents, attend an online conference, and outline and write something completely new for NaNoWriMo in November. I seem to do best with a mixture of editing old manuscripts and fast-drafting something new. As far as trimming, I have a lot of different stories I’m working on and I want to pick one of them and concentrate on it until I’m ready to submit it to agents. Hopefully, I can see one through to the end instead of getting distracted by trying to finish them all!
Kristen, happy New Year to you! Thank you for sharing what helps you to stay connected to your joy of writing as well as your writing dreams for the new year. All the best to you!
OK, I can’t resist this…the great science writer, Willy Ley (who wrote ‘The Conquest of Space’, so iconically illustrated by Chesley Bonestell) was rather a rotund chap, and one ay Issac Asimov tapped Ley on the belly, and sai,d “Really Willy, you ought to diet.”
Ley nodded, and said, in his thick accent, “All right. Vat colour?”
On to the sonnet…
I thought that the sonnet gig,
started really as a joke
and never would amount to ‘big’,
and if I tried would leave me broke.
‘Tis true, I have not earned a dime,
and true, my name is not in lights,
but I’ve had a splendid time
and if again I’d roll the dice
I’d hope that they came up the same
to give me these two years I’ve had,
and though so few may know my name,
I figure that it’s not so bad
that I now sign no books at all,
for my autograph’s a chicken-scrawl.
Andrew, hahaha! That’s Asimov quote was really funny! Today’s sonnet is spot-on and as I wish you all the very best in your writing this year!
Rebecca Barlow Jordan
Thanks for your post and good reminders, Barb. I’ve said often, “I may never be the most famous author, but I can be the most grateful one.” And that has kept my joy tank full. A thankful heart helps me balance my expectations and keep things in perspective. Because to me, everything that has happened in my writing has been a “God thing” to me.
Thank you for sharing what helps you maintain your joy of writing! Rebecca, I love your personal saying!
This was such a challenging and encouraging post. There is so much pressure to build yet, I never want the cost to be my love and joy of writing. Thanks for this post.
My goals this year are to continue to grow in my fiction writing, create more creative resources, help others release their books and to prayerfully see a proposal accepted. But I’m going to stay leaned into My first love and the love He gave me for writing in the process. Appreciate you all!
You’re doing great, Jenny! I’ve seen you working hard on both writing and building your career. I love that you want to stay focused on Christ and allowing your love of writing to slow from there.
Sarah Loudin Thomas
Like yelling at a cat. Perfect description!
It is, isn’t it?! That visual makes me laugh every time I think about it! Thank you for joining the conversation.
Thanks for this post and reminder. I love ‘Big Magic’ and reference it occasionally when my magic writing wand is running low on sparkle and needs a jump start.
In 2021, my goals including finishing this major rework of my manuscript (it’s 75% complete) and beginning the query process. This story has been with me a long time and I’m eager to move forward and get it out into the world. I also want to continue honing craft. I’ve already signed up for some classes, one in an area I believe needs refining, and for getting to the next step. While I’ve worked in the Greek media for going on 19 years and have been widely published there, I’d like branch out a bit and do more essay, even a short, and submit to some literary journals, to continue to grow and expand my audience.
What I will put on a diet are the thoughts that tell me no. Those roadblocks, the “impostor syndrome” that tells me I can’t do this.
Happy New Year all! May you achieve all your goals this year in good health!
Hi Maria, thank you for sharing your writing goals for this year and I love that you’re putting dropping the negative, but all-to-real weight of self-doubt – that’s awesome!
Thank you, this post was a good reminder to keep my priorities straight when writing: the writing comes first, then the career building. I don’t want to lose the joy!
Yes! Katie, you nailed it! Wishing you a year of joyful and productive writing, Barb
Such an excellent post! Thank you. I’ll have to share it. I wish you all at Books & Such a terrific New Year!
Thank you, Barb, for such a delightful reminder about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. I read it years ago and had forgotten about the ideas of “taking care” of my writing and demanding too much from my creativity. This is a perfect time as the new year begins to make sure our goals have a healthy balance.
Timely. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your joyful writing! I haven’t been keeping my writing dream a focus, but started changing that in 2020 and loading more in 2021.
Thank you so much for this interesting article for beginner writers. I will definitely use this to stay much more productive. I hope that you will continue sharing this type of content.
Lavinia N Holmes
Thank you! This was so needed!