Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Become A Successful Author (By Setting The Right Career Goals)

There is no conversation opener more guaranteed to start a fight in the world of writing than, "what is your definition of a real author?" Some people will offer the blanket statement of, "anyone who finishes a project is an author." Others will be more specific, saying that, "anyone who is published is an author." Sooner or later, though, someone is going to disagree. When that happens you'll see statements like, "anyone who makes money from books is an author." And the list will continue to get more and more narrow until someone throws up a variation of, "if you aren't writing every day, and you still have to go to a 9-5, then you're not a real author."

Shots fired. I repeat, shots fired.
So, who's right? Absolutely no one, which is what makes the whole conversation sort of inane. Not only that, but oftentimes the people involved in the debate are confusing the word real with the word successful, and different people have different images of what it means to be a success. For some people it's that six-figure a year income, invitations to conventions, and the ability to walk into any bookstore in the country (if not around the world), and be treated like some sort of rock star. For other people, though, the definition of success might be a small check that covers a few bills, or which can fatten up a savings account. For some authors money never even enters their minds; they just want to complete a book, and share it with as many people as they can.

A Metaphor

I'm not in a mood for clever transitional material. Sue me.

All right, let's picture the writing community as a gym. There are the usual aerobics rooms, free weights, weight machines, stationary bikes, stair masters, and treadmills. You have an entire room full of straining, sweating people off in their own little worlds, interacting only briefly to ask if someone's finished with a machine, or to get a spot. While they're all there doing the same activity, each person is doing it in his or her way, and chances are they're on different routines, and working on different goals. Barny is retired, and he's there to keep healthy while working a new activity into his daily routine. Miranda uses it as a way to unwind, but she also likes the health benefits and how she keeps her figure. Jim is training for a marathon, so he's working on his time, distance, and endurance by cross-training. Sally is going for power, hoping to win a championship for an upcoming competition.

No one was sure what Harry was there for, but he had a shelf of these things at home.
The point is that being an author is a lot like going to the gym. Even though you're writing the same way everyone else is writing, that doesn't mean that you have the same goals as the guy next to you, racking out 400 pounds on the bench press.

Be Successful By Deciding What You Want

Not to get all after-school-special on you, but if you want to feel pleased with your work at the end of the day, then you have to be the one who decides whether or not you're successful. Part of that means you have to sit in your chair, put your fingers on the keys, and actually write the stories, novels, poems, or whatever you want to make up your body of work. Another part of it means that you need to be honest with yourself about what it would take in order for you to be satisfied. For example, do awards matter to you? Will self-publishing be enough, or will you feel you haven't truly succeeded until you've had a book published by one of the big five companies like Random House or Penguin? Do you want positive reviews of your book, or will you not feel satisfied until you can give your day job the finger and write full-time?

Successful writers know what they want, and they work toward their goals. If you ignore your needs, and don't set a particular goal, then you're like that person who walks into the gym with no plan, and no goals. Even if you're fit, and you have skills, you're not actually going anywhere by just working up a sweat by doing whatever, and leaving. If you decided on your goals, and found a routine that would help you match them, you'd see better results a lot faster.

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1 comment:

  1. thanks for this thought provoking piece on the 'writing life.' I especially resonated with the last section: Deciding what you want. I've found it difficult to develop goals that are 'realistic' and appealing. Lately, I've concluded that the most important goal is to write and post/ publish on topics that interest me.