Stop Trying To Be A Writer
When I was in the 7th grade, I was convinced I'd finally run out of stories to tell. I'd put everything I had—all of my "good material" so to speak—out on the table. As far as I was concerned, it was time to turn in my pen and pencil in search of a far more reasonable career than becoming the next Bridget Jones.
Big dreams, I know.
The truth my 7th grade self either didn't know or was too preoccupied with getting her first "triangle bra" to accept is that being a writer isn't really a profession.
Okay, before you go in on me about all of the "great writers of our time" let me run something by you: Do people get paid to write? Absolutely. Do audiences prefer some writing compared to others? Certainly. But is it the physical act of writing that actually makes an author good at his or her job?
Not so much.
When it comes down to it, "good writing" tends to abide by the same set of rules as mediocre writing: spell words correctly, avoid run-on sentences, get to the point. It's not difficult to master as a skill.
At the end of the day, good writing doesn't sell—good stories do.
Now at the age of 25, having been both paid to write as well as martyring myself for the sake of my craft, I know one massive thing to be true: people aren't paid to be writers, they're paid to tell incredible stories.
They're paid to tell us stories that expand our imagination, dig into the topics we're too much of a pansy to explore on our own, or to tell us the cold hard truth when our spouse is still sticking to the story that we're "perfect just the way we are." They're the most revered and equally most hated body of humans on the planet at times. They say what needs to be said. And being a messenger ain't always glamorous.
So if you've got big dreams of sitting in your $5 million dollar mansion sipping martinis and deciding between the south of Spain or Mykonos for your next Christmas getaway, this may not be the marbled path you're looking for. Unless you're prepared to bring a pile of hate mail along with you.
The Truth About Being A Writer
I won't go as far as to deem every writer a truth seeker. Hell, there are writers who write about things that don't even exist. But the good ones, at least in my opinion, are truth evokers. In some way, shape or form, they push us to confront the very facts about ourselves we'd probably be just fine irrationally avoiding: that maybe we really are a little insensitive, maybe we have been a little lazy when it come to getting shit done, maybe the real reason we haven't found the one is that we're not someone worth finding right now.
Instead of a settling for a career that's based on answering the question "what do I want to write about?" true writers ask themselves: "what do I do or what do I have to say that's worth writing about?"
So before you invest in the beautiful leather bound journal and ball point pen try on some of these for size: What difficult questions are you asking? Where have you been? What strange scenarios have you found your way into and subsequently stumbled out of— much to the world's surprise? What have you done, that frankly makes us all give a couple of extra damns about this world and our roles in it?
That's where the good stuff is.
But frankly, sans the New York Times Bestseller badge of honor, are you willing to actually go there?
The Real Problem With Aspiring Writers
Just like any buzz worthy career, aspiring writers want all the glory of writing a book without any of the pain. Everyone wants a New York Times Bestseller, very few people actually want sit down and put pen to paper. They don't want the agony of scrutinizing word after word, mixing and matching paragraphs and replaying sentence after sentence in their heads until they can't tell the difference between mindless banter and groundbreaking thoughts.
And I can't fault anyone for that. We've got piles of aspirers out in the world.
There are thousands of aspiring pro football players unwilling to sacrifice late nights, booze and various life events for the million dollar contract they claim to "want more than anything else." And amidst every business chatroom, there's always the aspiring entrepreneur who wants the booming business but is unwilling to risk the vulnerability, shame and disappointment that comes with trying something new, failing epically and having his or her face plastered all over it.
Despite the romanticized version of authorship Hollywood has so graciously laid out for us—I mean who doesn't want Carrie Bradshaw's closet?—writing is a tough business. With only 1.3% of traditionally published authors reporting a $100,000 income or higher on their first book, a publishing deal isn't likely to fund your lifestyle single handedly. In other words, if you're going to put any kind of effort into your writing career, it better be fucking worth it.
So if you like talking about writing more than actually doing it, great! Enjoy it! Bask in the world of aspirers. Truly, there's no shame in resting your hat here...just pick a new career. The IRS doesn't settle for "aspiring" as a profession, neither should you.
Your Writing Isn't Boring, Your Life Might Be
The two easiest excuses for not cutting it in the writing world are "age" and "experience". Either "I'm too young to write on topics such as x, y, z..." or "I don't have enough professional experience to write on x, y, z."
I published my first poem in 8th grade and sold my first large scale messaging campaign at 23. Age and professional experience don't have much to do with success when it comes to writing, pitching or speaking about compelling content. It has everything to do with your capacity to seek out and absorb information in fascinating ways then lean into the parts of your experience people actually give a damn about.
The more people you meet and talk to, the easier this process becomes.
You can pay an editor to help you with your grammar and story structure. You can even pay a copywriter to do some of the writing for you. The one irreplaceable piece of the puzzle no one can replicate or complete on your behalf, is the painful, beautiful, glorious process of uncovering the story itself. The way I see it, you can either spend your time painfully attempting to twist the experiences you already have into a somewhat compelling narrative or go out into the world and find some experiences that are compelling all on their own.
Nine times out of ten when I work with someone who feels that there are no good stories left to tell, it's because a) they just took a huge blow in their career and are taking the whole "it's my party I can bitch if I want to" route or b) because they've spent 90% of their time writing and only 10% of their time actually going out into the world and discovering something worth writing about.
Whether it's a conference organizer, a book agent or a group of friends at your grandmother's retirement home, audiences are captivated and consequently motivated by one thing: good stories.
So go out into the world and get some.
Dinner Parties Don't Last, Legacies Always Do
Ever heard of Stern Men or The Last American Man? What about Pilgrims? These books were all written by Elizabeth Gilbert prior to Eat, Pray, Love. So why did they go unnoticed?
Not because they were poorly written—in fact, Pilgrims was named a New York Times Notable Notable Book and boasts a Pushcart Prize. It's because shit happens, especially when you're leaning on the approval of the general public as a crutch. Some things are hits in the eyes of the public others simply aren't.
But as Gilbert has openly discussed in many interviews since her Eat, Pray, Love success, writing for fame likely isn't enough to power you through the late nights, doubts and uncertainties the career inevitably carries.
Which brings me to my next point: there are writers and then there are dinner party writers.
When people say they want to be a writer, what they're actually trying to communicate is that they are ready to be seen, heard and appreciated for their opinions. In my experience, very few people write for the sake of writing. If they do, very few of those people feel the desire to go through the soul crushing process of publishing.
So I suppose the real question is: Are you a dinner party writer or are you committed to telling your story through writing?
First of all, there's nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to dinner party show boating. In fact, I'm pretty sure the dinner party was created so that we could all sit around sipping fancy cocktails embellishing our lives. To date, I'm a dinner party hiker, a dinner party home cook, a dinner party graphic designer and, as of recently, the owner of a dinner party capsule wardrobe.
I've been hiking about 5 times in my life but would love to do it more. I cook the same 5 meals a week, none of which are particularly spectacular but, hey, they're edible. I only do graphic design for people who give me full creative control a.k.a friends & family. I have a whole tub of "sentimental" clothing items I keep in a bin under my bed that, yes, aren't in my closet or even worn for that matter but are about 2 years overdue in the donation bin.
We memorialize the blissful nature of success, the "end glow" as I like to call it. And why shouldn't we? Getting a crowd of 10 million to agree on one thing is a feat in the age of Meme Battles and Who Wore It Best?
And while dinner party fantasies let us ride the glorious wave of the successful life we wish we had, they all come to an end. We wake up the next morning, unchanged and in stark contrast to the plans we laid out the night before.
When it comes to making real shit happen, you don't get to pick and choose. You don't get the world renown success without risking complete failure. You don't get the ride-or-die community without exposing your professional neck for the taking. You don't get the New York Times Bestseller without committing to the cause.
Now this doesn't mean that if you take the giant leap of faith the ball is sure to drop. But it might. That's what makes this shit so scary. Then again, no one promised you this road was easy. How does the saying go? If it were, everyone would do it.
You can straddle the line, but you'll get middle of the road results. And in my humble opinion, that's an awful lot of work for the sake of comfort.
At a basic level, writing is just a clump of letters, spaces, commas and periods strung together. Any dinner party writer can do that. Putting them in an order that moves, alters and confronts behavior? That's storyteller's work.
When Failure Doesn't Matter Labels Won't Either
The truth is that we live in a world where all kinds of external factors can go wrong. The launch of your genius book could coincide with a long awaited sequel to an established author's series. Your "original" concept for a talk could miss the wave of popularity by a mere matter of weeks. You could offer up an approach to life that could take years to catch on.
But again, being a writer (if we're still clinging to this terminology), isn't about the fame and glory of a profession. It's about a story that needs telling, a story you'd never forgive yourself for not sharing or at least trying to share with the world.
You may fail. Being brave doesn't excuse you from that hardship. However, at the end of the day, it helps us all look ourselves in the mirror with a hell of a lot more respect.
So if you're ready to stop trying and start being, write—today, right now, this very second. Stop waiting for the world to tell you it's a good idea. You'll be waiting forever. Instead of biting your nails over the fact that this book may bring you more grief than cheerleaders, write a book that outweighs that pain. Find the book that may even bring you pain (not too much pain, that's worrisome). Find the book that's worth falling flat on your face for.
Make regret irrelevant.
Being a good writer has very little to do with actual writing. It has everything to do with the kind of life you feel called to live, the questions you feel compelled to ask and perhaps most importantly the "damns" you're willing to give, stand by and fight for when the going gets tough.
So do me a favor? Stop trying to be a writer, and go find your story.
Then sell it like nobody's business.