Are you sure you want to skip to the end right now?
There’s a lot of advice out there on how to succeed as a writer.
Other writers who have gained some traction, built a following of readers, and made some good money doing it are happy to share their insights, tell you the steps they followed, and break down exactly how you can also “be successful.”
I’m not saying these kinds of articles aren’t helpful.
In fact, I read them all the time, because they interest me. I probably read at least two or three of them every day. They seem to jump out at me as I’m browsing through the thousands of articles waiting to be read. In an endless sea of headlines, this type always stands out to me, like somebody’s taken a pink highlighter to it to prepare it for me.
I love to learn from the experiences of others. I love to see what’s possible, and I love to know that this type of success does exist, after all. These people are my proof. Their stories are evidence that what I’ve been dreaming of is actually within reach.
It gives me confidence that writing what I want for a living is not a pipe dream! Thousands of people are doing it right now. Thousands of writers make a full-time living out of waking up every day as their own boss, writing about what interests them, and publishing it for the world to do with as it may.
But I have to be careful.
If I let myself, I could spend my whole life reading about others’ successes, instead of paying attention to my own life.
What’s The Point?
So here’s the real question: why am I drawn to these?
Let’s say I follow all the advice and copy what everyone else is doing and model my own schedule and systems around what worked for them. Can I be sure it will work for me?
In my experience, the answer is No, I can’t be sure of anything.
If I pitch and submit to all the biggest publications as often as possible with the goal of going faster, it begs the question:
Why am I writing? Is it for the love of writing — or is it to get somewhere (preferably as quickly as possible)?
Why am I really doing this?
A friend of mine often reminds me that how we do one thing in life is how we do everything.
Rushing here, rushing there.
But do I really want this to be my experience of becoming a writer? Do I want to rush through it as quickly as possible, only to “arrive” at the part where I have followers and people read my articles and share them because something they read mattered to them, or made a difference in their life, and I make enough money to do everything I’ve ever dreamed of?
As exciting as that sounds, wouldn’t it be a shame to miss the whole process? Isn’t that the part where all the learning and growth happens?
Isn’t it when we take it slow, make steady progress, and let the unknown work its magic that we actually experience the life we’re living, and get to witness the people we’re becoming?
The Big Question
One of the people whose journeys I’ve recently started following is Todd Brison. I find his insights fascinating, and the lessons he’s learned and shares through his writing are often on point for exactly what I need to hear in the moment.
Last night, I was reading his article The Weird and Wonderful Characteristic Most People Don’t Have. He was talking about one of the most underrated qualities in writers today (and people in general) — patience.
One line in particular jumped out at me:
“If you aren’t willing to keep writing for 6 months when nobody’s reading, are you really going to be willing to do it forever?” — Todd Brison
Well, am I? Are you?
It was a great question, and made me pause for a moment. I thought about it deeply, eventually realizing that I do plan to make writing a constant companion in my life. I do plan to keep writing, all throughout my life.
Even if someday I reach that magical place of “success,” and the world grants me that badge of honour, does that mean I don’t need to write anymore? Have I done all there is to do?
Of course not. I’ll keep feeling the need to write. I’ll still be compelled to sit down in front of the blank page, day after day.
Why? Because I’m a writer. That’s what my inner voice guides me to do. Even when I choose not to act on it, it’s still there. It doesn’t take vacations.
So why am I in such a hurry?
Which Way Is Better?
Whether it’s writing or painting or building your business of any kind, don’t you, in reality, have a lifetime in which to do it? Why are you so uptight and hard on yourself to do it now?
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you should put your dreams on the back burner. I’ve always been a fan of progress. I’ve always been the type to focus on where I’m going — the things I want to do, the person I want to become, the ways in which I can be better and live a better life.
I know that personal development is an ongoing process. It’s never over; you’re never a finished product.
But what I’ve started to notice is that there are two ways to make progress. One is hard; the other is not.
The first way is to think of life as a race, where the goal is to get to where you want to be as fast as humanly possible. If that includes working around the clock, burning out, and isolating yourself — then so be it. You must get there, and quickly, because only when you reach that place, can you relax and enjoy life. Oh, and you also must be the best. At everything.
From this perspective, progress is the only focus. Success is the destination, and you can’t or won’t stop until you’ve arrived. You put enormous pressure on yourself to perform, to be the best, and to do as much as you possibly can. All of the effort you can possibly muster is never enough, and it quickly begins to feel like a prison.
The other way is to relax. You still do the work — you just don’t kill yourself to do it. You still get up early every day, and you do the things you want to do. You write, and you publish — and then you do the same thing again tomorrow.
Who Really Knows?
The point is, you don’t know which way is the “right” way. There are no guarantees.
The two routes might lead to the exact same result in a year’s time — and yet, one way was painful and stressful and hard and gruelling, and the other was slow and steady and stress-free and even enjoyable most of the time. (Yes, there will always be a day here or there that the writing doesn’t come as easily).
But even on that “hard day,” you can enjoy it, because you know it’s not going to last forever. It’s likely that tomorrow you’ll wake up and the words will flow naturally again, effortless. You’ll produce something you’re proud of, and the joy in it will make you forget that yesterday, you struggled a bit.
So you can approach writing (or any other pursuit) with urgency, or with patience.
To paraphrase Todd Brison:
If you could skip the whole process and get what you think you most want right now, what on earth would you do for the rest of your life?