I use to mythicize the difficulty of writing and bemoan the struggle, but the truth was it wasn’t the writing. It was my expectations. Through setting false expectations (mostly through comparing my own author journey to those I admired) I created my own suffering.
Writing is a sedentary lifestyle and something I keep an eye on. During one of his lectures, Brandon Sanderson mentioned how the best day job for an author would be ditch digging, because it solves the sedentary issue while offering the freedom to world-build and outline while working.
I should note, I’m the kind of person that unless I’m being paid to do it, I avoid physical labor. Not that I’m weak, just lazy.
It was during one of my self-indulgent lows—where I cursed how hard it was to make it as an author—that I decided to follow Sanderson’s advice. I’ve always known that real estate would make up a large portion of my retirement plan. Especially the ability to buy foreclosed properties to either repair and flip, or rent out. So, when the opportunity presented itself to help a family friend remodel his newest project house, I jumped at it.
Always get paid to learn. This one insight has been the foundation of my progress in life.
When I jumped on the opportunity to work on the house, I had little understanding of what I’d just agreed to, but I knew one thing—I’d never quit. Never complain that the work was hard. Never call in sick because I was tired. Never not give 100% to the task at hand.
I’m proud to say it worked. The house came together, sometimes slower than we’d liked, but the house is fully repaired and nearly twice as large as when we started. What’s more, I learned invaluable skills that I’ve already put to use. I’m also confident that when I’m ready to remodel my own house, I’ll have the skills needed and wisdom to subcontract projects others can do better.
I can hear you now. What does any of this have to do with writing? Simple: perspective.
Remember how I use to mythicize the difficulty of writing and bemoan the struggle? Well, trust me, after working on a house in 105°F—carrying 100s of pounds of wood for hours at a time—I gained a whole new perspective for what difficult work really is. I also got to dig out and installed an entire subdivision’s electrical, water, and sewage system in 30°F weather. I much prefer the cold.
But it wasn’t the suffering and muscle pain that taught me. It was my determination from day one to never quit and never give less than 100%, that changed my expectations about writing.
Flashback to 2008.
I’m running a successful freelance IT company fresh out of high school. That is until the market dried up and my business went belly up.
Suddenly I was stuck on the couch with no job prospects and only ramen to eat. The way I saw it, I was either going to starve or go to college. I choose college.
That’s when I chose writing as my future career. See, I originally went into computers because I love solving puzzles and have a raw talent for tech. I literally could smell and hear hardware issues—it’s a weird knack I can’t explain. But when it came to writing, I always struggled. That’s the whole reason I chose it. I wanted to prove I could do the impossible, if I put my mind to it.
Back to 2019.
It had been 10+ years of “trying” to be a writer, but never with the same thickheaded determination I’d applied previously. I think this came down to my own expectation. Deep down, there was a part of me that never believed I could do it. However, that stemmed from my own comparison to those writers I admired, rather than hard data. A mistake I wouldn’t have made, had I not viewed writing as some aethereal art, and the myth of raw talent determining success.
Develop a growth mindset and ignore everything else.
I’ve always leaned more toward a growth mindset than a fixed mindset (else I would never have gone to college in the first place), but when it came to writing I held a limiting belief, that raw talent made up most of the authors success.
This is a lie!
Talent X Hard Work X Perseverance X Learning X Luck = SUCCESS
A lack of talent can be overcome by focusing on those areas under your control. (Note, I use talent to mean raw ability before honing a craft.)
The turning point was the moment I quit judging my own work and allowed for readers to be the judge. Both through reviews, and through sales numbers.
This led to another insight: writing is challenging, not hard. Webster defines challenging as, “arousing competitive interest, thought, or action”, and hard as, “difficult to bear or endure”.
This mix up of terms led to a deep psychological burden. When I fed the myth that writing was hard, it led to me placing up barriers between myself and the work. But now that I acknowledge writing as challenging (mostly because it can’t be mastered) I’m invigorated, and able to tackle the feat of writing a book with vigor.
If you’re thinking of becoming an author, know that you can, but also keep in mind the realistic level of hard work and dedication you’ll need to achieve your goal.