There are so many writers out there. Even more books. Think of all the writers who have lived and published in the past 30 years alone. In some ways, you could think of this as your “competition for attention.” Asking yourself challenging questions such as: “What am I able to add to the lexicon that 5 others haven’t already done?” Are you trying to get an agent? Trying to get a book deal? Trying to self-publish and sell enough books to warrant a writing career? In a sea of other authors, how will you answer the question to agents, publishers, and readers: why do you matter? Why would these other people invest their resources and time in your work?
So with this in mind, I want to discuss how you will create the foundation for having an impact on the world with your work, and building a legacy that lasts beyond your own lifetime.
I think the question that gets at the crux of this issue is: Is your writing a hobby or a career? And by that, I mean:
Do you prioritize your writing career, somewhere after getting the laundry done, but before resealing the basement? Because if the slightest household chore derails your writing career for weeks, then likely, it is just a hobby.
Is your writing what defines you, but only after a long list of other things? That you are first a mother, second a wife, third an assistant financial analyst, fourth the treasurer at your local PTA, fifth a homemaker, sixth the co-chair for your regional knitting group, and seventh, a writer? This is not to diminish the value of the other 6 things listed here, and I do not mean to imply that being a writer should be first on the list. But how far down that list does it fall? After how many tasks must you accomplish before you have a moment to actually write? Because if most people you know have zero idea that you write – that it is something you NEVER bring up with friends or colleagues, then chances are, your writing is just a hobby, not a career.
Do you focus only on the craft of writing, and not the business aspects of truly building a writing career? Do you feel that you will find an audience for your work because one day, just the right person will read it, and spread it to others, like a beautiful domino effect? That it will only take that one person to provide a “viral” marketing effect, whereby thousands of others magically discover you randomly, and glom onto you, and tell everyone they know how awesome you are? Because that won’t happen. Nearly every creative professional (writer, musician, artist, etc) will tell you – it is an insane amount of work to truly succeed. That, if you are just going to wait for others to do the work for you, then chances are, your writing is just a hobby, not a career.
Are you constantly learning new things about how others created successful writing careers? By reading articles, by learning new tools, by seeking out these people and talking to them? Are you analyzing data about what works, and what doesn’t; are you constantly making yourself feel slightly uncomfortable by tackling another new topic that sounds scary (marketing, branding, contracts, revenue, ROI, licensing, rights, etc.) Because if you aren’t constantly learning, constantly pushing yourself to understand the many facets of what it means to be a professional writer, then chances are, your writing is just a hobby, not a career.
All of this begs the question: is there anything wrong with writing being a hobby, not a career? Of course not. Writing serves many purposes. It can be the key to personal growth; it can bring sanity; your work can brighten the day of a few close friends, or even a small group of distant strangers; it can lead to truly appreciating the amazing process of what it means to be alive. I have created countless works that have never been published, that have never been shared as part of a “career.” Those works allowed me to grow, they made me the person I am in so many ways. That is nothing to apologize for.
But… if you want to truly have an impact on the world, to truly build a legacy that extends beyond your lifetime, then at some point, you must make a choice. A conscious, difficult, and sometimes arduous choice to take your writing career from a hobby to a professional level. That you must start a long, oftentimes lonely journey to create something from nothing.
So how can that be done? How can you look at dozens of aisles of books in Barnes & Noble and think: I offer something not represented on these shelves – something that will have a powerful impact in the lives of others?
Well first off: that is the attitude you need!
Second… you need to understand and appreciate what differentiates your work, your purpose from others. That you should not be a commodity – something to be leveraged by others; just another box on the shelf. That in some ways, you are you are the center of a community, and a unique part of other communities. That while you may want to appeal to a broad audience, don’t vanilla down your work so that it is so bland, so afraid to be anything but a poor copy of everyone else, that your work ends up standing for nothing – another copy of a copy of copy in the great bookshelf of our times.
You get to choose your path, not become someone else’s model of what it means to be an author. You get to work the way you want to, and choose who joins you on this journey. That you can create a special experience that only you can.
Differentiation is key. This is a choice. It’s that simple. To not be a commodity. To choose your identity. To push yourself and your work to truly have an impact in the world. To build the foundation for your legacy as a writer.
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