Want to Make It as a Writer? Raise Your Standards for What Is Possible
There’s a reason I love entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are hungry — and the successful ones aren’t afraid to dream big. You talk to any startup founder, and usually you’ll walk away feelings strangely energized…or downright exhausted. Many of the entrepreneurs I know think, work, and talk a mile a minute. They have lots of ideas, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to execute them all.
Writers need to be more like entrepreneurs. (In fact, I’ve started thinking of myself more as a creative entrepreneur than simply a writer.) There are too many myths, stereotypes, and implicit “rules” associated with the word “writer.”
The stereotype of a writer is one who retreats to his hovel, toils in obscurity for years, tries to publish his work, gets one rejection letter after another, develops a drinking problem, gets published, cracks under the pressure, dies, and then is magically labeled a genius and taught in high schools for decades.
I don’t know about you, but being a creative entrepreneur sounds much more exciting and fulfilling.
If we as writers collectively raised our standards for what was possible, we could create some exciting new cultural narratives. We could begin to associate the word “writer” with a person who is creatively courageous, innovative, prosperous, and energetic.
If you don’t believe that the current publishing ecosystem (or writing in general) allows for these things, it may be time to expand your vision for what being a modern writer means — or change your job title to creative entrepreneur.
To me, being a modern writer or creative entrepreneur is all about creating intellectual property assets that I can sell to earn a living. It requires that I create work consistently and continually innovate to market my work and reach new readers. I don’t publish in a bubble; I work with a team of people from all over the world to edit my work, create book covers, narrate audiobooks, and launch ad campaigns. Just as my publishing team knows no geographic boundaries, I am able to reach readers across the globe. I do work I am passionate about, but I also treat my writing as a business.
In the future, I want to expand. I am working on two nonfiction books, and I’m launching a podcast. I want to hold workshops and retreats. I want to hire an assistant so I can step away from the marketing side of my business and be able to take more time off. And I want to earn more money so my husband and I can travel and enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.
Now it’s totally fine if this isn’t what you want, but I would challenge each of you this week to begin to raise your standards for what is possible and create a new vision for your life and career. You don’t have to toil in obscurity for years or work a job you hate for the rest of your life. You can be happy. You can be prosperous. You can do what you love.
Here’s how you can raise your standards right now and begin creating a whole new vision for your future:
1. Get clear on what you want. In order to get anything that we really want, we must first know what we want. This may sound obvious, but I find that many creative types don’t have a crystal-clear vision for what it is they’re going after. When I’m working with aspiring writers, I always try to nail down why they want to write a novel in the first place. Is it a bucket-list accomplishment like climbing a mountain? Do they just want to see their name in print? Do they have a story that’s burning to be written? Do they want to be the next J.K. Rowling? Do they want to make a living from their writing?
Once I know the “why,” I am in a much better position to guide them.
Often, the murkiness of our visions comes from a desire to protect ourselves. We may be scared of disappointment or failure, so we don’t admit to anyone (even ourselves) what we truly desire. Sometimes we don’t have a clear vision because no one has ever asked us what we really want. But if you don’t have that clarity, you are very unlikely to achieve what you want.
Start with the big picture and then drill down to the specifics. During this process, it’s important to figure out what really feeds your soul. This will help you discover your “why.” Once you know your “why,” you can create a personal mission statement and begin to write down your goals. (I may do a post on personal mission statements and goals in the coming weeks.)
2. Identify your self-limiting beliefs. I’ve written extensively about self-limiting beliefs in the past. In a nutshell, these are the unconscious beliefs we hold or “rules” we’ve set for ourselves that are limiting our potential.
A good way to root out your limiting beliefs is to state very clearly what you want (e.g., I want to publish a novel). Then wait for your mind to start generating a list of reasons that you can’t have what you want. (I’m not talented enough. The odds are a million to one. No one will like it. I don’t deserve it.)
Sometimes it’s helpful to write these down as they come up. Don’t be surprised if they make no sense! Sometimes, our beliefs are downright ridiculous. But by bringing the unconscious to the level of consciousness, we begin to deprive these beliefs of their mysterious power.
3. Test those beliefs. As these self-limiting beliefs begin to surface, it’s important to consider them through an objective lens. Which ones can you eliminate right away because they’re just not factually true? (If you wrote “I’m too old” or “I’m too young,” for instance, you could think of someone your age who has achieved what you want to achieve.) For the beliefs that are more subjective, what evidence do you have that they are true?
If a belief is just your opinion, consider that everything is relative. If you don’t think you’re “smart enough” to do something (and you take your poor GPA from high school as evidence), consider that you are still smarter than a lot of people. (You’re reading this post to better yourself, aren’t you?)
If this doesn’t help, you can decide that your opinion is just one opinion and it may not matter as much as you think it does. Think of it this way: Is your opinion important enough that you’ll let it prevent you from going after what you truly want?
Let me give you an example: For several years, I told myself that I could never start a podcast because I had a terrible voice. The longer I thought about this, the more I realized that no one had ever told me I had a terrible voice. I just didn’t like my voice when I heard it on a recording. Then I realized that most people don’t like their own voices when they hear them. I decided that this wasn’t a good enough reason not to start a podcast when I really, really wanted to.
4. Identify your expanders. Actress, podcaster, and manifestation expert Lacy Phillips first introduced me to this idea of “expanders.” You can think of expanders as role models: people who are similar to you who have already achieved what you wish to achieve. You may need to find several expanders to represent different aspects of your persona or vision, but the idea is to identify these people so that you can start to believe that it’s possible to have what you want.
My expanders right now include Joanna Penn, Rachel Brathen, and Amber Rae. You’ll notice that these are all women because I am a woman. Rachel and Amber are around my age. I see myself in certain aspects of their personalities, but Rachel Brathen has an enormous social platform. She’s running several companies and she’s a mom. (I want to be a parent someday, and I’m fascinated by how she finds a good work-life blend.) Amber Rae seems to be a sensitive creative type like I am, and she has a very successful nonfiction book geared toward creatives. Joanna Penn has lived longer than I have, but she has two very strong brands (one in fiction and one in nonfiction) and a platform similar to what I’d like to have someday. She is also location independent and incorporates a lot of travel and adventure into her life.
Identify your expanders. Study them. Read their books, listen to their podcasts, read articles written about them, and figure out how they built their empires. Start to learn everything you can about their mindset, their path, and how they created the sort of career or life that you want.
5. Create a model. Once you have clarity around what you want and examples of people who already have that, you need to create a model or a blueprint to achieve your dream. Oftentimes, there is already a tried-and-true model for what works. In fact, there are usually several.
Your job is to identify which (if any) of those models resonate with you and then commit to following that model. If none of the tried-and-true models seem to be in alignment with how you want to achieve your dream, you can create your own model or steal one from another industry.
When I decided that I wanted to write a novel, I couldn’t find any good formula or model for actually completing a full-length book. (Back then, the extent of the instruction was “just write, you dummy.”) So I used the goal pyramid from Jillian Michael’s book “Unlimited.” Fitness was an area I was comfortable and familiar with (I had recently run a marathon), and I figured that if I could use a training plan to run a marathon, I could use this pyramid plan to write a novel.
If you do forge your own path, just be aware that your timeline for achieving your goal may be different from the norm.
I’ll be honest — I intended for this to be a much shorter post, but I found I had a lot to say on the subject. This is such an important concept for writers because so many of us are plagued by self-doubt. We take whatever we can get in life because we don’t think it’s possible to have what we truly want. We need to demand more from ourselves and more from our environment in order to make our vision a reality.
If there were no limits to what was possible, what would you set your sights on?
How do you plan to raise your standards this year? Who are your expanders, and how did they achieve what you want? What does your new vision for your future look like?
Photo by Chen Hu
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