On Combining the Business and Magic of Writing

If you’re a writer, you fall into one of two categories:

  1. The writer who secretly (yet in plain view at coffee houses, school cafeterias, bars, art galleries, trailsides … ) scribbles her short stories and poems in an artistically-weathered notebook. She’s hoping desperately that, much like the protagonist of her work, someone will stumble onto her genius and drag her (demurely protesting) into the spotlight of public adoration.
  2. The writer who hustles her ass off to get her work read far and wide, and does what it takes to get the words she pounds into the aether to coalesce into something meaningful to someone else’s eyes. With a byline.

I oversimplify, of course, because writers come in absolutely every size, shape and stripe you can imagine.

But I divide writer-types into two categories for the purpose of this blog, because they must merge into one, if they are ever to achieve success–big or small–as a writer. Like the skeksis and mystics, if you will. (I confess, we’ve been watching The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Netflix. After revisiting the original movie from my childhood, of course. Puppetry is both bizarre and awesome! It constantly drops you in and out of the Uncanny Valley, which makes the whole thing pleasurably weird. I digress.)

Photo of man sitting at typewriter in the street by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash
Photo by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash

I’ve read two books in 2019 which will change how you view your writing career, burgeoning or otherwise, and if you take them to heart, you’ll be one step–maybe several steps–closer to your successful writing career.

  1. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Quick synopsis: ideas are their own entities, and working on one constitutes a binding contract. If you put in the work–your end of the bargain–the idea will come through for you. But if you don’t, the idea will move along to someone who will. And if you’re only working for big money, or fame, you’re in for frustration and disappointment. If you understand that writing is fun (yes, it really is!) and that you’re doing it because you genuinely enjoy it, then the rest is icing. Gilbert is NOT advocating writing with your head in the clouds, and ignoring the more practical aspects of your writing career. It’s just that she focuses on the magic of being a creative in this particular book. Which brings me to my next recommendation:
  2. The Business of Being a Writer, by Jane Friedman. Friedman lays out the practicalities of the paycheck in this book, and it’s both well-written and no-nonsense. But not cruel. Artist-entrepreneurs need to live life with both feet on the ground and head in the clouds, and Friedman explains how you can achieve this.

We live in a society that glorifies overnight success. YouTube stars, American Idol winners (I may be dating myself with that one), excruciatingly young pop stars … if success isn’t young and fast, it isn’t noticed. But it’s ok to have slow success. You’re a writer, and writers sometimes take time to mature. We’re like cheese. Or like wine. (Wine’s probably a better analogy.) If I’ve learned anything over my years of putting down words for almost any imaginable form of media, it’s this: There is no. Set. Path. To. Success. There really, really isn’t. Sometimes people get “discovered,” it’s true. Big contracts land on them like a cartoon anvil. Other people (way, way more people) build their careers with one brick at a time: one article, one short story, one novel after another.

Be smart. Be your own advocate. Keep your expectations manageable, and even more importantly: lay your expectations upon yourself, not on some unseen, amorphous entity like luck. Make your own magic.

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