Getting Out of Your Own Way as a Writer

There’s a lot of areas where the idea of wanting to be a writer versus actually being a writer overlap. At the end of the day, wanting to be a writer is all about trying. Being a writer is all about doing.

This post is inspired, in part, by this article on Medium.com. You can go read it (I encourage you to) but we’ll go over the gist below. Seven differences between amateur and professional writers, with amateurs on the left and pros on the right. These ideas are from the author.

  1. waiting for clarity vs taking action
  2. wanting to arrive vs wanting to get better
  3. practicing as much as needed to vs never stopping
  4. leaping for toward dreams vs building a bridge
  5. fearing failure vs craving it
  6. building skill vs building portfolio
  7. wanting to be noticed vs wanting to be remembered

The article itself takes a pretty strong stance. I don’t think that’s entirely right, but I do think that list is a good summary of the natural growing pains every writer goes through. Sometimes, more than once throughout their writing careers.

Think of it this way. If that left side was really about being an amateur, then Aaron Burr’s namesake in the Hamilton broadway production was an amateur. His musical line, “I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait,” summarizes much more accurately what it’s like to be on the left side of that list. The right side is all Hamilton, who admits to being a “…polymath, pain in the ass, massive pain…” and who’s ego gets him into all sorts of trouble. He batters his way into history, but he doesn’t make many friends along the way.

It’s much better to be a balance between the two. There will be times in your life as a writer where you plateau. No writer can learn in a bubble, and only so much of what we do can be self-taught. Those are the points in time when we must break out of our shell and move from the left side to the right.

There is also a difference between being a writer(creative) and being a writer(career). Both of those aspects have places on that list, and they won’t necessarily be in sync.

If you’ve plateaued as a writer(creative), then it’s time to move from the left to right and find people who can offer you feedback and critiques. After spending some time getting outside input, you’ll want to go back to the left side of that list and self-improve until the next time you plateau. There’s no rule about whether that could take days, weeks, or months – maybe years in some cases – but it’s critical to never stop learning and improving your skills.

The right side of the list is more favorable to the writer(career) than the left. But take up residence there without spending any time on the left, and you’ll be trying to live out the Field of Dreams by acting as though, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s great to be in the position to take action, to get better, to have unlimited time to practice, not to be afraid of failure, and all the other things on that right list. But without pausing to get clarity, to allow yourself to practice as you can, to leap for a dream, to fear failure, or all the rest, you won’t have the knowledge for successfully growing on the right side of the list.

To be fair to the list as it stands, it doesn’t say how large or small your actions need to be to determine which side they would fall on. If taking action means starting a blog and maintaining a posting schedule, then that’s more reasonable compared to sitting around coming up with the perfect blog idea and never executing it. (Which also ties into the fear of failure. We do need to accept that we won’t truly know what other people will think of our work, so it’s important to move forward and find out afterward.)

Seeking Clarity vs Taking Action

At some point, after you’ve spent time learning, you’ll be faced with the decision to “learn a little more” or to “take the plunge”. It’s important to know yourself and understand whether your gut is saying it’s not the right time, yet, versus being plagued by doubt. Just remember there are no guarantees, and you’ll never know for certain if you are ready or not if you don’t take action.

Wanting to Arrive vs Wanting to Get Better

You can want both. Allow yourself to celebrate your achievements while staying humble and understanding there is still room for improvement. Don’t be afraid to stand tall and look back from where you are to where you came from, because there will always be more road in front of you.

Practicing as Much as You Need To vs Never Stop Practicing

In terms of time, not all of us have the luxury of practicing non-stop. However, this could also be interpreted to mean not to let yourself think you’ve mastered something completely, versus needing to keep exercising those muscles. Even the greatest musician will lose some of their skill if they never play. If it’s a matter of having the time, though, be kind to yourself. Be realistic. Practice as much as you can, and don’t get lazy, or complacent. That’s how you can keep your writing skills fresh and at your fingertips.

Leaping Forward vs Building a Bridge

There are times when the right choice might be to “go for it”. It can be risky, and you will have to be prepared for failure, or being demoralized if it doesn’t work out. Just don’t leap so far forward that you can’t get back to where you were. At the same time, there are plenty of people who love a comeback story if you ever execute a false-start.

Fearing Failure vs Craving It

Personally, I prefer aiming for success versus craving failure. On the other hand, as the author points out, you can learn more from failures than successes. I do think it’s important not to let fear of failure hold you back, but also would say it might not be time to move forward if you aren’t prepared for the possibility.

Building Skills vs Building a Portfolio

If you wrote something when you were 12, I would expect that it wouldn’t make it into your portfolio. There is always room for building your skills, although you shouldn’t be afraid to have a larger portfolio, either. You can always update stories after they’re out in the world, or create new ones that showcase your current skills better.

Wanting to be Noticed vs Wanting to be Remembered

You can’t be remembered if you never get noticed. However, you shouldn’t want to get noticed just for the sake of being noticed. The goal should be to be remembered. It’ll be up to you to determine what it is you want to be remembered for.

That’s the post for the week, folks.

In other news, my book will be out sometime in June! (Pre-orders will be available soon!) Here’s your sneak preview of the cover, and if you want an early glimpse at the content you should sign up for my email list.

Thanks for reading.

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