Why Writers Need to Think Big

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on May 19, 2015 • views: 2561

EV004347Are you thinking too small?

Are you cheating yourself out of your dreams because you’ve become too accustomed to things as they are?

We all get into our lives and our routines. With so much going on, we don’t even realize that our thinking has gradually diminished to the point where we see nothing but what’s in front of our noses.

This happened to me, recently, and if it hadn’t been for my younger brother snapping me out of it, I’m sure I wouldn’t have noticed for a long time.

He’s a pilot in the Air Force—a smart guy with lots of energy. When I really need some good advice, I’ll seek him out. Friends may worry about hurting my feelings, so they’ll hold back on telling me what I really want to know. My brother will be honest with me and that’s something I look for.

Last week, I sent my brother a project I needed help on. “Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “Just give me your honest opinion.”

He came back with essentially the following:

“What are you talking about these piddly little things for? You’re way beyond that now.”

He went on to describe what he meant in more detail, but the main message really jolted me out of my small-thinking doldrums.

He was right. I was thinking small. I was thinking like I was still living ten years in the past.

What I needed to be doing was thinking like it was ten years into the future—the future I had envisioned before I let myself get bogged down by my daily routine.

The Trap of Thinking Small

Most of us start out thinking huge as writers. We imagine our titles on the bestseller’s lists, our interviews with the media, our well-attended book signings where all readers have nothing but gushing compliments to give.

Then so-called “reality” sets in. We spend day after day in the chair. We submit. We get stacks upon stacks of rejections. Maybe we keep at it, or we turn to self-publishing. Then we get bogged down with the editing and the book cover and the formatting and then all the many, many tasks involved with marketing.

Even if we do get a publishing contract, our work is anything but done. Traditionally published authors wait and wait for their turn at the queue, and then it’s months of editing and revising and proofing, and when the book finally comes out one-to-two years later we often find ourselves facing the same stack of marketing tasks as our self-published colleagues.

In other words, we all experience the reality of book publishing, and it’s often a lot less glamorous than what we may have thought it would be. We become so busy keeping all the plates in the air that soon the biggest thought we have is focused on a topic like dinner, sleep, or our next wished-for vacation.

Soon the “to-do” list is all there is. We become trapped in small thinking.

Now, if we’re happy with that, there’s no problem. But if we’re restless, dissatisfied, and we have a small voice in the back of our heads saying, “there’s more than this,” the cycle can be downright dangerous, because it can keep us from doing what we need to do to move on to the next step.

Why We Limit Our Thinking

Author and speaker Croix Sather talks about this:

“There is nothing wrong with thinking small if that is what you want—but I’d bet that if you look deep inside yourself, you’ll realize you want more. I haven’t met many people who choose to enjoy small. Most people just justify it. Most people want a bigger life. Most people want more. Most people want to do something great.”

I’m lucky to have my brother around to remind me of this now and then. We’ve shared our goals ever since I can remember. Years ago, his was to become a pilot in the Air Force. Mine was to have a book published. We decided to “race” toward that goal. He got to his first (darn it!), but now we’ve both reached those milestones and have set new goals for ourselves.

That’s why he was in the unique position of being able to remind me of where I’ve always wanted to go. It helps if we have people like this in our lives—those that knew the real dreams we have, and will shake us out of small thinking now and then.

If you don’t have those people, though, you have to be aware of what’s happening in your life. Here are a few telltale symptoms of small thinking:

  • You’ve started telling yourself that you really can’t be expected to do any better.
  • You’re constantly referring to the difficult market, the lack of respect for good writing, how hard it is to get your books noticed, etc.
  • Something big or difficult in your life derailed your progress, and you haven’t gotten back on track, because “there’s just too much going on.”
  • Your little voice has convinced you that you’re just not good enough to be a bestseller, or to work for yourself, or to succeed at whatever dreams you have.
  • You’re basing your ideas of the future on where you are now—not on where you want to be.
  • You find yourself compromising on the things you used to dream about, thinking they’re “just not possible” for you.

Meanwhile you may notice that your enthusiasm and energy for life are waning. Most things seem like chores now, instead of fun—even things that have to do with your writing that you used to enjoy.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson! Time to shake things up.

Symptoms of Small Thinking

If you’re falling into the trap of small thinking, it’s time to make some changes.

Thinking small is dangerous, because it keeps us exactly where we are. We may even go backwards, because the more negative feelings we have in the moment, the more likely we are to fail to apply ourselves, which means things could get even worse.

Small thinking also affects the future—do you really want to be exactly where you are now in 5, 10, or 20 years? Still frustrated that your writing is going nowhere, or that you’re not making any money, or that you haven’t been published, or that you’re just not doing what you want to do?

Bad idea. Meanwhile, there is absolutely no harm in thinking big—and a number of potential benefits:

  • It jostles you out of your routine and gets you thinking about other possibilities.
  • It motivates you to work harder.
  • It encourages you to learn—to get out there and read or take classes or do what you need to do to accomplish your next big goal.
  • It makes you a more enthusiastic, positive person.
  • It could completely change your life.
  • It could result in your dreams actually coming true.
  • It’s fun!

Tips to Help Writers Think Big

Going to a conference is a great way to get yourself thinking big again, but until you get a chance to do that, try these tips:

  1. Spend some time to think about what you really want. Don’t stop yourself with limiting thoughts. Just let yourself think about the future you’d really like to have. Give yourself an hour to daydream, or do some journaling. Allow those dreams to bubble up to the surface of your mind.
  2. Remind yourself of why you started writing in the first place. What did you want to accomplish? What did you used to dream about? Why have you stopped going after that goal? Shouldn’t you start going after it again?
  3. Ditch self-doubt. Whatever you don’t know now you can learn. Think back to when you first started writing. You’re more accomplished now, right? You’ve gotten better in some way. Realize you’ll continue to grow as long as you allow yourself to.
  4. Broaden your thinking about your writing career. Being a bestselling author isn’t the only option. Maybe you can put some different skills together—sell a novel and also sell some short stories or children’s stories or poems. Do some freelancing, teach, or offer your expertise in speaking engagements. Joanne Penn has a great book about this called Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur.
  5. Think long term. Is writing a hobby for you, something you will always do in your spare time? Or do you want to do more with it? If you want to do more, what will you do? Realize that there are a number of options, and all are valid. Do what’s best for you! (Irish writer David Gaughran has a good article about this here.)

We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.

—Mao Zedong

Have you been thinking too small lately? Please share your thoughts.

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Comments (12)

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  1. April Munday says:

    This is the second thing I’ve read in two days about the dangers of thinking too small. I’m starting to get the message.

  2. Fabulous post! I wholeheartedly agree – and we all need to check ourselves for this – very inspiring -thank you!

  3. So true! My vision has narrowed down to the to-do list, which isn’t getting done. I need a brother.

    Great post.

  4. I really relate, Colleen. I go from thinking big to struggling to with the small. I like how you’ve signposted the symptoms and the how to think big (again). Great job!

  5. Chere Hagopian says:

    I’m much better at thinking big than at following through with concrete action. I love dreaming and planning and making elaborate to-do lists and setting goals. It’s the actual doing that is hard for me. I’m reading a great book called “No More Excuses!” about this very thing. Hopefully it will help! But dreaming inspires me to keep moving forward, at least a little bit at a time.

    • Colleen says:

      Ha ha. The actual doing is where the work comes in, eh? Thanks for sharing the book title—will have to check that out!

  6. Found this on twitter – Loved the message. Despite financial hardship, I’ve hired a writing coach who I meet with weekly or biweekly. She has continuously offered suggestions or ideas I would have never thought of on my own. She helped me ferret out the things I really want. Along the way I’ve ditched some goals and embraced others. Your post energized me again! Comfort zone = dead zone. Thank you!

    • Colleen says:

      Ha ha. Love that—comfort zone equals dead zone! Great way to think about it. Good for you on the coach! Sounds like a great idea.