How to Boost a Sagging Writing Career

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on February 22, 2016 • views: 3030

Boost Career 2Writers are used to slogging away.

We adhere to daily writing quotas while completing other duties on a weekly basis, like blogging, marketing, and maintaining social media.

We know that success isn’t a matter of doing one big thing, but doing a number of smaller things regularly over a long period of time.

No matter where you are in your writing career, though, there is a way to take a giant leap forward, a way to push yourself ahead more quickly than you usually would.

We don’t have endless time on this Earth. Slow and steady may win the race, but sometimes we need to add some gas to the fire lest we languish away in the same place for years. And that’s easy to do. We tend to get comfortable, used to our daily routines. We’re creatures of habit, after all.

But if we get too comfortable, we risk losing momentum. Suddenly, we may find ourselves in the same place as we were two, three, or even five years ago.

If you’re a little discouraged about your lack of progress, or if you feel like you need a boost in your writing career, it’s easy. You have to do just one thing.

Something that scares you.

Behold the Turtle: It’s Time to Stick Your Neck Out

American chemist James Bryant Conant is quoted as saying:

turtleBehold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.

When was the last time you did something (writing related) that made you nervous, required you to step out of your comfort zone, or plain scared you silly?

If it’s been awhile, it may be time to strap on your bulletproof vest and get back out there.

“…by taking on the challenge of doing one thing that scares you every day,” writes Lolly Daskal for Inc magazine, “you can create opportunities and reach new achievements. We’re all afraid of something—the challenge is to try one thing every day that scares you.”

Eleanor Roosevelt is the one credited with that quote—“do one thing every day that scares you”—but no matter who said it, the idea is a good one. Thing is, you don’t have to do something “every day.” A few times a year can be enough to push your career forward—fast.

Why something that scares you? Because the simple fact that it’s frightening means you would have to step outside of your comfort zone—and doing that is the only way to grow.

Listen to the Little Voice

We often sense that we need to do something new in our careers. A little voice nags away in our ears, encouraging us to do something—send that manuscript off to that editor, join that writer’s group, write that guest post, schedule that signing, attend that big writer’s conference—but whenever we think of it, we feel apprehensive, or afraid. So we shut that voice out.

Have you noticed that often doesn’t work? The voice may get quieter, but it won’t go away. That’s because your inner self, your creative guidance, knows what you need to do to get to the next step in your writing career. It wants what’s best for you, so it’s not going to shut up that easily.

Your inner creative voice urges you to do that one thing that will help you take a giant leap forward.

The problem, of course, is that the one thing scares you.

No way. You’re not doing that.

If you feel this way—if your stomach does flip-flops when you imagine doing this thing—take it as a sign that it may be exactly what you must do to progress as a writer.

To Be a Writer is to Be Scared

If you talk to writers, you’ll realize that we’re a fearful bunch. And no wonder. Pretty much everything we do involves self-exposure. Many of us are also introverts, which makes poking our heads out even a bit scarier than it might be for our more extroverted friends.

“The other week I went to a crime writing festival….,” writes crime writer Fran Dorricott. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but have always been too afraid to do. It’s a scary situation, isn’t it? Being surrounded by new people, all of whom are ‘better’ than you – more professional, higher-earners, more accomplished, or skilled… And it’s really really scary if you’re a little bit of an introvert.”

It’s not only introverts that suffer from fear when it comes to writing, though. Leadership consultant George Couros describes the fear that accompanied him while writing a book—particularly the fear of bad reviews:

“Going through the process has changed the way I read Amazon reviews. I cringe at a bad review and think, if something I would publish would actually be on that site, would I even look? It is something that would haunt your dreams, just like the one negative comment out of a 100 on a session will be the one you focus on? I think of this not only in writing a book, but any type of music or art that one pours their soul into, and it can be ripped apart in moments. It is daunting.”

It may be the topic we’re compelled to write about that scares us. Many writers have images or memories that haunt them, and they feel pulled to write about them, but they’re afraid to go there. Maybe they’re afraid of giving more life to those nightmares, or they worry about what others may think.

“If it scares you to write it, then you should definitely write it,” says fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor. “I didn’t want to look at certain issues, practices or situations. But I knew that if I was feeling that way then that’s where the good stuff was, so I faced it. When I wrote these parts, I was plagued with nightmares, felt depressed, etc, it was pretty awful. But after having the courage to face what scared me, I was able to produce a work that went beyond my usual type of writing.”

Fear PeekSome writers fear sending their work out to agents or editors. Others get nervous about getting any feedback on their work at all. Some get wiggy about going to conferences, doing book signings, or public speaking.

Really, when you think about it, everything about the writing life has the potential to be frightening. From the moment we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), we’re creating something out of ourselves, which is scary enough as it is. When we find the courage to put that something out into the world, we subject ourselves to the possibility of criticism and even of humiliation.

Writes Donald M. Murray in The Craft of Revision:

“Writing strips away our intellectual clothes and shows the world what we know and what we don’t know; it reveals what we think and feel; it documents how well we write—from our ability to use language, following or not following the traditions of usage, mechanics, spelling, to our ability to write with clarity and grace.”

If that doesn’t scare you!

Author and speaker Beth Hayden describes this type of fear as well:

“Sometimes when we publish something, it makes us feel like our insides are hanging out, for all the world to see. We feel vulnerable. We feel naked. We feel … terrified.”

Step outside the writing itself, though, and there are still many frightening things ahead:

“We might still have to work up heroic levels of courage to enter a contest, hit publish on a book, or wander into reviews to find good ones for pull quotes,” says paranormal author Jami Gold. “We might shudder before our first book signing. Or we might have a panic attack before attending a writing conference Every. Single. Time. (Er, or maybe that last one is just me. *smile*)”

Indeed, I think we can fairly say that writers have to face their fears every day, with most everything we do. You’d think that the more we do those things the more courageous we’d feel, but it’s not uncommon for writers to live their lives with fear as a constant companion.

“The most baffling thing keeps happening to me lately,” says freelance writer Amy Rigby. “People keep calling me ‘brave’ and asking for my advice on how to do brave things. While I’m flattered by this, it’s laughable to me because I’m scared of everything.”

Bestselling author Jeff Goins shares the feeling that fear never really goes away:

“I’ve had my fair share of fears in life,” he writes. “I’ve been timid and intimidated, shy and apprehensive. But even when I was acting courageously, those feelings never went away.”

The Danger of Giving In to Fear

The fact that fear will likely always be with us is why it’s so critical for writers and other creatives to refuse to let fear hold them back—because it will. It will stall our progress, and keep us from reaching our goals.

“…I know we often don’t realize we are sabotaging the integrity of our work and the paths to our future through fear,” says award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly. “Often when working as a dramaturg or mentor I’ve had to corner a writer and ask why haven’t they reached the mutually agreed deadline; why haven’t they done the work they outlined; why haven’t they written with passion and to the best of their ability now that opportunity they’ve been wishing for so long is finally here…? The reason has always come down to fear.”

Fear manifests itself as writer’s block, procrastination, flat writing, missed deadlines, and an insular approach to writing, where we don’t show our work to others, or break out of our own shells. We interpret fear to mean that we shouldn’t go beyond a certain point, that we shouldn’t trust that little voice inside us.

We want to stop feeling the fear. It’s uncomfortable, at best, and downright miserable at worst. But if we want to be writers for life—if we want to keep growing, and keep progressing in our careers—we may just have to accept that fear isn’t going anywhere.

“Fear and failure are always part of the creative process,” says author Jim Woods. “The question is whether or not you admit this.”

Admitting it is the first step. Learning to use it to push your career forward is the next.

What’s Your One Thing?

What is your quiet voice telling you to do right now, that relates to your writing? You know the voice. Not the loud one. Not the one that tells you what you “should” be doing. The small, quiet voice that’s always there, speaking gently in the background. What is that one saying?

Write it down.

Go ahead. Write it down right now.

Read it, and take note of how you feel. If your heart quickens, you’re onto something.

How can you tell if this is the one thing you need to do? You’ll feel the right kind of fear. It has an edge of excitement. When you think of doing the task well, you feel good about it. You know it will be good for your career. It’s the fear of doing the task badly that has you worried.

Imagine there’s no way you can fail. Look at your sentence again. Now how do you feel?

You’ll know if it’s right. If it is, congratulations. Now you know the next step you need to take.

All you have to find is the courage to take it.

What is the one thing you know you need to do that scares you?

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Comments (4)

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  1. Great post! Totally the motivation I need to do what I don’t want to do! Thank you!

  2. Jami Gold says:

    Thanks for the shout out! This is a great post, and I love your advice in the conclusion. 🙂