I read many “how to” books for writers: How to Start a Blog that People Will Read (Mike Omar), Effective Magazine Writing (Roger Palms), Devoted to Writing (Nancy Robinson Masters), Pray, Write, Grow (Ed Cyzewski), Unleash the Writer Within (Cecil Murphy), and many others.
Amazon was happy to help me amass my impressive libraries, the one on my bookshelf and the one on my Kindle.
Every author offers worthwhile advice.
I discovered one of the most helpful pieces of advice while reading Crafting the Personal Essay by Dinty W. Moore. (I know. I also thought immediately of beef stew.)
On page 151 Moore writes:
Most writers–beginning and accomplished–are just too hard on themselves. Be hard on your sentences, be hard on your paragraphs, be ceaseless and unrelenting in your revisions, but stop questioning your ability to be a writer. If you put pen to paper, or put electronic words on the page, you are a writer. Let go of that worry and focus on how good a writer you can become.
Many of us, both writers and nonwriters, are too hard on ourselves.
At some point around the age of 16, most of us said, “I’ll never learn to drive a car!” When we became adults, we used more self-defeating language. “I’ll never beat the smoking habit!” “I’ll never get this bedroom painted!”
Many of us have gone on to accomplish things we swore we would never master. Good for us!
But we didn’t accomplish those things by spending our time and energy beating ourselves up and predicting certain failure. We took a driving course; we found experts to help us quit smoking; we kept working on those bedroom walls, taking pleasure in each successful step toward completion.
Sometimes we convince ourselves we have failed at achieving a goal when we never set a goal in the first place.
When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I needed to nail down my own definition of a successful writer.
If I don’t know where I’m going, how will I know when I get there?
This is the way I defined success as a writer.
A successful writer takes pleasure in working with words. She enjoys developing ideas, writing about them, and revising her writing until it meets her standards.
A successful writer finds outlets so others can read what she writes.
A successful writer has an audience of readers who enjoy reading what she writes.
By that definition, I am a successful writer.
Beating myself up and repeatedly telling myself I would never write anything worth reading did nothing toward helping me become a successful writer.
I became a successful writer by:
- Sitting for many hours in a chair in front of my computer and writing, rewriting, revising, editing, proofreading, and rewriting more.
- Doing what was necessary to start a blog and learn how to use it.
- Listening to and observing people to learn what they want to read.
Alternatively, I could choose this definition of “a successful writer.”
A successful writer earns enough money from her work to support her family.
A successful writer’s work is sought after by reputable publishers.
A successful writer gains renown and is recognized wherever she goes.
By that definition, I am not a successful writer.
I must decide which definition, or blending of definitions, satisfies my desire to succeed. No one else can define “success” for me.
If I am satisfied with the first definition, at which I am already successful, I will continue doing what I have been doing, always trying to become better at it.
If I am not satisfied with the first definition of success and want to work toward the second definition, I will need to do research, spend more hours at my computer, enroll in writing classes, hire a writing coach, and give up activities in which I now participate so I can devote that time and energy to writing.
What are you, my reader, telling yourself you will never accomplish? What does success look like to you?
Be specific and reasonable. Don’t set a nebulous goal like, “I want to travel.” Ask yourself, “Where do I want to go? When do I want to go there? Whom would I like to take with me? How long do I want to stay? How will I pay for the trip?”
Make a written list of steps you must take in order to reach that goal. Then begin working through those steps.
Plan your work and work your plan.
As you make progress, you may need to tweak your goal. Maybe the person you want to go with you does not want to go. Invite someone else to go with you.
If I had set as a goal, “I want to be a successful writer,” but had not defined for myself what “being a successful writer” meant to me, if I had taken no steps toward reaching that goal, and if I had continually told myself I would never become a writer, you would not be reading this blog post today.
Much truth lies in this famous quote by Henry Ford: Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.