What is stopping you and what to do about it
Today is Memorial Day in the United States.
If you’re not familiar with this celebration, it all started when people set aside time and laid down flowers to remember soldiers who died protecting our freedom.
Some confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day. The main difference is Memorial Day is for those who’ve died, while Veterans Day celebrates the living.
As a creative, I value freedom. If there were no freedom, we’d have to create in the shadows, and distribute our messages under clever pen names. If we did it in the open, we’d be killed.
That’s easy to forget in this age of instant publishing on countless platforms.
Are you really free to write?
Many of us don’t have to deal with the watchful eye of an oppressive government, but some do. My hat is off to creatives who must guard their words so they don’t get in trouble. We need your message, too.
When you’re free to write whatever you want, anytime you want, you face a ton of competitors who are free to do the same. And if they’re more ambitious than you, it’s really tough to make a name for yourself.
Of course, you’re free to just create for the fun of it. If you find no pleasure in writing, you won’t want to do it for long anyway, will you? You might prefer driving ice picks under your fingernails. Or watching grass grow.
But since you’re here reading this, I’m betting you find writing fun. Maybe you even want to do more, but something is holding you back.
Let’s look at those who would steal your freedom.
Gatekeepers can keep you silent.
Your pitch to your favorite blog is rejected because it’s not exactly what the editor wants.
Your book proposal is passed over because it’s not quite ready for prime time.
Your prospect thinks you charge too much, so she’ll keep looking for someone cheaper.
Hearing no is disappointing, and sometimes it’s outright depressing.
But before you lay down your pen forever, listen to me.
No doesn’t always mean, “no good.” If you love writing and you’re good at it, no can mean it’s not a good fit. It’s the wrong place at the wrong time.
You can’t wear every pair of shoes in a shoe store. There are some that fit, and others that don’t. The publishing world is no different. When you find a place that doesn’t want your work, look somewhere else. When you find a good fit, you might have a partner for life.
Or at least as long as everything fits.
The people you love want the best for you.
If you want to bring out the worst in your friends and family, tell them you want to write for a living. It’s the easiest way to learn all the reasons why it won’t work, why you’re stupid for even entertaining such an idea, and why accounting is a much better profession.
Of course, they mean well.
But they won’t treat you well.
Here’s a better idea. Tell someone who’s already a professional writer that you want to be. They’ll tell you can, and maybe even mentor you into the profession.
You wouldn’t take advice about running a marathon from a couch potato would you?
Your biggest enemy
When you believe what your well-meaning friends tell you, you won’t write anything. Or if you do, you’ll hold back so as not to offend anyone who might read your work.
When you take rejection as a predictor of your future success, you won’t try as hard. Besides, you’ve been turned down once. You’ll probably get turned down again. So, if that keeps happening, you may want to avoid the disappointment altogether.
That’s no different than the salesperson who fails because he won’t go prospecting. Sure, it hurts less in your chest, but your empty bank account hurts a lot more.
You’re free to do this instead
What if you were free to pursue your dreams with abandon?
What if you decided your story was worth publishing, even if you have to do it yourself?
And what if you decided no was just an opinion, and not a death sentence to your creativity?
Well, you’re free to do all this and more.
You start by deciding you’ll write for the fun of it. You’ll understand that the more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Maybe you’ll even form a small group of writers who give each other honest feedback — not to tear each other apart, but to help each other be their best.
You can do all, part, or none of this.
You’re free to choose.
If you want to make it as a writer, I hope you’ll choose to dare greatly. Write every morning, whether you feel like it or not. Publish while your work still scares you a little. And treat whatever response you get as opinion and not law.
If you’ve been in a slump
Start by breaking in gently.
Anne Lamott suggests you go back to your childhood and write what you remember about it.
Maybe you get up and write 250 words about how you feel this morning.
You could collect a list of prompts and see where each one takes you.
Your journey is your own, and you can design it however you like.
Share it with some other people, and eventually you’ll find some who stand on the same ground.
I can’t promise you the journey will be short. But I can say it will be worth it.
I hope you find the freedom to share your story, the lessons you’ve learned, and the wisdom you’ve gathered.
That’s what you’re here to do.
Please be generous.
Now go write what’s burning inside you.