I went to college with a woman whose life plan involved “getting on a soap opera and just like, doing that for a while.” She assured us all she had a friend or an aunt or someone who could help her and while we all smiled and nodded, she neglected to audition for any plays, refused to volunteer for any student films, was much too busy to attend local casting calls and spent most of her time barely attending classes and showing up to sorority parties without having helped in any sort of event planning. Apparently, she thought that if she majored in Theater and had a friend in the biz, her life would fall into place as if by fate or magic and all she would have to do was her hair and makeup.
If I remembered her name, maybe I’d look her up to see which chain restaurant she was working at but there was literally nothing about her other than her lack of ambition that I can recall right now. And I’m trying! She wore sweatshirts sometimes? She had brownish or blondish hair? She… chewed gum? That’s all I got.
I’m thinking about Sweatshirts because I keep seeing these motivational whoosits for writers on Twitter and Tumblr in the vein of “Keep writing until your signature becomes and autograph” and “Imagine your favorite writer* becoming your biggest fan”.
I feel like the problem with these things is that they’re just setting most of us up for disappointment. Becoming famous as a writer doesn’t seem like an easy thing for the best and most prolific of writers, never mind for those of us writing our second novel 20 minutes at a time while our kids nap (or, you know, whatever everyone else is doing). I see so many unrealistic expectations on Twitter that it makes me a little sad. These are the people who are going to give up when what they want doesn’t come easy.
My husband and I own a small business that caters mostly to the after-school crowd with a small smattering of adults who enjoy the activity. We knew from the outset that this business wouldn’t make us rich. We had very reasonable expectations for what our student capacity was, for how much money we could hope to make, and how we’d have to set up our lives to continue running this business while also paying our bills and eventually taking care of our child.
The Small Business Association mentor we were set up with was NOT FEELING IT. He was a retired CEO. He had built and destroyed and rebuilt companies 10 times the size of ours and why were we even bothering him with this piddly shit? Then he set up an appointment with an evil evil lawyer who mocked us viciously before busting out a contract she actually thought we’d sign. Go Big or Go Home, they both said.
We went home. And to the library. And to small business owners we knew and trusted. And then we built a decent part-time small business that pays our mortgage and home expenses while our second “day” jobs supplement that. It’s all working out just fine because we went into the situation with 1) realistic expectations and 2) a willingness to put in the right amount of effort to accomplish our goals.
I approach writing the same way. I’ve always wanted to write a novel but for a long time, I couldn’t get past the feeling that nothing I ever wrote was good enough. It’s when I stopped trying to please ANYONE else and just wrote for myself that I finally accomplished my goal. My novel is not famous or outstanding or life-changing or, you know, selling very well on Amazon. But I wrote it. Some people read it. One of them left a good review. And for a first time novelist, that’s freaking fantastic! I’m very happy with myself for accomplishing a goal. I’m happy with my one 5-star review. And two of my best friends read it and thought it was great, which is enough for me right now.
The thing is, if I wanted to write a best-seller, I’d have to put in a whole lot more effort. I might have to hire a professional editor. I’d definitely have to do some serious marketing. I’d probably start looking for an agent or submitting my manuscript to publishers or contests to get more exposure. I’d have to work! Hard! And I’m… not willing to do that. I have two jobs. And a kid. And other responsibilities and hobbies and I’m not willing enough to re-prioritize my life so I can put that kind of effort into my writing.
At some point, with any endeavor, you have to figure this out: Here’s the amount of effort I’m willing to put in and here’s the reasonable result I can expect from that output.
Sweatshirts didn’t quite understand that concept. A lot of the writers I see on Twitter don’t get it either. And those motivational cards are just a symptom of this disease of wanting more than you’re willing to put in to get it.
In the words of John Lennon, “a working class hero is something to be.” You can still write without being a best-seller. You can still be proud of your work with only one Amazon review. You can still call yourself a writer if you’re putting some effort in to your writing. But you’re never going to be Castle without the plucky attitude and custom-made vest.