Have you ever felt frustrated that you’re not where you want to be, not where you feel you should be, and have the sneaking suspicion that the reason is you?
I’ve been there. I’ve fallen into what I call the pointer trap. Where when I’m feeling frustrated, burned out, unsuccessful, I look around for reasons—things to point at. Things to blame.
It’s simply more comfortable to imagine it’s an external circumstance holding us back rather than look inward.
The good news? Fixing that habit is sometimes as simple as identifying your common “woe is me” thoughts—once you’re aware you’re having them, you can stop that thought right in its tracks!
Here are three lies we writers tell ourselves that can hold us back from finding joy in our career:
I’m a slow writer
No, darling. That’s all in your head. You’ve told yourself you’re a slow writer, so guess what—now you write slowly. You want to be a fast writer? Tell yourself you’re a fast writer—see what happens. Change the narrative, and I’ll bet you change the output. And if after that, you look at your daily word count and think, “Nope, still slow,” ask yourself what metric you’re measuring writing speed against, because it’s probably nonsense. Why do you think you’re a slow writer? Because you write fewer words than someone in your writer’s group? So what? Some people walk faster than you too, and some people’s fingernails grow faster. Get over it. You write what you write, and I’m also willing to bet that once you stop judging your speed as good or bad, as fast or slow, you’ll stop stressing about it.
Whenever the root cause of your “slowness,” stop judging yourself by how many words you put on the page. Be honest with yourself, but also be kind to yourself. The words will come at the pace they need to.
I’m just as good a writer (or better!) than so and so, but she sells better!
This lie is generally accompanied by a fierce stab of “it’s not fair!”
No, it’s not fair. But this one’s actually not so much a self-lie so much as an irrelevancy that does nothing but mess with our head. Good writing doesn’t always sell well. “Bad” writing sometimes does. Accept it. Embrace it. We may never understand why readers glom onto a particular author or book that we ourselves don’t love. I don’t believe it’s our business, or that we’re meant to understand. I believe we’re meant to keep writing.
Once I hit X goal, everything will be gravy …
For many writers, that goal entails hitting a bestseller list (USA TODAY, NYT, Amazon Top 100). For others it’s selling a certain number of books. Or getting a bigger advance from a big publisher. As someone who’s had all those goals, and who hit all those goals, I can assure you—there is no magic finish line that makes everything easier.
When I first started out, I thought my career trajectory was going to be a linear, upwards trending line. I mean, I was prepared for it to be slow—my first book advance didn’t even cover one month’s rent! But I at least thought it would be ascending if I just stuck with it.
The reality? This career’s a wave. It’s got crests and dips, and more crests and more dips. Just when you think you’re at the top of your game, your next book bombs. And just when you’re resigned to obscurity, you’ll get a major win out of nowhere.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have goals, and that we shouldn’t celebrate the crap out of those goals when we hit them. Just know that writing career is all about the journey, not the destination. Enjoy the ride. It’s worth it, bumps, bruises and all.