The most recent blog by Tumblemoose highlighted the need to keep your dedication to the writing cause alive and kicking. Advice of this sort is always timely. The writing profession is a rollercoaster. Successes and failures intermingle. We should all be accepting of this fact; a fact that permeates every aspect of our lives.
However, sometimes our mood does not seem to respond accordingly. Of course we tend to react to a writing success with feelings of happiness, and to a failure with feelings of disappointment. But we can also experience a success and feel strangely deflated, and a failure and feel oddly empowered.
Understanding why these feelings affect us is crucial to our being able to maintain our momentum. When you become confused about why you are doing something and what is happening, it’s very easy to lose your drive.
I believe the key to achieving a through line is to turn your eyes within. You need to feel content that you are doing your best, and that this is the only goal worth striving for. You need to challenge yourself in your writing, and enjoy that challenge every day, and not be always looking at what other people are “achieving”, and certainly not what other people are earning.
I put “achieving” in quote marks because this is the subjective criteria that can so screw us up. If you measure your achievement by what other people say, and what other people are willing to pay, you are relinquishing control of your emotions. You are saying that other people are the true arbiters of your work and without their approval you have failed. Thus you can be published but still be sad if you didn’t get the publisher you wanted, or the size of print run, or the paycheque, or the critical acclaim. And you can feel empowered by a “failure” because you know it is nevertheless a solid stepping stone on your path to self-improvement, or simply because you are pleased to have done your best, regardless of what anyone else might think.
I firmly believe that freelance writers should never expect to succeed. Expectation that something will turn out as you believe is the surest way to achieve crashing disappointment in any walk of life. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying and stay positive – you should – it just means that you should do so for reasons that are 100% disconnected from thoughts of what you think should await you at the end.
If you read my first post on this site, you will know that I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London from 1987 to 1990. I wanted to be a famous actor in Hollywood. I believed the talent that I had and the commitment I showed meant that I deserved to make it. I had an expectation. I believed it was my right to get there.
I was wrong. I did a lot of TV but never made it. I still think I can act, and probably a lot better than many of the people who are making millions per movie, but I no longer believe that I was cheated by life or God or whatever else you may believe is running the show. I also think my writing stands up to scrutiny better than that of many others who are making a comparative mint from their scribblings, but I don’t feel (quite so) pained by the apparent discrepancy any more.
One of the biggest problems I feel contributes to the perpetuation of these feelings of expectation and deserving in writers and actors and others involved in the fickle arts is the huge amount of crap pushed our way by the “psychology of achievement” brigade, also sometimes even presumptuously called the “science” of achievement. I gobbled up this garbage for years. In short, this is the belief that “what the mind of man can conceive of, and believe in, it can achieve”.
I think if you want to succeed – as society perceives success to be – of course you need to keep positive; if you’re not positive, you give up the doing, and you have to do things to have any chance of success. Positive thoughts can also transform your personal life and make a great many aspects of it better. But positive thoughts backed by action do not always lead to financial and commercial success, as these people dogmatically insist. Just because the richest people in the world have done certain things to get rich does not mean that anyone who does these same things will also become super-wealthy. That is an incredibly simplistic notion. Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich has supposedly sold to over 30 million people since it was first published in 1937. I wonder how many of those millions made millions after reading it. I read it more than once, and did as instructed for two solid decades, and my bank manager is still pissed off.
Think about what these so-called gurus are implying: if you don’t make it, you have not only failed in your chosen pursuit, you haven’t even got what it takes to think properly. You’re so crap you can’t even get that right. The whole concept of the psychology of achievement is deeply flawed. So all the millions of people leading miserable lives in horrendous conditions in the underdeveloped countries of this world are doing so because they don’t know how to think positively? That’s pretty insulting. Do you think they don’t want and need to improve their lives a billion times more than you or I? The psychology of achievement is a money-making ruse that could not survive outside the developed world; it simply would not make sense.
Freelance writing is a tough job, but only in the way that choosing between several delightful dishes on a menu is a tough job. Some people don’t have a menu, or a restaurant, or any food.
If you want to write, and make a career out of it, and most importantly feel at peace with being on that path, you need to forget the idea that your efforts deserve to be rewarded. Write because you love to do so, and because you have the freedom and the time and the opportunity to indulge your passion. The rest will follow.
If anything is going to work for you, it’s that.