As you pursue success with your writing and creative work, there are three key moments that threaten to derail you.
It is in these three moments where most people stop. They give up. Now they rarely utter the words, “I give up.” Instead, they keenly look around, do an analysis, and conclude it is silly to keep going. They reason that it is logical to stop, or put their energies elsewhere.
Today I’d like to share advice that comes from having worked with hundreds of authors. This is the stuff I would tell anyone who has reached one — or all of these three — of these critical moments in pursuit of their creative work.
Moment 1: Yes, you have permission to begin.
The first moment that will potentially stall your creative work is the starting point. So many people succumb to the enormous resistance that’s always present when starting something new.
They won’t begin, or won’t move beyond the most foundational steps. Sure they may say “I’m writing a novel,” but the reality is, they aren’t. They wrote an outline, then stalled months ago.
I’ve found that many people struggle with permission to pursue their creative goals. They simply don’t feel justified or validated enough to accept permission to embrace the work they long to do.
For some it is deeply personal, wrapped up in their identity. Perhaps they sit down to write, and are reminded of an incident from their youth when they were shamed for trying to be creative. Or perhaps they were raised in an environment where financial security was emphasized, therefore pursuit of the arts was discouraged.
Others may fear judgement. Let’s face it, when you openly care about something, it is easy to feel you’re inviting criticism. This may happen to a writer sharing their book, a musician sharing their song, or an artist sharing their work.
How do these artists shield themselves from judgement? By never creating of their own, something original that requires them to step out of the shadows.
Instead, they hide in a safe place, which may be a job defined by others, roles defined by others, or identities defined by others. Sometimes it is easier to be a “successful accountant” (even if you hate the work), than a “struggling writer.”
Yet this ‘safe place’ can be harmful, because it allows people to assume a passive role, critiquing the decisions of others, complaining about a boss, or lamenting how unfair things are. Of course, not everyone who longs to do creative work is stuck in a job they don’t like, sometimes a job can support creative work. But I won’t lie, I have talked to many people who feel trapped simply because they won’t take the initiative to step out, to step up, and to create.
Sure, they take a course here and there, they go to a conference or two that uplifts them for a couple weeks. They dabble. But they never commit. Their creative identity becomes a passive distraction.
Others experience a kind of shame in publicly admitting they are pursuing something they believe in. It makes them feel weak and exposed to be pursuing a craft they have not yet mastered. Social interactions trigger a fear that they are secretly being judged. The casual “How is the novel coming?” from a friend can feel like a stinging reminder that progress takes time.
If you’re feeling stalled at the starting line and are perhaps “waiting until the time is right,” let’s face it: you will die waiting. I don’t mean to be morbid, but if you truly want to experience something in life, you have to choose to do so, even when you feel you aren’t quite ready, you don’t quite have enough money for it, or competing priorities will have to be put on hold.
When I left the corporate world to start my company in 2010, even though we were in a recession, and my wife and I were about to have our first child, I justified it as, “If I don’t make this change now, when I’m 36, how will I be able to make it at 42, or 52, or 62?” I knew the risk would never be less than it was on that day, and I could easily justify there would be more risk by waiting. Once we started a family, once we bought a house, it would be 1,000 times more difficult for me to take such a big leap in starting a company. Six years later, I am unbelievably thankful that I took the risk back then.
If you are waiting until the time is right to begin your creative pursuits, there is no one that can give you the permission that “All is safe, please proceed.”
Only you can do that.
If you feel logical and rational in your list of reasons to not begin in earnest, consider where the line is between caution and half-assing it. Then, go read Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art.
Moment 2: Please have the courage to continue.
A writer said this to me recently: “It is exhausting to launch.” She was describing the book launch process, and the months of figuring things out, doing hard work, collaborating, and executing on ideas.
A phrase I often use with my clients is “doubling down.” As we look for opportunities to grow and engage their audience, we are constantly looking for strategies and tactics to forgo, and those that we should put more resources into.
Then, I encourage them to double down on opportunities. Despite risk. Despite not knowing the outcome. Despite fear. (… and of course, I help them through it, mitigating the risk and fear as much as possible! I’m not a monster, you know.)
This week I became mildly obsessed with this blog post by Joanna Penn where she describes her experiment with “ad stacking” to promote her books.
If you know of Joanna and her accomplishments, you may be thinking, “Oh, Joanna is so successful and smart, she makes it look so easy.” While she is indeed smart and successful, I would bet that it doesn’t feel “easy” to her. That perhaps, while she has pride in her accomplishments, she may be thinking, “Um, why is this such a struggle for me? Why do I have to figure out ad stacking that utilizes 10+ systems all at once, and requires a $5,000 cash outlay?”
Sure, one thing I thought after reading her post was, “As usual, Joanna is awesome.”
But another thing I thought was, “Figuring out ad-stacking sounds like a huge pain in the butt.” I imagine most authors would rather spend their time doing anything else than this.
These are the services Joanna used in a coordinated fashion for a single promotion:
- BookBub Featured Deal
- BookBub Ads
- Just Kindle Books
- Kindle Nation Daily
- Facebook Ads
- Nook merchandising
- Plus, Amazon, email marketing, and podcasting
Joanna 100% justified that she considered this promotion worth doing, but it’s worth noting these efforts weren’t around a huge book launch. Instead, they brought incremental growth to an already fully functioning platform. She has 13 novels, 8 nonfiction books, a weekly podcast (with 283 published episodes), a blog/newsletter (published every month since December 2008), plus other services around helping authors. With that last one, there is value in the case study on ad stacking alone, in attracting authors to her, those who will never read one of the novels she was promoting. In other words, the value she gleaned from ad stacking was on top of the 1,000 other things she has been doing consistently for the better part of a decade or more.
The point of this: Yes, Joanna is awesome. But also…
It is a reminder to keep going when you may feel stuck in the middle. When you want new ways to find momentum or realize a dream. In the quietness of the middle, many realize they can simply STOP and no one will notice. They can just slip away from their creative vision, no harm, no foul.
Persistence is the best weapon against inertia. Recently Srini Rao released his book Unmistakable, and within it he shares wisdom gleaned from his own success, but also from interviewing more than 600 successful creative people. A key point he makes in the book is how again and again, the key to people’s success was persistence. The ability to keep going even when things seem hazy.
Several years back, I was behind a pickup truck that sported a bumper sticker that read something like:
“I am not participating in the recession.”
This was at the lowest depth of the recession, when there were many out of work, struggling to make ends meet. In that environment, it was easy to blame anything on the recession. I don’t begrudge people that. It was — and for many, still is — an incredibly difficult challenge just to get by amidst changes in the economy and job market.
But that bumper sticker always stuck with me. My interpretation was that this was a housing contractor who was saying, “Yes, things are tough. But I’m rolling up my sleeves and will find my way despite the difficult economic conditions.”
Even though this person would have been justified in giving up, they instead embraced their own courage to continue through the storm. Not as a victim of a broad and vague challenge (where every excuse is “Well, it’s the recession”), but someone who will keep pursuing their dream, even though it is now much more difficult than it used to be. When the outcome seems so much less clear; when the threats seem to have multiplied and become ever-present.
When you encounter Moment 2, I encourage you to keep going. Yes, it will require courage at times. It will even seem foolish. But between intention and success, you have to endure the middle.
Moment 3: Forgive yourself, and begin again.
I added this phrase to a big keynote presentation I gave earlier this year:
Just those words on a slide — my final tip after an hour-long session.
The truth is, along your journey to creative success (however you measure it), you will mess up. You will miss a huge opportunity. You will make a bad decision that sets you back months or years. Or you will stubbornly cling to bad advice long after it was clear you should change course.
That’s okay. Forgive yourself for the error, whether it is your fault or someone else’s. Then, please try again.
That error is not indicative of a trend.
That error doesn’t mean you are a failure.
That error is not the universe telling you to stop.
Every single successful person will tell you about their many — MANY — failures along the way to success.
To recap, in your unique journey to develop your skills, to create work you dream of, and connect it to the world, I encourage you to weather these three moments:
Moment 1: Starting
Moment 2: Enduring
Moment 3: Trying again
In the pursuit of your dreams, what moment created your biggest set back? How did you work through it?