Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Be" Careful What You Ask For...

Wouldn’t you love to have a dollar for every time you mentioned you were a writer and someone said, “Oh, that’s so cool. I’d love to be a writer, too!”?
It’s usually only because of our
Christian charity (or patience, or naïveté—take your pick) that most of us actually play the game that follows. Smiling sweetly, we ask the question to which we probably already know the answer.
“And what are you writing?”
You know what comes next. A stammer, a blush, and a shuffling of feet (figuratively, if not literally). Then, the shy admission, “Well, I haven’t actually written anything yet. But I’ve got this great idea, and someday—!”
Reflexively, you’re probably nodding, because we all know this wannabe is making two key mistakes. First is, of course, relegating anything in your life to “someday.” We all know that day never comes. Second, also obvious, is that to be a writer, you need to write something.
I know, I know. Crazy, but there it is. Go figure.
However, just as the wannabe fools herself into thinking that just having a great idea makes her somehow “creative,” some of us fall into a similar trap in the writing life. Many of us, myself included, have encountered openings for paying gigs (!) in the writing biz and thought, “Wow, it would be so cool to be that."
Only when we start actually doing the job…we don’t like it at all.
How does this happen?
I call it the Bright Shiny Object syndrome. Bright Shiny Objects are everywhere; they’re gigs with great-sounding titles or trappings—but the actual essence of them isn’t bright or shiny. It’s just plain work, sometimes work that—at its heart—is something we actively dislike...or aren’t very good at. In other words, we run smack into the difference between having a title, imagining ourselves as something...and actually doing it. Sometimes, those two things aren’t anywhere near the same.
So, just as the newbie gets snookered into thinking that “being a writer” would be “cool,” we get snookered into some Bright Shiny Object gig that we may regret saying “yes” to but then find it very difficult to get out of.
And it can happen to any of us. Some of us, more than once.
Being a columnist is “cool”—struggling with relentless deadlines, not so much.
Being an editor is “cool”—having really awful writing to fix, when you didn’t buy it in the first place, not so much.
Being a consultant or freelancer is “cool”—having a client stiff you for payment, not so much.
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Anything you think you want, remember—if you get it, you also get What Comes With It.” Many of us have discovered this to our chagrin; that while we like certain parts of the writing life, certain elements make us cringe.
But it’s doing those things—the stuff that Comes With It—that separates the wannabes from the real deal. A success guru once said, “The only difference between those who succeed and those who fail is that successful people do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.”
In other words, successful people do What Comes With It. They take the grunt work with the glory...the Brussels sprouts as well as the chocolate pie.
So if this writing life isn’t sometimes all it was cracked up to “be” in your mind—if you’re dealing with nagging irritations, blocks, or other obstacles that get in the way of your bliss—you might need to do some honest assessment of what you thought you were getting into. Were there things involved in this career that you didn’t know about before you started writing? Or did you know about them but thought you could get away without doing them—or that someone else could be persuaded to do them for you?
(Bet you’ve found out the hard way about that one.*)
The bottom line is, no matter which step is your next one in this writing life—be careful what you ask for, or what you think you want. Try to learn all that Comes With It before you leap into any opportunity, no matter how much you think you already “know” about it. You may still end up with some egg on your face and need to bow out of the omelet business...but it’s easier to stay out of uncomfortable or ill-fitting situations than to try to get out once you're in them.
And very few things are worse than grabbing for a Bright Shiny Object, only to discover too late that it’s actually a ball and chain in disguise.

*Except for the Brussels sprouts. I actually love them, so you can pass them on.

1 comment:

Larry Denninger said...

I'm not a writer, but I am a blogger. That doesn't qualify for anything, I know...oh, wait! I did the NaNoWriMo, too! So I guess I was a writer for one month.

I liked the quote describing the difference between successful and unsuccessful people, and it is sooooo true. I'm on the verge of going into business for myself...I think...and the thing that's holding me back might be the stuff That Comes With It.

I hope you post more - I like you're writing style.

BTW - I came here via the Crescat blog, where you've been nominated for a couple (anti)awards.