I was thinking about axioms today. An axiom is a statement that is self-evidently true. It identifies a baseline.
It’s usually a math thing, that I’ll be perfectly honest and admit I don’t understand. But I’ve heard about them in church as well, so there’s a philosophical aspect as well.
I came up with one for writing:
Writing is at least a form of creative expression, the process of which offers satisfaction. Even if this is all that writing is, it can bring joy even if it never brings a successful career (whatever success looks like to any individual person.)
Here’s a question I want you to ask yourself.
Are you willing to do the work even if it doesn’t make you great?
What if you put in your 10,000 hours or put $40,000 and two years of your life into an MFA or whatever it is that is required for you to become an expert at whatever it is you’re passionate about — and you’re still mediocre?
Are you willing to risk that?
The fact is that being an expert is not the same as being a superstar. It’s possible that you might do all the work and wind up being an expert who is in the middle of the pack. Or not even that.
If your passion is writing, you can be an expert who is not a bestseller. You can be an expert who never sells a book traditionally. You can be an expert whose indie published books never sell much.
You just can.
No one who wants a creative career gets the benefit of knowing ahead of time that all their hard work will put them in the top 1 percent of their profession. Hell — we don’t even get to know if it will put us in the top 99 percent of our profession.
It’s up to you decide whether you are willing to put in the work regardless. Here are some other questions you can ask yourself, to help you decide.
Will the work itself satisfy you?
Do you enjoy writing enough that putting whatever work it takes to become an expert will be worth it, even if you never sell a book? That’s a hard question, so I want you to really think about it.
Writing a book is hard work. Hugh Howey says you should write at least ten before you even start to question whether or not you’re a good writer. Stephen King says that talent is as cheap as table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
There is no guarantee, there will never be any guarantee, that your hard work will do any more than make you a better writer and a better storyteller. Decide if that minimum outcome is good enough for you.
Do you enjoy being part of a community of other people doing the same work?
One of the best benefits of being a writer is being part of the community of other writers. Ask yourself if you’re taking advantage of that and if you’re not, whether or not it might help you to make the blind commitment to the hard work of becoming an expert.
If you have the resources, I highly recommend finding even a small local writing conference to attend in 2019. Join at least one online writing community (like Ninja Writers!) and really participate. Find a writing partner or a group of local writers to join.
Are you willing to risk the rejection it will take to actually find out how far you can take this thing?
So, we’ve established that you have to put work into being a writer and that it’s possible that there is no amount of work that will make you a superstar. But there is only one way to find out just exactly where you work can take you.
You have to put it out into the world. That means sending it out to agents or self-publishing it or sending it to publications or contests. It means risking rejection.
I can at the very least take away any sense of anticipation here. The one guarantee in writing is that you will be rejected. A lot. Readers will look at your Amazon page and pass. Agents will reject you for a wide variety of reasons, almost none of which include the quality of your work. (I had seven offers the last time I went looking for an agent — and was still getting rejections six months after my book sold to a major publisher.)
A whole lot of rejection is a given.
So . . .
Are you willing to take that on? If not, then you have to ask yourself if you are willing to do the work just for the sake of the work?
Because as hard as this post is, there’s an upside. Most people aren’t. If you are, then you’ve already outworked pretty much everyone. And that matters because it’s the only way you can find out how far you actually can go.
If the axiom I started this post with fits you, then you are a writer. And putting in the work is worth it — regardless of the outcome.
Writing is at least a form of creative expression, the process of which offers satisfaction. Even if this is all that writing is, it can bring you joy even if you never become a bestseller.
My favorite book about doing the work anyway is The Creative Habit by Twila Tharp.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.