In my work with authors I see every kind of personality, and I've seen firsthand all the ways writers trip themselves up. In my book, What's Your Book?, I wrote about an irony I've noticed -- that the two seemingly opposing mindsets of "I am special" and "I am shit" both paralyze writers in similar ways. The "special" folks get tripped up by envy and frustration and impatience; the "shit" folks get bogged down by the debilitating notion that others are better, that their work sucks and that no one will want to read their book.
These are five things I wish I every author could carry with them through their writing journey. Though they're all things people know, writing a book is one of those experiences that cause rational people to sometimes lose perspective, if not their sanity. So here's a reminder to keep your eye and your heart on what matters as you write.
1. You first book won't make you any money or bring you fame.
I don't start with this to be a downer as much as to encourage you, especially if you're just starting, to keep your eye on the long-term vision. If you only have one legacy book you intend to publish, skip to number two, but if you want to become an author, you need to be thinking about writing and publishing more books. Mark Nepo, now a New York Times best-selling author, once told me that he was happy he'd kept writing even when no one was listening. With so many voices out there, it's easy to feel like putting your content out into the world is pointless at times. But your content is your legacy, and once you start building a following, you'll want and need that inventory -- your blog posts, your bylines, or previously published books. Being an author is like training for an epic marathon. You can rest, and even take days off, but don't give up on your training when it feels hard. Just like in life, the real rewards come from sticking with it.
2. Getting published will change your life, but maybe not in the way that you think.
Though getting published will probably not to bring you money or fame, it will open doors. Being a published author is game-changer for executives, leaders, and coaches. It's your calling card; it will open doors and bring you clients. For novelists and memoirists, your book gives you instant cred. You're an expert for having accomplished the feat. You can teach and sit on panels and share your knowledge with others who aspire to do what you've done. Remember to be a good ambassador to the literary world, and embrace your new role with humility.
3. Don't worry about the competition.
Too many writers I work with lose faith when they discover a book that's "just like mine." And though there's an old truism that there's no such thing as a new idea, aspiring authors often forget this truth when they set out to write a book. Take heart, because there's plenty of ways to put a new spin on old ideas. There will always be room for the quest memoir, the epic family novel, the real-life tale of courage, the reimagined true story. Allowing yourself to sink into despair because someone "stole" your idea, or got it first, is playing the victim. Things do not happen to you. You make things happen.
4. There are many paths to getting published, and what worked for someone else might not be what works for you.
Your friend's story about her colleague who got a traditional publishing deal after just one week of shopping her book may serve as a beacon of hope, but it's more likely to set you up for disappointment. What about those self-published authors who are quitting their jobs because they're making millions of dollars a year off of all their profits? Same thing. Let these stories be an inspiration, but don't let them drive you. Don't let other people's accomplishments be a way in which you're measure yourself against others. Start to educate yourself about your publishing options, and have a plan, and a back-up plan. Decide up front whether you will publish no matter what; if the answer is yes, you'll find your way.
5. Your voice matters, and your readers are out there.
You will encounter a crisis of confidence (or two, or three, or four) on your writing journey. Then another when you are ready to publish, and another when your book comes out into the world. There will be highs and lows, and you must weather the lows by arming yourself with affirmations! Remember why you set out to write your book in the first place. Get in touch with that spark that prompted you to write in the first place -- to touch another; to help someone; to entertain someone; because you had to. Whatever your reason was, let it be your motivator. That original spark holds a kernel of truth for you that you can tend to and flame to grow bigger, or forget about and deny and let die. You choose.