Full disclosure: I feel like a fraud right now. I’m going back and retyping my third-ever novel attempt, and getting it shape to be finished (I wrote the first half of the novel as part of NaNoWriMo a few years ago). I have a list of new novels to write, and my real life is being distracting—because of potty training and work logistics.
So, You’re Just As Distracted And Confused As I Am?
Yes, yes I am. But that’s okay; our emotions don’t have to stop us from being confident writers.
Well, That Sounds Too Good To Be True!
It does, doesn’t it? Let’s get right down to it, so you can feel a bit better.
Confidence as a writer comes from a fundamental understanding of what writing is; when you know what the product is that you’re making, you can continue making it regardless of your emotions and life distractions.
Don’t You Know I’m Making Art? My Book Is Not Just A Product!
Did you ever work in a restaurant or fast-food joint? Think back to your worst day ever in the kitchen (or at the register, or in an equivalent role at a similar sort of job).
My worst day was in a casual dining place. I had worked a long shift over the sauces, and prep was behind for the next day. I hadn’t eaten for a very long time, and I was staying past my shift to help out (I should have gone home two or three hours before).
I remember I was chopping broccoli at a side counter, and I started to get dizzy. I’d been working fifty hours a week in the kitchen since I started the job, which I didn’t mind, but the lack of food was starting to get to me. (I didn’t have enough money to eat at the place I worked, even with the discount, and I mostly subsisted on crackers I stowed in the employee cubbies.)
There I stood, chopping broccoli with one of those lovely, sharp industry knives, and I suddenly realized that I was going to fall over.
“I think I need to go now,” I said to the shift manager, who blinked with mild guilt, and smiled in a too-friendly manner.
“Oh, yeah. Of course,” he said.
And then I went home. (And presumably ate something. I don’t remember that part.)
Nice Story. What Does It Have To Do With Me?
What is has to do with you is this: in a restaurant kitchen, even when you are tired, hungry, and having a worst-day-ever, you find yourself able to make the food, or clear the tables, or greet the customers with some acceptable kind of smile.
Because you understand what the job entails. You know what you’re getting paid for. The economic transaction is crystal clear in your mind. You put in your part, and you get money in return.
Are You Saying Writing Is Like A Job?
Well, sort of. You don’t directly get a paycheck for every word you write, at least not until you’ve done a massive amount of brand-building and marketing, but you can learn right now to see writing through a similarly-practical lens.
Yeah, Right! This Is Art, Man! Not A Sandwich!
I have not yet successfully made a living writing. (I’m working on that brand-building and marketing part.) I have, however, made a living producing theatre, teaching acting, and performing as an actor.
A funny thing happened when I was actually making money doing what, before, I had done purely for love.
I became, quite suddenly, competent at producing work, even on my worst-days-ever. I found, to my surprise, that I could act, and sing, and communicate respectfully and industriously with actors and the audience, even when I wanted to rip my eyeballs out from unrelated life stress.
I could be creative on demand because I understood the fundamental economic exchange that was taking place. I taught actors, and got money in exchange. I did my makeup, and appropriately expressed emotion on stage, and I earned money for it. I worked out actor schedules, and ran auditions, and in return, I had money in my bank account.
Yes, But I Won’t Feel That Way Until I Make Money With Writing!
Au contraire. This is a simple formula for you. You do the work (tell emotionally satisfying stories with decent framing and publish them with adequate regularity), and in exchange, you get a little money.
Let us look at some examples.
I wrote My Name Is Caleb; I Am Dead, and I knew perfectly well that I would have to drum up interest in the book. It wasn’t in a strong genre, and no person on the planet has any motivation to jump up and shout, “I must read a book about a dead accountant overcoming his spiritual possession by predatory relatives!”
Not even one!
So I finished it, because the story was important to me, and I published it, and so far I have sold two (count ’em) copies of this book on Amazon.
In restaurant terms, I put a folding card table up outside a bustling McDonald’s, and offered people seasoned calamari. Is there a market for calamari? Absolutely. Will I eventually sell my calamari? Absolutely. But I will have to, metaphorically, build my own restaurant and earn the loyalty of my clientele with a host of recognizable dishes before they will discover the esoteric wonder of my after-death book.
Now let’s look at another example. I wrote The Eastern Slave series, and sold five books in the first week. It’s in a recognizable genre, and has been selling slowly but steadily since I published it.
At my card table, I am now offering seasoned calamari and home-made chocolate bars. Will a lot of people look at my obviously hand-made chocolate and say to themselves, “Eh, I want a factory-packaged Twix”?
And as I put more time and gradual sophistication into my packaging, and as I gussy up my card table, I will sell more and more of my chocolate.
You Can Write With Confidence Now
Everyone starts somewhere. There will always be angry people flooding the market with doomsday messages about the death of book sales, and there will, in contrast, always be people like me who are gradually plugging away at our word counts, and slowly shining up our presentation until we become the established restaurant of writing that we are currently standing outside of. (It’s not a perfect metaphor. Roll with me here.)
But what you need to know is that the confidence always comes before the money; the understanding of the economic exchange happens before the monetary success.
You can write with confidence now, knowing that your market is ready and waiting. Thousands of readers surge to and fro on every hand; they are out, and they are eating people’s words. They will eat your words too, when you fix up your packaging and your proprietary recipes.
Writing is a job, just like flipping burgers or clearing tables. And it does pay money, when you understand and interact sensibly with the market.
You’ve been reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. You can find the homemade chocolate and the seasoned calamari here. May the spirit of writerly confidence lay like golden sunshine over your heart.