It will happen. Eventually. You’ll do something you love, and after awhile, you’ll forget why you started. You’ll build a platform that’s successful, and it won’t matter. Because you’ll resent the thing that brought you so much attention.
You’ll find yourself writing for the approval of others and no longer be satisfied with your craft. You will feel trapped.
But this is not the end. It’s just the beginning. You’ve yet to create your best work. To live (and write about) a life that inspires others.
It wasn’t until I stopped writing for accolades that I found my true audience. Not surprisingly, I’ve seen more success with my writing in the past year than in the previous five.
This is the paradox: When you stop writing for readers’ approval, your work will move more readers.
So how do we do this? Where do we begin? There are three shifts I went through that helped me fall back in love with writing:
1. Becoming a writer (again)
A year ago, a friend asked me what my dream was. I told him I didn’t have one. He called my bluff, saying, “You know, I would’ve thought your dream was to be a writer.”
I said that was true, I guess, that I wanted to be a writer. One day. Maybe. If I was lucky.
He told me, “You are a writer; you just need to write.” So that’s what I did. I started writing. Every single day. And the crazy part: I started to actually believe I was a writer.
Here’s how you can, too:
- Turn pro. Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, says you have turn pro first in your head before you can do it on paper. I had the opportunity to interview Steve once, and I asked him when you become a writer. He said, “When you say you are.” Before others believe what is true about you, you’ll have to believe it first.
- Find your voice. If you’re a communicator, we’re relying on you for your insight, not to pander to us. You have to be yourself — to speak in a way that is true to you. The best way to do this? Practice.
- Write for yourself. The only person you need to worry about writing for is you. This is the secret to satisfaction: doing what you love and enjoying it when no one’s watching. The funny thing is when you do this, you’re not really writing just for yourself. Because there are a lot of people just like you.
2. Pursuing passion
For five years, I wrote a blog that nobody read. I measured my traffic and stats. I did everything I could to maximize my impact. All the while, my heart slowly died, and I grew bitter.
I watched other writers succeed in ways that I hadn’t, and I envied them. Eventually, I resented them. Why? Because I wasn’t doing what I wanted. I wasn’t enjoying the process. I was only chasing results.
So I went back to the basics: writing for the love of it. Not profit or prestige or even analytics. Just for doing it for the sake of doing it. You can, too, if you want. Here’s how:
- De-clutter. There are a million distractions in our world. The biggest for me is social media. You know what being a member of 25 different communities really is? Stalling. Procrastinating the real work, which is writing. If you try to stay on top of every new fad, you’ll spread yourself too thin. You can’t create and react at the same time.
- Cancel contingencies. Most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. They have a hundred half-written articles and a few books in them. How much have they finished? None. Do you know what’s really at work here? Fear. Of picking one thing and sticking with it. Here’s the truth: There is no wrong thing. Just begin.
- Fail forward. As you cancel contingencies and find something to stick with, you’ll need to learn how to ship. To move through fear, which means you’ll have to face the inevitability of failure. Real artists fail every day. Why not embrace it instead of running away? When you fail, you don’t really fail. You learn. You find new ways to move forward.
3. Building a community
When I started blogging years ago, I was chasing numbers, not people. I thought like a pollster, not someone starting a conversation. And ultimately, I failed.
If you’re going to fall out of love with audience approval and truly embrace your craft, something amazing will probably happen: People will be attracted to your work. They can’t help it; passion is contagious. They’ll want to hear what you have to say. But you need more than an audience. You need a community.
Here are the relationships worth building:
- Find your true fans. When you start writing for the love of it, you’ll gain people’s attention. But what you do next is what matters. In order to keep an audience, you need to help people. One way to do this is to give something away for free. This will build trust and extend your reach. And it’s a whole lot of fun.
- Earn patrons. These are mentors and advocates who will help you succeed. For Tim Ferriss, it was Robert Scoble. For J.K. Rowling, it was the little girl who convinced her father to publish a book about wizards and witches. For me, it was Michael Hyatt and others. This won’t just happen; you’ll have to be bold and ask. However, if you’re doing great work, people will find it hard to say no.
- Make friends. As your fans increase, you may even make a few real friends in the process. Not just followers, but genuine companions. This is the most fun part — getting to be part of someone’s story. Friends will help you even when you don’t ask for it. They’ll hold you accountable. And you will thank them for it.
Of course, I can’t really tell you how to fall in love. I can only tell you how it happened for me. But if you decide to pursue passion and write for the love of it, I would love to hear about it.
More than anything, remember that writing is an illustration of life. Art, as Stephen King says, is a support system for life, not the other way around. So the best way to write inspiring stuff is to live an inspired life.
Here’s a final challenge
The world doesn’t need more safe writing. Write something dangerous — something that challenges the status quo. Something that moves you (maybe it will move others, too). Then, no matter how scared you are, share it.
If you post it online, share the link, using the widget below. I hope to hear from you. Also, if this idea resonates with you, check out my free eBook: The Writer’s Manifesto.
What’s your love story? Share in the comments.
Photo credit: Guillame Paumier (Creative Commons)