The best way to not become a writer is to wish you were one. To think about writing. To dream about it, imagine it, wonder what it would be like to write one day — these are the worst ways to accomplish the things we want to achieve the most. So what’s the best way? Do it.
One thing I learned in writing The Art of Work, my best-selling book that turned one year old last week, was that most people have no idea what their dream is.
Passion? Calling? Purpose? People don’t have a clue. And the very idea that they should know only makes them feel more crippled and ashamed for not having an answer to that age-old “what should I do with my life?” question.
So after interviewing hundreds of people who did find their calling, one trend I noticed was this: You don’t think your way into clarity. Clarity comes with action.
You don’t think your way into clarity. Clarity comes with action.
This is true in just about anything from learning how to fall in love to launching your dream career. Life is confusing, and the path towards our purpose is foggy at best.
But things don’t have to stay this way. We can achieve clarity, if we’re willing to act. (For more on this, check out: When Your Calling Seems Vague and Unclear, You’re on the Right Track).
What does this have to do with writing?
Often, I receive emails from writers wanting to know what they should do to start their careers:
- Should they self-publish or try to get an agent?
- Genre fiction or literary nonfiction?
- Mac or PC?
All these questions, though, are the wrong ones to ask right now. People want to know what to write about or when the perfect time to work on your manuscript is. And those issues are virtually pointless when you’re first getting started. I mean, really getting started.
Of course, genre matters. So do your publishing options. Heck, even working with a Mac matters (I’m a bit of an Apple fanatic). Those just aren’t the places you start. Questions like that are what my friend Anthony call “false first steps.” They aren’t where you begin your writing.
Here’s what I tell writers who ask me these questions: The way you become a writer is you write. You practice. You put yourself out there every day. And as you do this, you get rejected and dismissed and frustrated like you never would have imagined. But you also get better. And over time, all that practice starts to matter.
The way you become a writer is you write, you practice, you put yourself out there every day.
The best advice I can offer, as controversial as it sounds, is to start by calling yourself a writer. Why is this so important? Because activity follows identity. Some things in life we have to believe before we become them.
This is an act of faith, and in fact, a bit of a mystery to me. Nonetheless, this was the advice best-selling author Steven Pressfield gave me when I was first starting out, it’s haunted me ever since.
In an interview, I asked him when I could call myself a writer, and he said: “You are a writer when you say are. Screw what everyone else thinks. You are when you say you are.”
You are a writer when you say you are.
The next day, I started calling myself a writer. You know what? It worked. I became more confident, and people noticed. That confidence led to competence, and before I knew it, I was this thing I was pretending to be.
Here’s the lesson: if you play a part long enough, you start become that person. So why not choose to play the role you wish you had?
How, exactly, do you become a writer?
Start by owning the title. Then earn it by writing every day. Act as if it’s true and experience the magic of becoming what you always wished you were.
Here’s how it works:
- You do it.
- You believe it.
- You become it.
That first step requires both faith, but the best things always do. It’s a little audacious to do something you aren’t quite sure is true about yourself, but until you take that first step you’ll always wonder if you have what it takes.
Yes, this is a little “woo-woo,” but it also works. I’ve seen it time and time again. What we believe about ourselves actually affects who we become. And what we do influences what we think about ourselves.
So be careful with both the thoughts you entertain and the actions you take. And when self-doubt starts to assail you, don’t forget Mr. Pressfield’s sage words: “Screw what everyone else thinks. You are when you say you are.”
I find this is a daily exercise: declaring to myself, and incidentally to the world, that I really am a writer. In the end, I think it makes me a better one.
Act as if it’s true and experience the magic of becoming what you always wished you were.
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