Where am I headed if I change nothing? This is a stellar question to pose in regard to all aspects of our lives—our health, our relationships, our growth as human beings.
It is also an eye-opening and often quite clarifying question to ask yourself in relation to your writing life.
Where will I be as a writer in one year, five years, ten years, twenty, at the end of all my allotted time on this planet, if I change nothing, but just keep doing whatever I’m doing at the present time?
Do you like what you’re picturing? Is this the writing life you’ve dreamed of? (I know, my results were more mixed than I would have liked too.) If not, if you’re looking to raise your current level of satisfaction with your writing experience and change your future in the process, the following simple steps can produce significant results with a sincere commitment of a little time and effort:
1. Schedule writing time: Do you give yourself time to write regularly? Maybe not every day, as they always exhort us to, but not just once a year when the planets align either. The way to have a real writing practice is not at all mysterious. We just show up. Again and again and again. As creatives, we have the responsibility of getting ourselves to work on time, even if we’re working in our back bedroom in bunny slippers. It ain’t fair, but yeah, it’s all on us. We just have to want it (and love it) that much. So say what time you’ll be there, and keep your word to your muse–it will reward you. More often than not, good things will happen.
2. Write what you love: If you write for pay, are you also giving yourself time—committing!–to do the writing that makes your soul sing? Are you writing what is meaningful to you, the projects of your heart, or are you just putting in time? This is the difference between being a plastic carousel pony going round and round and round and a real horse with a white blaze on its forehead cantering over a green hill in the sun. This is your one and only life, my little pony. Break out and run, however you may!
3. Know your value: Are you monetizing your gifts as you should be, without untoward guilt or self diminishment? If you’re not sure what to charge, check the pay chart in The Writer’s Market and feign confidence. Many of us feel like impostors when asking to be paid what we’re worth. Most people struggle to write well–your skills are valuable. And your insistence on a fair wage for good work helps lift other writers out of the writing mill ghettos. Asking for the payment you deserve is a very difficult process for many, if not most, empaths and creatives—just know you’re not alone and keep working at it. This skill will raise your future writing income, but perhaps even more importantly, it will increase your levels of happiness and positive self regard. Focus hard on it. You are worth it.
4. Manage your goals: Do you have both short and long term goals? Good. But don’t just make your list and put it in a drawer. Learn to actively manage your goals. Get into the habit of reviewing them once a week, say on Sunday night, and just very calmly and self lovingly keep the world you want in view. That’s all there is to it. But doing it regularly will quickly change your writing future.
5. Befriend fellow tribespeople: Do you have true writer friends and remember to surface once in a while to actually make contact with them? Simple enough, but it’s easy to fall behind in this. Don’t. Schedule weekly or monthly ticklers (reminders) on your calendar. You don’t have to remember–the calendar will. Call Susan. Email Larry. Writing is a tricky to manage and sometimes lonely profession. You will benefit from the friendly support of others who understand your challenges; they also need your encouraging words. Win, win. And everyone goes back to her desk feeling seen and loved and ready to pay it forward in long, lovely sentences. Win, win, win, win, win….
6. Help others: Does your writing help or encourage others? This is not strictly necessary, and can be loosely defined (pure entertainment helps others too–to relax and enjoy life), but your whole world will be more fulfilling and thrilling if you can answer yes to this one. You’ll be replenishing your own good feeling about life, and you’ll be changing other futures in addition to your own. Who can you help? More folks than you even know. Find them.
7. Track your projects: Are you making regular use of a calendar or other organizing system (again, up to you what feels best—Evernote, Google, many can work well) to track not only your current projects but also new things you’d like to try? (Yes, schedule in the unofficial too–you might feel a bit silly, but you’ll be creating space in which things you’re excited about can actually happen.) A writing life without a calendar is almost doomed to fail–there’s just so much to, well, keep track of. If you get in the habit of checking your calendar when you begin your work day and entering anything upcoming (including things you’d like to begin), you’re at least half of the way to organized writerdom. Begin to change your writing future, date by date.
8. Tickle your submissions: Are you using ticklers effectively? It goes without saying, she said, that if you’re a creative writer who is submitting for publication, you need to record your submissions and your responses received in a submissions tracker. But in addition, when I began to enter ticklers for upcoming submissions deadlines in my online calendar (reminders at a month, two weeks, one week out, that a deadline is approaching) my number of submissions increased significantly and I really got on track. This may work well for you too. Again, as with the calendar, it’s all just about keeping what matters to you front and center. And it’s the first step toward future acceptances, which will definitely improve your writing life.
9. Keep learning: Are you learning new ways to enhance your craft? With the availability of the internet, there’s no excuse not to anymore. Keep a running list of new-to-you processes you’d like to learn (tech tricks, social media trends, WordPress shortcuts, new marketing methods, etc.–it’s all out there!), and to keep yourself from overload, tackle them the old-fashioned way, one by one. Start a knowledge file on your computer and make basic notes for each technique you’ve researched. If it’s something you might forget because you don’t do it every day, you’ll be able to quickly access the steps in your file when you need them next. Think of all you’ve absorbed to get to where you are now (impressive, right?) and vow never to stop adding to your knowledge and skills.
9. Reward yourself: Are you remembering to reward yourself for all your good work? These can be quite little things, small gifts of time to do what we love, attention to what fills us up, that are tailored to each of us, though they may be meaningless to others. If you get into the habit of rewarding yourself regularly, your animal self will develop a deeper trust in you, and you will begin to notice she is not bucking you off in the briars nearly as often. Seriously, if you only do this occasionally, focus on it much more deliberately. I was very surprised at the difference it made in my level of writer happiness, which is what it’s all about.
10. Pursue joy!: Are you moving inexorably toward that which brings joy?—in all things, we hope for this, but in our writing lives especially. Following your bliss wherever it takes you can make such a profound difference between confusion and confidence, fear and hope, resistance and pure love of the game. Go toward joy as often as you possibly can, in the seemingly small things too. You’ll feel the change in your whole body. And eventually, joy will start seeking you out on a regular basis, knowing it will always be welcome. And your writing life, decision by joyward decision, will become, instead of a dank, dark basement of worry and self-doubt and looming deadlines, a summer garden with sunflowers at each corner and your own name handpainted in white by someone who loves you on a robin’s egg blue wooden sign over the entrance, with morning glories climbing the gateposts into a future you don’t need to long for anymore, because, though you can’t quite say how, it’s here.