Why is it so hard for writers to think of writing as a job? There are a lot of complex reasons. Cultural reasons. Imposter syndrome reasons. Maybe even reasons that have to do with the personality type that is drawn to writing as a career.
As a ghostwriter, I often feel like I don’t belong among a group of “real writers.” It’s not that I think my writing is inferior. I’m no Dickinson or Twain, but I can pull together strings of words efficiently and coherently enough to get the job done. It’s more that I have a fundamentally different attitude about writing.
Writing has only ever been a vehicle for me to make money. I suppose I have always liked words. But I don’t see my writing as an art form. I didn’t spend days scribbling down my thoughts as a kid and I only wrote poetry when prompted by a teacher.
This gives me some real advantages that make ghostwriting a beautiful job for me:
- I’m less attached to the words I write
- Most of the time, I don’t even identify as being a writer
- I think of myself as part of my client’s creative process
- It’s easy for me to think of writing as a job
- It’s easy for me to charge appropriately for what I write
Here’s the thing, though, both of these ways of looking at writing can be true. You can both see writing as an art form and as your job. And in fact, if you can’t see it this way, you’re going to have a phenomenally hard time making writing a career you love.
Think of Writing as a Full Time Job
When I say “real writers” above, I mainly have in mind those writing novels, short stories, or other types of creative writing, but the same can be said for non-fiction writers. Plenty of first-time business book authors make the mistake of seeing their writing as an art form too.
Perfectionism can take over as soon as you start to see your book as a tangible representation of your brand out in the world. I don’t know about you, but building my brand was one of the toughest, most painstaking projects I’ve ever undertaken and it’s an ongoing process. If you see your book in this way, you’ll agonize over every word and it will take you 10 years.
And this goes double for authors sharing personal stories in a memoir or a personal development book. You are in an incredibly vulnerable position. It’s natural to drag your feet and hesitate when it comes to pulling the trigger.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to write a great book. But if you want to both write a great book and let others see how great it is, you need to think of writing as a full time job.
What does this mean?
Set goals and deadlines. I recommend weekly or daily word count goals. Think about when you’d like to have your book finished, then do some math (a good length is 40,000 words, which translate to 100-150 pages printed). If your deadline is unrealistic given all your other commitments, adjust the deadline, then do the math again. It’s okay if this process takes some time. You may even want to test your goal for a week or two and adjust again.
Make writing part of your schedule. Choose an open block of time on your calendar and make that your writing time every day or at least five days per week. Keep this appointment. You wouldn’t miss a meeting with a client, unless there were an emergency. This is how you should think of your writing time.
Find a writing group. One sure way to keep your writing appointments is to actually schedule a meeting with other people (assuming you’re at least a little bit of a people pleaser). You could find a friend who also wants some productivity time or join an actual writing support group, like my Write the Thing! thing.
Seek feedback in ways that will be constructive. It’s important to keep feedback in perspective. The wrong feedback can have you back to battling your inner critic quicker than paint dries. Ask yourself who in your life has earned the right to offer you feedback. Share your unfinished work with no more than five people. And always consider what their feedback reveals about them. Also, I like to use the Rule of 3 here. If three people say the same thing, you should probably listen.
Keep track of your expenses, including your time. With my business book clients, one of the first questions I ask is “what’s the business case for writing this book?” I want them to be aware that publishing a book is like launching any other product or service in their business. They need to be satisfied that the return outweighs the potential risks. To determine this, you’ve got to analyze the costs and benefits. And I mean all the costs, including your time.
I’m not saying that you have to put your business on hold or quit your actual full time job to write a book. You absolutely can get your book done writing in the cracks at night or on the weekends. Plenty have done it. What I’m saying is when you’re committed to finishing your book — however slowly or quickly you write it — it needs to show in your approach to writing.
When you treat writing as a full time job, you’re more likely to get your book done and you’ll write a better book. Remember, a book is a snapshot of your brain at one point in time. If you take too long to capture that snapshot, it will be gone and you’ll be starting over for all intents and purposes.
And of course, if there’s no way you can treat writing as your job, ghostwriting is always a viable option. I guess the truth is I don’t belong among a group of “real writers.” But that’s okay with me. I am a renegade afterall.
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