There are three words that can kill any dream before it leaves the ground: “As soon as …” As soon as I finish this course … as soon as I get noticed … as soon as I revise … as soon as I get a marketing plan in place … as soon as the kids are in school … as soon as I ride the glitter pony of creativity … and on and on.
Yes, it is helpful to have action steps that inform your forward motion, but for too many of us who want to do creative work, we’re waiting on something that isn’t really keeping us from our writing. Our real barriers are beliefs that tell us we have to wait for the right conditions, along with the false assumption that one day we’ll “arrive” at our goal of being a successful writer and the need to create will feel satiated.
Newsflash: those “right” conditions and that “perfect” moment are not coming.
What I Thought I Needed
I spent this summer in a fundamentals of fiction course, which might seem strange since I teach a similar course. Why did I take it? I wanted to review the building blocks of fiction writing.
It’s a good idea, but a nagging thought kept surfacing: I need this because I probably missed something on my way here, and as soon as I finish this course, I’ll feel more confident about my writing.
The class was well-executed and the exercises and feedback were helpful. But at the end, I didn’t feel any more confident than when I began. In fact, I found there were a few more things I wanted to improve. I didn’t learn what I had expected (the magic sauce that would fix all the things, which doesn’t exist), but I did learn more about myself as a writer.
It reminded me that I am always going to be a student. Learning, like writing, has no concrete finish line. (I know, I know, there’s publication or the book deal, and I’ll discuss that in a moment.)
We have to get familiar with the discomfort of always being a work in progress. When we see a weakness in our writing, it needn’t send us into despair and a long list of things we need to finish before we become a successful writer (or a writer at all). It is evidence that we’re growing, and that’s a good thing.
The most important thing we need? To keep reading and writing. Take the course, read the book, enter the contest, and keep writing. Don’t let anything become a barrier to your consistent practice.
But After I Publish …
Maybe you believe that once you publish, the work will get easier. Then you’ll know you’re a successful writer. I believed this once too. Let’s consider the words from a couple writing giants:
In Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft he states:
“I have spent a good many years since [publishing]—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write.”
Ashamed of what he published for a time? What? That doesn’t sound like publication was ultimately satisfying in and of itself. He’s not alone either.
After the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee was shocked by the book’s success. In a 1964 interview, she said,
“You see, I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird … I hoped for a little but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
If Stephen King and Harper Lee can admit they didn’t feel like they’d “arrived” once they published, I think I can safely accept I won’t feel that way either. Publication is just one more mile marker on my writing road, and it will be in my rear-view mirror as quickly as it came.
The Successful Writer’s Substitute for “As Soon As”
Instead of waiting to be ready or to depend on some external measure of success, I need to know why I’m writing and to keep working to create work that is satisfying.
Stephen King said it best in one more quote from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
If you’ve been waiting for something to change or putting all your worth in a single far-off accomplishment, release yourself from that pressure. It’s as simple as committing to daily practice: one word, one sentence, one page at a time. Celebrate the small wins, like investing fifteen minutes in your craft today.
What “as soon as” moment has been keeping you from writing lately? Share in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes and write a character who is waiting on something. Make them use the phrase “As soon as …” and then force them out of their comfort zone with conflict and a decision. When you’re done, share your writing in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!