Want to succeed with your writing? Invest in it.

There comes a time in every aspiring writer’s life when you have to stop playing at being a writer and actually become one. The day will dawn when you have plum run out of excuses, and then you will have to make a choice. Either you are a writer, or you are not a writer. What’s it going to be?

For many people a writer is simply someone who writes. Though your words may never be read by a stranger’s eyes, the simple act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys is enough. And that’s fine. But for others the dream is to write professionally – to make a living at this wordsmithing, storytelling craft. I fall into the second category.

By many standards, I have already achieved this dream. I do, after all, make a living with my words. But, each time I answer the dreaded so-what-do-you-do question with “I’m a writer,” I cringe just a little. I know that the person I’m addressing is going to assume I write fiction, when in truth I write marketing copy – websites, ebooks, case studies, and so on. I’m not embarrassed about my work. In fact, I’m damn proud of what I do, and on most days, I really enjoy it. The projects are like puzzles and my clients are a fabulous bunch of people who appreciate my strategic and tactical skills and bring a lot of fun into my workweek.

The thing is, I didn’t grow up saying, “I want to be a marcom writer.” I grew up wanting to become my favorite authors: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle, and all the other weavers of the fantastic tales and outrageous adventures that made my childhood imaginings so rich and full. And now, as a grown-up, though I put my mind to work on comparatively pedantic tasks, I still adore and aspire to emulate the writers who bring the exotic, unusual, and unbelievable to life. I read Neil Gaiman, Charles DeLint, Erin Morgenstern, Lev Grossman, Catherynne M. Valente, Philip Pullman, and others and am drawn once again into worlds of magic, mystery, and often mayhem. This is what I want to create with my words: stories that entice and enchant – tales that whisk the reader away and change her in the telling.

But, up until now I haven’t invested in that dream. Not enough, anyway.

I haven’t invested my time, or my money. I haven’t taken action to prove that this dream is important to me. I have thought about and talked about writing. A lot. I have written hundreds of journal entries and read thousands of blog posts. I did do NaNoWriMo … once. I did participate in a writing group … for a little while. But those concrete actions took place a long time ago. I’ve given over my days and nights – all my precious hours – to my other work and to pastimes that are enjoyable, but which do not feed my dream of writing stories.

I’m changing that. Now.

Step 1: For Christmas last year, I bought myself a copy of Scrivener – the beloved software of so many fiction writers.  It wasn’t a big an indulgence, and I know that software does not a writer make, but it felt good to put that particular tool in my bag of tricks.

Step 2: A month ago, I attended the Grub Street Writers’ annual conference – Muse. I forked over the cash and carved out a whole day to just hang out with other writers, listen to them speak, take notes on what they were teaching, and generally immerse myself in an atmosphere of literary blossoming.

Step 3: Today, as you read this, I will be sitting in my first Grub Street Writers classroom taking the first of a 6-class series on unlocking the power of fairytale and myth.

I’m ready to start putting my pen where my mouth is. No more dancing around with the idea of being a writer. It’s time to step up and BE a writer – the kind of writer I always dreamed I could be, the kind that writes stories like the ones I loved as a child. If my “wannabeawriter” years have proven anything to me it’s that I can talk a really good game, but if I’m going to actually get anything done, I need to ante up. My good intentions have delivered little in terms of results. Investing in things like this class provides me with more than exciting opportunities to learn from professionals, meet other aspiring authors, and stretch my writing muscles. The fact that I’ve paid for and committed to this class means that my butt will be in that chair for four hours each week for the next six weeks. That’s 24 hours of working on my craft. Given that I haven’t spent that much time in the last two years combined, this investment – though small – is a pretty big deal.

I’m excited. How about you? What can we get you excited about?

How do you define writing success? How badly do you want it? What will you invest to reach your goal – make that dream come true? What can you do today? What can you do next week? What can you commit to doing before the end of the year? 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.


Image Credits: “If it’s important” – from Scrappin Along; “Dreams don’t work” – from Lucious Works

65 thoughts on “Want to succeed with your writing? Invest in it.

  1. Jamie,
    Thanks for sharing your story! It’s good to know I’m not alone–in the need to move from “wannabe” to “be.” I used to write–as a newspaper employee–and I write now (lesson plans, assignments, tests, essays)–as a teacher and a master’s student–but, like you, this isn’t the writing I dreamed of doing.

    My pat answer to “What do you want to do with your life?” for as long as I can remember (which is a long time) is, “I want to write a book that will change the world.” Unfortunately, I am also an AP English teacher, used to reading and using the Great Books with my students–and I don’t want to write anything less. That in itself is a clamp down on motivation.

    But I have started writing for myself by writing a personal blog, which seems to affect about 15-25 people with any given post. Not exactly the world. So yesterday I contacted a friend who said she could help me get more exposure–but it seems she’s the one selling the domains, etc., which makes me somewhat leery…. and, truth be told, the blog, while I love it, is not what I had in mind when I said I wanted to write a book that would change the world. But I haven’t figured out my next step yet…

    Any suggestions? 🙂

  2. Gosh Jamie, I could have sworn I was reading about my own thoughts and lifestyle as I read this post. I also write, but not the writing I’ve dreamed about. I started writing for a newspaper three years ago, and I write copy and marketing instruments also. I’ve always written SOMETHING, just never ready to take the plunge and start writing my books. I have one whose lead character literally plagues me, popping into my head at random moments, yet haven’t brought her to life. I think I may have a fear of failure that’s really deep-seated. If I begin the book, and it’s terrible, my dream will be over… Profound… maybe you actually helped me prepare for getting over this hurdle!

    Thank you for doing what you do… especially what you do on this blog. You never fail to inspire! Best of luck in your classes, I have no doubt you’ll not only enjoy them, but you’ll unleash the creative writer in you! (Mind, writing what you do is also very creative!)

    • Thank you so much, Tami.
      It’s always good to know you’re not the only one, right?

      I will be writing more about my class experience, but I can give you a preview and share that, although it went really well, I was aware of feeling of inadequacy popping into my head throughout the 3-hrs in the classroom. I suppose that’s normal. I did my best to chase those little demons away, but it will take some practice.

      Our fears can do a great job of holding us back, but only if we let them.

  3. So many similar stories! Jamie, I think it’s great you participated in NaNoWriMo. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do to have a deadline, but have been afraid to! I think any writing experience is good, whether it be writing for a newspaper (which I’ve done) or a blog (yup, doing that) or a journal (got about 20 of those stacked in my closet). After years of thinking I wanted to write fiction, I’ve been turned onto creative non-fiction. I never would have thought about writing in that genre if it hadn’t been for the other types of writing I’ve done.

    • Hello, Tonya.

      I would like to learn more about creative non-fiction. I have some fun with extended metaphors in some of the business ebooks I write, and I imagine creative non-fiction might be in the same vein. I would love to integrate some of those types of projects into my “day job.” I think they would be so interesting and also allow me to flex some of my creative writing muscles in ways that would better prepare me for writing fiction.

      Thanks for the idea!

  4. I LOVE when you state the obvious in such a creative way! Yes, we’ve all been told countless times to “stop playing” and just DO it, yet most of us hold back. It wasn’t until I turned 50 that I got serious, previously spending time in other jobs including running my own remodeling business. The writing was something I’d wanted but dabbled in, so when the construction industry was hard hit by the economy and I closed up my business, I told myself, “It’s time to pursue the dream – now or never girlie!” This is the most risk I’ve ever taken. (The honey badger is my new BFF!)
    Defining success is precarious – measured by how much money I earn or books published, I’m a failure. Sure, I make a small amount of income working as a staff writer, and published each month, but to me, that isn’t the KIND of success I’m looking for.
    My approach is to ask myself: What do you want to accomplish in your creative writing – this week, this month, this year? I measure progress by reaching realistic goals I set. Sometimes they’re small: learn to blog this year, get more proficient in social media, attend at least one writer’s workshop, write “X” number of words weekly etc. There are big goals too: finally finish the draft of the new book, get to work on the other you’ve been putzing with for almost two years, land some bigger gigs in larger markets, etc.
    I’ve found setting smaller, manageable goals works extremely well – I’m increasingly more productive. I work at it – EVERY DAY – even if it’s something as benign as reading a chapter from a trade book that in my purse at all times. (Can you say WORD GEEK?)
    I’m not a wannabe anymore. I a real writer. And my first accomplishment was to give myself permission to call myself a writer. Truthfully, there are days when it overwhelms me and sometimes I don’t reach a goal I’ve set for one reason or another, but I refuse to sit still. I’m moving, one baby step at a time.
    I don’t have the moola for Grub Street right now, but I have that on the bucket list. Please do a post, Jamie, about that experience! Love to hear about it and its influence on your writerly self. ENJOY!

    • Laura – you are fabulous. 🙂

      Smaller, more manageable goals are key.
      If we just want to say “I want to write a book,” we have nowhere concrete to start. We have only the end result, not the path to get there. Breaking things down into those baby steps is critical. (Smart girl, you!)

      I will definitely be sharing more about the class as it progresses. Great first day yesterday – but my head is spinning just a bit. Will keep you informed and hope to see you at Grub Street one day!

    • You’re so welcome.
      And thanks for saying my timing is perfect … usually I feel like I’m always late!

  5. I’ve been nursing the dissatisfaction of being a wannabe writer long enough. Your post came at the perfect time. Perhaps over the coming months there will be writers’ war stories to tell.

    • “Writers’ war stories” … I think we ought to start a regular feature!!!

      I’ll share mine if you share yours!

  6. I love your posts, Jamie. This one and Blog like a Badger are my favourites. Way to go for putting it out there, go for it!

    • Thanks! I have a soft spot in my heart for the honey badger, too. 😉

      (Cute dog in your avatar!) 🙂

  7. Oh my! Were you eavesdropping on my conversation today? Thank you for giving me yet another reason to stop talking about writing … and to actually start (well, that’s not accurate, as I have started thousands of times) … to actually finish and submit something. Good luck to you in your pursuits.

    • Hi, Mona.
      Start, start, and start again. Never stop starting.
      Finishing is good too, of course, but starting is – as they say – the hardest part.

      I would like to FINISH something as well. I’ve always focused on writing a novel as my ultimate goal, but I’m thinking that I might try my hand at a short story or two. I am not so naive as to think they are easier just because they are shorter, but I would certainly have a better chance at getting one done!

  8. This is SO true and very inspirational. For years I’ve been saying ‘I’m an aspiring writer’ because I knew I couldn’t get away with just saying ‘writer’ (and because as an ‘aspiring writer’ I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time plain fannying around), but it’s time to stop all that and just get on with it. Thank you for your post 🙂

    • “Fannying around … ”

      … Oh, how I know that routine. 😉
      Happy if my post inspires any action. That’s my main focus at the moment. Despite everything else on my plate, I am going to commit to taking tiny baby steps.

      It’s time. Now. Get writing!

  9. Jamie, you are slowly climbing my list of all time inspiring people!
    For better or worse my standards are not very high. I type words with a keyboard so I call myself a writer. 😉 I try to make them meaningful, entertaining, thought-provoking. Maybe I succeed, maybe I don’t. I keep doing it because I love it – when I get the time. What is my goal? It would be really nice to make a living from writing fiction. But I’d be happy at this stage with hearing that people like my work. When that no longer satisfies me I’ll raise my standards.
    I love that quote I’m about to steal: “If it’s important you’ll find a way…” 😉

    • Thank you, Richard. That’s very kind of you.
      I think that shifting goals is sensible and natural. We start out with one aim in mind and then, as we achieve that, we set new ones that take us to the next level and the next and so on.

      It’s a great quote, isn’t it? A bit of a kick in the pants, but one I’m thankful for.
      Good luck!

  10. Pingback: Writing Tip: The Most Exciting Part of Your Novel May be the Part You Didn’t Write « the writer's refuge

  11. Best of luck to you and your dreams! You are blessed to be making money writing, which will help when it comes time to publish! I have been writing my entire life because I am called to it. In other words, the voices won’t shut up until I allow them to take life on paper…or now days on a computer screen. I think I actually mailed out two things and they were, of course, rejected. As you mentioned here, I allowed that to stop me from dreaming of becoming a published author. A month ago I changed that mindset. Every single week I work on one short story and one poem and then mail them away to the magazines with hope. What I really want is to be published for my YA fiction. After lots of time studying I believe to get that goal I need to accomplish this one. Meantime, I am never giving up hope again!

  12. At the moment, I am working to be a writer by making sure I write every day, whether it is a blog post, a poem, a song or a short narrative. I also do writing exercises and creative exercises, and read things that inspire me. In this way, I discover myself as a writer and discover what it is that I truly have a passion for. This will help me move on to the next step, which is a writing project, such as a novel.

    • That sounds like a great approach. The discovery is in the practice … it’s the day-to-day that helps us reach the Big Moment. 🙂 Best of luck on your journey.

  13. Awesome post! I wouldn’t neccesarily call myself a writer, but I write stuff; for my blog and to release what’s in my mind (now that I’m not the most talkative). Anyway, it’s becoming harder and harder to find time to write because of schoolwork, but I do my best to free up my weekends so I can write. I started writing a fiction story a while ago; and now more than ever I want to see how it’s going to end. If I really want to be a writer then I’ll just have to be one! No more excuses. This post has fired me up!

    • So glad to help you get fired up, Peter! That’s awesome.
      It really does take a bit of a fire under your seat to get you moving sometimes. I’m almost at a point of being MAD about it. If that’s what it takes, I’m good with that!

  14. This is a great post. I have over the last few weeks, put my head down and I really like the results. Taking it seriously, like I would a profession makes all the difference.

    • Take the writing seriously and take yourself seriously.
      … but not TOO seriously. 🙂 There’s a balance.

      I haven’t read the book yet, but I just read a post about Stephen King’s “On Writing.” One of the quotes pulled was his advice to never come to the blank page lightly – have a purpose. I like that. Writing is important, and we should treat it as such. But, it’s also a creative venture – and I believe all creative adventures need room to breathe and the leeway to evolve in new directions … so I try not to get TOO nailed down about anything.

      Good luck!

  15. Jamie,
    Your timing impeccable & your words sorely needed. I’ve waited long enough, writing to & for others 7 receiving praise & encouragement…too bad no one could give me the greatest need: belief in myself and following the advice I often gave: follow your passion.Mine is a novel; I begin with the blog.
    Thank you.

    • You are very welcome.
      I know what you mean about giving much of your writing away to others. Even the writing I do to earn my living sometimes feels like it’s stolen from the writing that I want to do for myself. We only have so many hours in this life, how many will we give away for someone else’s satisfaction? How many will we greedily hoard for our own dreams and happiness? We MUST be greedy and protect our time. It is our most valuable asset and the only thing we truly own in this world. Too often we give it away without a thought – to work, to television, to inane errands and endless housework. At some point, we have to say, “STOP!!!!” and reclaim what is rightfully ours and what will – if used properly – allow us to GIVE back our biggest and best gifts to the world.

      Good luck and keep writing!

  16. Hey Jamie,
    First off congratulations for making your mind up to follow your dream.
    As you know I took that all important first step not too long ago, and am happy I did. I have been writing my entire life but only recently decided to do something with it.
    You have been a huge inspiration on me finding my voice and have helped me in ways that I cannot even express my gratitude, but I will try.
    Thank You.
    I am proud of you for going for the prize, and proud to call you a friend.
    I read as much of what you right as I find and cannot wait to read your fiction.
    In true Jim fashion, I off you this advice.
    Go after it, do whatever it takes to achieve your dreams, do not stop, I will be right here with you if you need me 🙂

    • Thank you, Jim. Making the time is a pretty big deal … as is any first step.
      Thank you so much for your heartfelt and supportive words. You are an inspiration to me. I love how you’ve jumped into your writing with both feet. I say, “Good for you!” As I get older (and marginally wiser), I’m realizing that in most cases that’s the best way to get things done. Stop worrying so much and just get on with doing it. You’ll make mistakes, but at least you’ll be that much farther down the road towards your destination.

    • I think most of us can relate … either in-the-thick-of-it, or been-there-done-that. 🙂

  17. This article was very inspiring… thank you! However, I do have to disagree that only fiction writers are somehow real writers. Fiction writers do indeed entertain us and impact our fantasies, creativity, and dreams, but think of the non-fiction and even professional writers (including copywriters) who have PROFOUNDLY changed the world and the way entire cultures think and act! The message I take from this post is to be honest, authentic, and intentional in pursuing a call to writing. Best of luck to you!

    • Amy (it is, Amy, right?),

      I’m 100% with you. All writers are “real.” I make my living as a marcom writer and even have a few non-fiction project ideas flitting about in the back of my brain. I enjoy a lot of the non-fiction and creative non-fiction that I write (blogs included – oh, the blogs!) 😉 but – although this work has merit and, as you say, even the potential to change the world (even if it’s just one person’s world) – it isn’t the writing work I would most like to do.The writer I want to be is a writer of stories – not because I think that type of writer is superior to the non-fiction writer, but because that’s the writer I always imagined (and hoped) I could be.

      BTW – Also a proud GenX gal who is a wee bit past that mid-life point. I agree that “42” is as good an answer as any to the Big Question of life the universe and everything. 😉

      Thanks for coming by and “chatting.”

  18. A lot of wisdom and courage here, Jamie. Congratulations. Malcomn Gladwell wrote a book, “Outliers” that says it takes 10,000 hours to become successful. Highly recommend reading it.
    I’ve been a writer in various disciplines for more than 30 years, sometimes making money as an employee, also a publisher, and now author of ebooks. It took me five years or so to finally develop a marketing plan piece by piece.
    All dreams take commitment — and courage.
    Best of luck . . . you’re already seeing the rewards of your decision.

    • Hello. I’m not sure if I’m addressing Jack or Marilyn, but – either way – nice to meet you.

      I actually have a copy of Outliers on my Kindle and have so far read the first few chapters. It is a fascinating theory and the stories he uses to illustrate it are so interesting.

      I have often thought about Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. I began journaling at the age of seven and will be 43 this fall. That gives me 36 years of “training” between, meaning I would have to have spent somewhere around 280 hrs per year to meet that quota. I’ve done at least that over the years, especially since I’ve been making my living with my proverbial pen for the last five.

      I realize, however, that I have logged very few hours writing fiction, so I come to that with a near clean slate. On the one hand, it is daunting to sit here at the starting line. On the other hand, I feel my years have prepared me in other ways and this is the “right” time to begin … if such a time exists.

      No matter. It is the only time I have, so I’m going to take it.

      • Thanks for your comments, Jamie. And it’s Jack. I picked up on your hesitation about starting to write fiction, but I highly recommend you pursue and give it everything. You’re already been a successful writer, it’s just that the muse has come to you to take the fiction path. Go for it!
        My writing began with, of all things, an unsolicited book review on the Soviet KGB I sent to the Washington Star back in the ’70’s. I even got paid $25! I wish I’d kept the check and mounted it in a nice frame over my desk.
        That single event propelled me to write more book reviews in the Washington Post and other newspapers.
        Within a couple years, I was a press secretary on Capital Hill, and later became a speechwriter in the Senate.
        In the meantime, I wrote free lance articles for newspapers and magazines while I continued writing as a senior editor for a large industry trade association.
        My free lance topics were wide and varied, all about interests — sports, politics, history, science, and of all things, the emerging craft brewing industry.
        Within a couple years, I became a publisher and wrote five books on microbreweries and a monthly financial / business newsletter.
        Flash forward a few years and I started writing fiction — mysteries, romantic suspense and short stories.
        To sum up, fiction became a bit of a reward, writing what I want and using the skills and experience of years of writing in so many different personas.
        Writing fiction is a reward for years of hard work and perseverance.
        As I said earlier — Go for it!

      • Thanks for sharing your story, Jack. It’s fascinating! What a varied and distinguished career you have! I love that you tackled all kinds of things along the way. I think that’s one of the best ways to learn. I have definitely taken on many projects that I didn’t know how to do – but I learned as I went along and it all worked out. 🙂

        Thanks again for sharing – really enjoyed hearing it.

  19. Pingback: Fighting for my writing life « Live to Write – Write to Live

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  21. Hi Jamie,

    Wow, wow, and wow! You are an absolutely fabulous writer and give great advice to others who wish to follow in your footsteps! Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Natalie and I’m a fifteen year old writer. I know that sounds a bit far-fetched -many people are skeptical about young writers- but you have to start somewhere, right? I am crazy about reading and writing and have been all my life. I began writing when I was probably around seven and wrote three extremely long novels over the course of a few years. Looking back on them now, they’re absolutely terrible but wonderful at the same time because they really kick-started me into writing. When I see how much I improve, even looking back on my work from a few months ago, I am filled with the satisfaction and inspiration I need to keep moving forward. My writing now is far from perfect, but it’s miles away from where I used to be and I’m sure there are many miles ahead to reach as well. I write because I love to. There is passion and purpose inside of me and I know myself well enough to know that this is what I need to be doing the rest of my life. Anything else, and I doubt I could be a happy person. I happened to be very lucky my freshman year of high school and have one of the most wonderful Language Arts teachers the world has ever seen. She unlocked a part of me I never knew I had- a longing to be an English teacher. After watching her day after day and seeing what she does for a living, I couldn’t imagine a better career than being a high school English teacher! To surround myself with books and words and young minds constantly would be a breath of fresh air each morning I would step into a classroom. It was an epiphany I never saw coming. Best of all, I wouldn’t have to give up my dream of being a published fiction author! My writing would work beautifully alongside my teaching career, as they are so closely related. I wanted to let you know that your blog is not only extremely well-written but also the closest to what I feel in my heart than anything else I’ve read from a writer giving advice to writers. Know that there’s someone out there who admires you!

    • Wow yourself, potterfan!
      I can’t wait to read your first novel.
      You go get ’em!

      And I totally agree about Jamie – she has some fantastic posts on this blog. She can also help you build your author’s platform when the time comes.

      Keep workin’ it! I look forward to reading your other responses on the LTW-WTL blog. There are some excellent responses from other regulars too, and they add so much to the blog. Hope you come back and add more insights!
      We could benefit from a younger person’s perspective!

      And yes, you are a writer. Age has nothing to do with it. It’s the commitment and the passion for writing that count and that is clearly present in you.

      • Thanks Laura! It’s much nicer to be welcomed by a group of adult writers than shunned. I look forward to reading more of these posts and sharing thoughts with the other readers! Thank you for the words of encouragement!

  22. Hello!
    I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing
    several weeks of hard work due to no back up. Do you have any
    methods to stop hackers?

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