Since I left my job to write, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m “supposed” to be doing. I sometimes spend more time thinking about it than actually trying to do things, which I’ve talked about before a couple of times. The thing that keeps nagging at me is the constant sense that I’m doing this all wrong.
Things I Am Doing Wrong
It’s probably best to get this list out of the way. It’s the ugly part of this post, after all. Here are some, but not all, of the things I’m doing wrong.
- My blog writing is not targeted to a niche designed around building an audience.
- I make zero attempt at search engine optimization (SEO), and I do very little promotion.
- I am not active enough on social media to be connecting with all the right people.
- I outline my fiction too much or I don’t outline enough depending on who’s asking.
- I’m thinking too much about the marketability of what I’m writing or I don’t think about it enough.
- I haven’t decided exactly what I’m trying to accomplish.
- I spend too much time on my blog posts at the expense of my other writing.
- My blog posts don’t get enough attention because I’m splitting my time writing fiction as well.
In other words, depending on what you believe, I could be doing everything wrong. Or at least half the stuff I’m doing is wrong. So does it matter? Should I do anything about it? Let’s back up a bit first to before I started doing this.
You Can’t Know Everything, So Don’t Try
You know that feeling when you’ve left home for a trip without enough time to return and you’re certain — absolutely positive — that you’ve forgotten something critical? I hate that feeling. I hate that feeling so much. That’s what leaving my job felt like but with much larger implications than going without my phone charger for a few days.
Before I was actually doing this, I spent a lot of time trying to prepare for what would happen even though much of it was inherently unknowable. Built into this was a desire to do it right. I wanted to be ready for anything and everything. I wanted to crush this. I researched the traditional publishing world, the self-publishing world, freelance writing, working as a contractor, the costs and tax implications of starting a business, and more.
In the end, it felt impossible to know all the things I needed to know. There was no feasible way for me to obtain and utilize every data point that would likely be helpful to me in the process of doing what I’m doing. What you need to know depends on so many variables I’m not sure how you’d calculate it, and on top of that there’s a level of subjectivity to it as well. As someone accustomed to almost always knowing exactly what I’m getting into, this was easily the scariest part of finally taking the leap.
Despite all the preparation, I still felt unsure of what to do in the early days. Do I focus on building my website and blogging? Do I dive into writing a book? Which one? To a certain extent, I’m still asking those questions on a daily and weekly basis. It’s uncomfortable, but I’ve come to accept that this was always going to be be uncomfortable to a certain extent. If you feel completely ready for a major change — as in totally, unhesitatingly prepared — you’re probably either a bit delusional or lying to yourself. Our instincts are honed to warn against risk, to prevent you from sticking your head in the bear’s mouth just to see what’s down there.
This is good! It helps keep us warm and fed and alive. But it requires that we also learn when to say, “eh, screw it” and do something anyway.
Find Your Own Way, but Learn from Others Too
Because you cannot know everything when you leap into something new, you will do things that feel like they are “wrong.” You will feel confused and adrift. You may think you’re incapable of getting it right or that you made a horrible mistake. I am here to tell you (and myself) that that’s okay. The word wrong is in scare quotes for a reason, and it’s probably pretty obvious I’m trying to suggest that the idea of a clear-cut right or wrong way to do most things is silly. That’s true! I am suggesting exactly that!
I’m doing this — whatever it is — the best way I can and figuring it out as I go. It’s not the fastest or best way to build an audience or monetize my work or whatever other things I’m supposed be worried about, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t want 100,000 blog subscribers if it meant I’d have to write about things I don’t like just as I don’t decide what stories to write by only trying to figure out what’s most marketable. I need to figure out what works for me.
But here’s the flip side of that. Determining what works for me does not mean that I — or you — should ignore what others have suggested as the right or wrong way to go about something. If you can learn to take it all with a grain of salt, you owe it to yourself to learn from others, to listen to the experts in whatever your chosen field is. Whatever your goals are, there will absolutely be someone, somewhere out there that has experience you can benefit from. One of the only true mistakes you can make is thinking that your circumstance is unique and that no one, no matter how experienced or insightful, can help you.
Part of the way I’m doing that is by looking at what others are doing even when I decide not to follow their lead. I’ve signed up to follow the websites of other authors, both conventionally published and not. I purchased a course on how to build a successful blog. Even though I chose not to follow many of its recommendations, it helped me realize that the purpose of my blog was different from the kinds it was designed to help. I still refer to it from time to time and consider it a worthwhile purchase. Soon, I’ll be taking a couple of writing courses. I’m sure I’ll find some parts of them really helpful, and there will probably be parts that just don’t make sense for me.
Make Mistakes and Move On
You know something? I wish I had signed up for the writing courses sooner. I spent a lot of time looking for the perfect course and so ended up not doing any of them. It feels like that was a mistake, and it probably was. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten stuck in my novel if I had taken a class.
I’ve made a bunch of mistakes, and this post exists because I’m still learning to accept them. I’m hopeful that writing this might serve as a way to acknowledge the things I’ve done that feel like missteps and then let them go. If you’re trying something out of your comfort zone — a career change, a new fitness or diet regimen, whatever — maybe this can help you, too. Whatever it is, you will do some things wrong. Here’s to hoping we can acknowledge them, learn from them, and move on.