The “author life” might not be as glamorous as it sounds. Introverts and creatives often rejoice at the notion of a solitary writing cabin nestled deep in the woods, on the land and off the grid. But that’s an idealized fantasy that isn’t a reality for most of us. Being a full-time creator, performer, publisher, and author consists of many hours behind a keyboard, butt in chair, staring at the endless combination of 26 characters we slap together into coherent (sometimes) thoughts.
You can read hundreds if not thousands of articles, each telling you what you need to do to become a successful author. Some of that advice comes from literary icons like James Patterson and Stephen King. Some of it comes from visionary minds like Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin. And there’s no shortage of advice from Internet marketers who want to sell you the “secret” to the author life but who aren’t living it—folks who have written and published very little and yet, have courses guaranteed to show you how to make a living at it.
But what if you’re already doing those things and you’re not successful, not living the author life? What do you do then? If a fitness guru told me that if I did 50 sit-ups a day, I’d have six-pack abs, and I do that, but I don’t get ripped abs like those guys on the cover of Men’s Fitness, what does that do to my motivation? How do you figure out which advice to follow and which to avoid?
I could tell you what I think you should be doing to live the author life, but it might not work for you, even if you do what I say, exactly how I did it. That’s just how the universe works, sorry. That doesn’t mean you should stop learning, quit reading books, or give up on your aspiration to be a successful author. But what if we looked at the inverse of those actions? Are there things successful authors don’t do?
Successful authors don’t make excuses. They don’t blame others or bad circumstances for their situation. The most successful authors in the world understand that nobody owes them anything, that through their actions they are responsible for their own success, or lack of it. Successful authors don’t look around with envy while bemoaning the fact that someone else happens to be enjoying the spoils of success and they are not. J.K. Rowling was famously rejected dozens of times by all major publishers, but instead of blaming the system and giving up, she forged ahead. She kept writing.
Doctors don’t get surgeon’s block. Attorneys don’t get lawyer’s block, and plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, although some do get plumber’s crack. Writer’s block is an excuse that successful authors don’t use.
While I’m not always in the mood to sit down and type words, I do it. And sometimes, those words suck. I mean, really suck. At least that’s what I’m telling myself at the moment because my lizard brain wants to do something else like eat, sleep, or screw. The primitive forces inside of me think it’s ridiculous that I should be pressing down pieces of plastic to create words instead of hunting or foraging. And those forces have been hardwired into us through thousands of years of evolution.
On the surface, there seems to be no logical reason why the human animal should want to write. Our default state of mind is technically writer’s block. But it’s just a thought, a mental pattern we can ignore. Dozens of times each day, we talk ourselves into and out of things. Successful authors who rely on words to pay the bills—they show up to the page and do the work sans excuses, like surgeons, attorneys, and plumbers.
Wait for the Muse
But just because you get yourself to the keyboard and beat down writer’s block, does that mean the words will flow? Don’t the most prolific writers sit in their cabins in the woods, drawing inspiration from nature and waiting for the muse to arrive? No. As Pressfield discusses in The War of Art, Resistance will always be there. That force of antagonism, of negativity, will always be whispering in your ear. It’ll say things like, “Take the day off. You’ve earned it.” Or, “Go ahead and check your phone. There’s probably an important message waiting for you.” Or, “What you’re writing sucks.”
Successful authors beat back Resistance. Don’t think for a minute they don’t face it. They do, almost every minute of every day. But successful authors don’t succumb to Resistance because to do so is what every other nonwriter in the world does. Writers write. The act of writing is rarely easy. If it were, everybody would do it. And you are not everybody. You’re a successful author.
In the 1980s, the “panic button” keyboard gag first appeared in novelty stores. It looked like your Enter key but was red with the word “panic” on it. But this gag gift would be lost on successful authors because they don’t panic.
Rumors circulate about fickle agents and what types of manuscripts publishing houses want to acquire. And it’s not the genre of the story you’ve been working on. Panic. The Amazon algorithm has changed, and now, you’ll sell 50% fewer books. Panic. Overseas click farms are driving up the cost of digital marketing. Panic. You could panic in all of these situations, but successful authors don’t because what good would it do? Can you control what agents and publishing houses are doing? No. Can you change the Amazon algorithm? No. Are you running an overseas click farm? No. At least, I assume you’re not.
Don’t panic over things that are completely out of your control. Successful authors rarely panic. They adapt and change based on the current environment. They understand that what worked last year, last month, or maybe even last week, will change. Stressing out about those changes does nothing but feed your own Resistance.
Do It for the Money
When people do things they don’t particularly enjoy in exchange for money, that’s called a job. The author life is a way of living, not an occupation. Because of that, successful authors write for the pure joy of storytelling while understanding that some level of market viability will pay the bills.
Writing is not your path to getting rich quick, no matter how many courses out there are claiming you can do it. It’s possible, certainly. But successful authors aren’t chasing the dollar signs. Successful authors write what they love and what readers want. It’s unlikely you’ll have the author life if you’re chasing trends by writing crap you don’t like. That’s called a job.
The author life isn’t for everyone. Most of the population thinks we’re out of our minds. As children, many people were forced to write as a punishment, like Bart Simpson’s eternal chalkboard opening on The Simpsons. Ninety-nine percent of all the people who have lived, or who will ever live, will never write a book, even the ones who want to. I have no way of knowing if that percentage is accurate, but I’m sure it’s a good estimate. But for those authors like you, people who believe nothing is more satisfying than informing or entertaining through Story—the author life is for you. Now that you know the things that successful authors don’t do, don’t do them.
This is the first of a series of weekly articles where I’ll discuss what it means to live the author life, delving into topics about mindset, craft, audience, finance, publishing, self-improvement, spirituality, technology, and more.
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Now go live the author life!