I don’t generally do New Year’s resolutions. (However, if you’re looking for some potential resolutions for yourself, I did do a post on resolutions for writers.) Rather than waiting for a date on the calendar, I just fix what needs fixing when I notice a problem. This year, however, I’m thinking of changing my policy. I’ve noticed something: I’ve fallen into some habits/traps/ways of thinking that aren’t good for me. It happened so gradually that I didn’t notice until I had an, “Ah ha moment.” So now it’s time to carve some new paths.
I wish I could remember what I was reading that triggered this revelation, but it’s lost in the pile of books and magazines I zoned out with over the holidays. The author commented on how easy it is to find ourselves slotted into paths without even realizing it. Society has a way of driving us down certain paths and we don’t even realize we’re being driven. Go to college, get married, have children, and get a “normal job” are just a few examples. These things are so ingrained in us as we grow up that we often never question whether they are right for us. But are they?
This applies to other things, as well. In your job you likely have an “acceptable” track you should follow. Climb those career ladder rungs! Get that extra certification! Make more money! And so on. But is that the path for you? You likely never even question whether the added responsibility makes you happy, or whether you’d be okay trading less money for more free time. You just follow the path.
It’s not much different in writing. There are paths you are “expected” to follow. You should pursue publication, first and foremost. Once you get there, you should always strive for a larger contract, a better agent, or a larger/better publishing house. If you freelance, you should be looking for the “white whale” client; that big corporation or company with the flashy name you can throw around.
And there are paths within paths. You get published and there are certain forms of marketing you are expected to engage in. Hit social media! Sign up with this promoter or that one! Make sure your book is listed here! There are timelines for book releases you should follow. Every six months is ideal! Three books a year is perfect! And so on. But is any of it really working for you? Is that really the path you want to be on?
When we start out, whether it’s in life, at a new job, or as a writer, we often blindly follow these prescribed paths. Others have gone before us, we think, so they must know the right path to follow. We should shadow their footsteps in order to succeed. And so we do, sometimes into an enjoyable life, but sometimes we follow them right off a cliff.
Their path isn’t our path. It doesn’t make us happy or get results. We have other ideas that might work better but we bury them because they’re not on the path. Maybe we don’t want to be published by a big house or have a huge, demanding client. Maybe we’re happier in a boutique house, or with a stable of mom and pop clients. What if social media isn’t our thing, but personal appearances are? Or maybe we have some other creative ideas to differentiate ourselves from others. Maybe there’s a schedule that’s perfect for us and our readers, but it’s not the prescribed one. What if we’re happier being the oddball?
We’ll never know any of this if we follow other’s paths without questioning where we’re going.
And that’s my problem. I was such a newbie when my first book was published that I tried to follow everyone else’s path. I tried platform building by the book, to much frustration. I’ve tried all sorts of marketing techniques that only leave me banging my head on the desk in frustration because they don’t work for me or make me uncomfortable. The advice for publishing as fast as you can hasn’t worked for me; I’m simply not wired like that. Neither does my life lend itself to such an aggressive schedule right now.
I’ve kept trying to adhere to the path because that’s what a “good” author does. But now I’ve started questioning these paths and it’s uncomfortable. It’s difficult to admit that you’re an oddball for whom conventional advice seems ill-suited. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I’m done being good. It’s time to carve some new paths for myself. I have no idea what they might be, or whether they’ll make me more or less successful. I do know that they’ll make me happier or else I won’t follow them.
I’m done following the paths that the writing world has set for me.
Off-roading, here I come! It’s time to get messy, fall in a bog, get into the weeds, and get completely lost. That translates into trying new things and breaking a few rules. And, most likely, failing quite a bit. But only by getting off the safe path and getting dirty can I find the path I’m meant to be on. It’s out there, but I have to look for it because it’s not simply going to hold up a sign and say, “Over here! Come this way!”
My point is this: If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, try questioning the paths you are on. Not just in your writing, but in other aspects of your life. Don’t let other’s expectations drive you down paths you don’t wish to travel. That’s a recipe for a miserable life. Find your own path, even if it means whacking through the weeds, swatting mosquitoes, or getting muddy for a while.