(This is post #2 in my Dork Optimism series. If you want to know what this is all about, you can read the first post for a quick primer.)
Today’s dork optimism comes from the New Year’s episode in the third season of The Middle. To spice up New Year’s resolutions, the Heck family decides to make resolutions for each other, and then blindly draw names to see who gets which resolution.
Sue gets a resolution that says, “Stop trying out for things you’ll never make.” Instead of taking it negatively, she turns it into a positive. She figures that the true intent of the person who wrote it was to encourage her to do her own thing, rather than continually trying out for things controlled by others. She ends up starting a team of wrestling cheerleaders. (Of course Mike, the father, wrote the resolution in an effort to get Sue to stop embarrassing herself by trying out for all of the popular clubs and teams. Spectacular backfire!)
There’s a lesson here for all of us, particularly writers. Part of writing (especially if you’re seeking traditional publication or a traditional job) means “trying out” for a lot of popular teams. And getting rejected a lot in the process. Whether it’s querying agents or publishers or applying for positions, it can feel much like trying out for teams in high school. The popular kids get in, while you either end up on the B squad, or get left off the team entirely.
That’s not to say that it’s not worth trying to make the team. It absolutely is. It’s important to stretch yourself, and you never know when you might hit it big. However, if you’re constantly “trying out” and never making anything, then it’s time to do one of two things:
- Retrench and figure out what’s wrong. If you’re never succeeding, it’s important to find out why. Is your work not good enough? Are you submitting to the wrong markets? Do your submissions have errors? Are you somehow offending potential clients? If you legitimately cannot find anything wrong (and that’s after soliciting professional advice), it may be time to move on to #2.
- Do your own thing.
Now, by saying do your own thing I’m not advising you to fly in the face of common sense. If, for example, an editor or beta reader tells you that your writing needs more work to be publishable, don’t ignore that advice. Doing your own thing is not a shortcut to success, or a way or avoiding failure.
Repeat that: Doing your own thing does not guarantee success. It’s not a way of avoiding the hard parts of life.
There is a ton of work involved in doing your own thing. In many ways, it’s much harder than working a traditional job, or being traditionally published. On your own, you are responsible for everything. Taxes, accounting, marketing, etc., plus the actual work you’re being paid to do. So don’t think of doing your own thing as “easy.”
However, it can be a way of embracing a very different life. You may find that your work just does not fit within traditional markets. In that case, self-publishing or embracing a model like Patreon might be the best way to go. It’s possible that your ideal job does not exist in any traditional corporate setup. Perhaps you can create your own dream job through freelancing. Maybe you’d prefer to keep your profits for yourself, instead of giving some back to a publisher. Heck, maybe you just don’t care about money that much and just want to put your work out there for others to enjoy.
Remember, too, that your choice doesn’t have to be binary. Either/Or. You can do both. Maybe you self-publish some work, and use a traditional publisher for others. You can work a regular job either full or part time and freelance on the side. You can use an outlet like Patreon or YouTube to supplement income from other sources. Your own thing doesn’t have to be everything. It can be a side hustle. Who knows? It might develop into its own thing over time.
You don’t want to turn your back on traditional outlets without good reason and preparation, but if you have those, then going your own way can work. It certainly beats banging your head against an immovable wall until you either die or give up. Like Sue, it can be more rewarding and give you a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. And who knows? Developing those two things may ultimately make you more successful in traditional roles. Although by the time that happens, you might decide to just stick with your own thing.
(Photo courtesy of RyanMcGuire)