I Write for the Money

picjumbo.com_HNCK5108 500

I was one of those kids who could wander off into the woods and spend the better part of a day on a project.

When my teacher gave me a notebook that I could use for anything, anything at all, I filled it up with stories and drawings.

When my friend and I started thinking about a fun thing to do after school, we started writing a book together.

By the time I got to college, I’d heard all about finding a job that is respectable, like a lawyer or a doctor, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Writing wasn’t even close to being on the radar. I honestly didn’t even know there were people called “copy writers” or “business writers” who got paid a living wage to work with words. I believed that words were just part of my childhood and that part of me needed to die in the service of finding a career.

My wife once said to me, “I can’t even imagine what kind of major you should have been in college.”

Truer words have never been spoken. I didn’t fit into any tidy career boxes. I have creative inclinations that drew me toward writing and reading, but I also had more interpersonal, pastoral inclinations that drew me toward ministry. The English and Bible majors weren’t good fits, and in the presence of both camps I felt like an imposter.

I replied to my wife, “Maybe if they had a major called ‘Professional F – – k ups’?”

Those were darker days.

I couldn’t even trace a clear path between that little kid who filled up piles of notebooks with stories and the young adult who set off for seminary for a career in ministry that never felt right. It was the least-worst least-right thing.

In the back of my mind, I kept hearing a little voice whispering: You could write on the side. I continued to hear it as I earned a degree for a career I wouldn’t pursue. When I turned to a job in the nonprofit sector, I still felt like an imposter, and that voice in the back of my mind grew louder: you could write on the side…

When I finally started listening to that voice to write, I had no idea how to make a living as a writer. I just knew that it was my last shot at some kind of a career.

I thought that I was finally becoming the kind of adult who made some sense out of that kid who would wander in the woods all day or who would fill up notebooks with stories. This was going to be the time when I finally linked a career with my actual identity. Right?

Not quite.

I started out with writing with the simple hope of earning a sustainable living. Yes, I wrote for the money. Writers should never be ashamed of creating high quality creative work or professional business pieces for a fair wage. That isn’t the same thing as being annoying about promotion or selling out for a paycheck. That also isn’t the same thing as writing in order to get famous. In fact, the latter distinction has been essential for me.

Unfortunately, many writers today are stuck in a kind of limbo between a perception that writing for a sustainable income means writing in order to get famous. This perception is grounded in an unnecessary reality that has unfortunately become all too normal.

When I started out as an author, I had the modest goal of writing for a respectable, sustainable audience. I never wanted to be the headliner at conferences, the go-to guy for hot takes on cable news, or a social media rock star. I just wanted to write and get paid for it.

I imagined my dad working long days as a plumber, often taking me on estimates in the evenings or going in for half or full days on Saturdays. That’s what I had in mind: hard work, a career that used my talents and abilities, and a paycheck at the end of the week.

Instead I found a carnival of conferences, social media personalities, Middle-school-style blog fights, and popularity contests.

I had no idea that the traditional publishing world has less and less room (and use?) for a working author. Rather, what I’ve discovered is a huge gap between the haves and have nots. There are the new authors who get picked up as a kind of Hail Mary pass and the big names who consistently earn their keep. The majority of the resources go the big names, and I honestly don’t blame publishers for choosing what works. However, the number of authors who can earn a living without engaging in the publicity circus are growing fewer and fewer.

I write for the money. I don’t write for fame or publicity. Today many authors are finding that you can’t write books for a living wage unless you also gun for the fame and publicity. A select few have carved their own way between the two, but I assure you they don’t have much by way of long term security. For the most part, I’ve chosen to release my latest books independently in order to earn a modest monthly wage on my own terms.

I don’t have easy answers here. I have found a middle ground that includes lots of freelancing, writing for blogs and websites combined with author coaching and editing things like books and proposals. I write my own books and release them independently while keeping communication channels with publishers open.

Perhaps I’m foolish, but I can’t let go of a few images in my mind.

I see that kid who filled up notebooks and then took long walks in the woods.

I see my dad removing his muddy boots in the garage and then scrubbing his hands in the kitchen sink.

I see my own notebook filled with ideas, dreams, and hopes. Sometimes the ideas in that notebook translate into a check, direct deposit from Amazon, or a PayPal payment. Sometimes those ideas turn into an appreciative note from a reader or a five-star review.

My kids don’t see muddy work boots or blackened hands in our home. They see torn-open envelopes, a computer, and a pile of fine point black pens next to my notebook.

I remember my dad sharing a plumber joke with me one day when he came home covered in mud.

“That’s not dirt,” he said. “That’s money.”

And so as I scribble again and again in my notebook…

“That’s not ink… that’s money.”

This is my career. This is my calling—who I’ve always been deep down to my core from the earliest days that I could write in a notebook or tap away on a keyboard. I write for the money that leads to a sustainable creative career, and I hope that more writers can do the same.

Hope for Weary and Discouraged Writers

Copy of Write without Crushing Your Soul LARGER

My book Write without Crushing Your Soul started with a very open-ended question while chatting with a group of Christian writers:

What surprised you about book publishing?

I kept my unfiltered response to myself, but I knew what I should have said:

It hurt like hell and crushed my soul over and over and over again.

To my surprise, a colleague who has published several well-received books with large publishers commented:

“I wasn’t prepared for how much publishing would hurt.”

His honest, vulnerable answer gave the rest of us permission to let out a kind of collective sigh of relief and weigh in with our own failures, disappointments, and struggles. We all had stories of pain and disappointment. Several expressed a fear that aspects of the publishing process were toxic for their souls.

No one was planning to give up on their publishing careers or putting an end to the writing they do for an audience. We were all committed to our work for the long term. However, we didn’t realize how unsustainable publishing has become for so many.

The pain and the challenges that face many writers today can wear you down if you don’t have sustainable practices and a pace that enables you to stick with it for the long term.

This is why I started working on How to Write without Crushing Your Soul.

  • Disappointments will come in book publishing
  • Sales will usually be disappointing.
  • Some reviews will be “meh.”
  • The influential people you care about won’t care about your book.
  • The promotions you plan may flop.
  • The stuff that you considered brilliant will be largely ignored.

And it gets more challenging if you work with a commercial publisher:

  • If you’ve never been a fan of social media, you’ll be expected to jump into it with both feet.
  • If you’ve never thought about how to sell books, you need to become an expert of sorts.
  • If you’ve never launched a book before, prepare yourself for a time-consuming, emotional roller coaster ride.
  • If you’ve never hosted a book event before, prepare yourself for either tough questions or an empty room.

I’ve been on just about every side of publishing. I’ve released books that succeeded and books that flopped. I’ve released books that were well-received by colleagues and books that hardly turned heads. I’ve heard from publishers that my email list and social media followers are ideal, and I’ve heard that I have no business publishing books.

Despite all of these ups and downs, I still persist in book publishing and know so many other writers who take on all of these same risks because there is something holy and freeing about the work.

Writers are creating something intensely personal and sharing it with the world in the hope that it will help their readers. It can be crushing to see that work go unread.

For those who persist to discover what their audiences need and how to reach them, it can be immensely fulfilling to see that work connect with readers.

How do we preserve our souls while still actively engaging in this important work?

We’ll find our own answers in two places: our mindsets and our practices.

For your mindset, begin here:

Writing cannot, in any way, shape, or form, become the source of your identity. Only God can give that to you.

A bad day, week, month, or year as a writer does not, in any way, diminish God’s love for you.

Writing is a calling to serve your audience.

The moment writing becomes a means of personal validation, you’ve handed over immense power to other people—power they don’t even want.

When “God so loved the world…” stops being enough for you, you’ll set off on a never-ending, diversion that will leave you restless and completely devoid of peace.

Writing from this place will be miserable, and it will be especially hard to bless others because the goal of writing is personal validation, not serving others.

Secondly, focusing your practices can also go a long way in saving your soul.

You can find plenty of posts sharing 50 ways to promote your book or 20 ways to grow your online platform, but most of us just need the two or three most effective ways to promote your book or writing.

Most of the writers I know who have enjoyed significant success have invested in just a few tools for connecting with readers, and everything else grows as a result. For instance, some popular bloggers I know focus on writing great posts and then hosting related conversations on their Facebook pages. I’ve personally chosen to publish short eBooks that I give away for free and then write personal email newsletters bi-weekly to those readers.

There are lots of different ways to reach readers. You can focus on developing Instagram, a podcast, Periscope videos, a weekly email newsletter, Thunderclap campaigns, or a blog that serves a niche of readers. When you’re releasing a book, don’t overlook advertising options such as Facebook ads or eBook discount sites—most of these are affordable or have lower cost options. Like I mentioned before, there are at least 50 ways to reach more readers with your writing.

Only you can tell what lines up the best with your personal talents, calling, and soul care.

Finding readers can be exhausting, so it’s best to develop the most sustainable ways that won’t eat away at your creative time, family time, and spiritual renewal.

You can’t win at everything. You can’t do it all. You’ll never be done.

I’m not a publicist by trade. I’m an author, but as more of the publicity work rests on authors, I’ve been forced to look long and hard for sustainable publicity practices for my writing work.

Perhaps the most important rule is that we need boundaries. We have to test out a few practices and then invest in those that land in the sweet spot between what works and what’s sustainable for us.

*****

A certain level of struggle and pain will be inevitable for writers. There’s no getting past that. When I talk to new writers and aspiring authors, I’m always quick to mention that writing for an audience will always bring some level of pain and struggle. It will be especially difficult for book publishing.

That isn’t to say it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done or that some authors have had an easier time at it than others.

My hope and my prayer for the readers of Write without Crushing Your Soul is that they’ll be prepared at the outset for the challenges and hardships coming their way as they set out on their writing careers.

I want my readers to be empowered to make the best possible decisions for their souls, their relationships, and their work.

I want my readers to be as prepared as possible for what awaits them so that they can fulfill their calling to write while keeping their souls healthy for the long term.

 

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Print

 

Rohr for Writers: Above All Else, Avoid Success

Rohr forWriters

How many times have I rejected God’s mercy because it came clothed in failure and disappointment?

No one signs up for an exciting new career or work opportunity with the goal of utterly and completely failing. And yet, how many of us have fallen flat on our faces at one time or another?

In my writing I’ve experienced a roller coaster of encouragement and discouragement. Each day is a new adventure in measuring incremental success and trying to reach just a few more readers than the day before.

While working to attract readers, writers are especially at the mercy of others in order to achieve success. If people aren’t interested in our work, then we may as well scribble notes on paper and fold them into paper airplanes. If influential people above us don’t offer guidance, endorsements, and marketing help, we’ll most likely flounder.

It’s hard to see the mercy in failure. When you’re on the outside looking in at those who are enjoying success, it sure seems like the successful figures in the writing world are living the dream, writing books in trendy cafes (mine is full of broken chairs and dust), and talking about their ideas for adoring audiences. We don’t see the inherent drawbacks in success.

Richard Rohr clues us in:

“A too early or too successful self becomes a total life agenda, occasionally for good but more often for ill… Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any ‘successful’ role. We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it.”

Immortal Diamond, pg 27-28

Mind you, that isn’t to say that every successful writer, especially those who are young, are inherently captive to the demands of his/her audience. Rather, they are the ones who face the greatest challenges when trying to hold onto a clear sense of their true selves when there are so many temptations to seek validation elsewhere. They are the most likely to make a habit of measuring themselves according to the standards of others.

More to our point here, every successful writer I’ve talked to is quick to point out the drawbacks. They are targets for criticism, endure crazy scrutiny in the public eye, and often wonder which new friendships are genuine and which are just trying to take advantage of their success. It’s not all about living the dream each and every day, even if they can afford better coffee than the average writer.

If anything, my successful friends have humbly reminded me that just reaching a point of achievement in your career can be tremendously unfulfilling. At the very least, success can be a fragile thing that is sure to fade at one point. And when it does fade, we are left wondering what remains.

Rohr makes his case in stronger language when he goes on to quote Thomas Merton on pg 28:

“‘Be anything you like, be madmen… and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only to how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.’ Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing. It gives you some momentum for the journey, but it is never the real goal.”

Reading this, I’m well aware that it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Merton was “successful” as a monk and as a writer. We’re still talking about him, aren’t we? That sounds pretty successful to me.

So, if anything, I’m encouraged to read Rohr and Merton’s words on success. Writers can achieve success for a season while still remembering that it is fleeting and ultimately a poor substitute for recognizing our identity as God’s beloved people. The great trap of success is that once people start to notice us, they will begin to try to define us and will most certainly judge us, and we’ll be tempted to give their words tremendous power—even drowning out what God says about us.

Think about that for a minute.

If you’re going to write, you’re going to receive feedback on social media, comments, reviews, emails, and (the introvert’s nightmare) phone calls based on your work. You’re going to see people leave one or two star reviews along with comments like, “Didn’t speak to me.” You’re going to have your faith, integrity, and intelligence questioned.

By the same token, you could be told that you’re brilliant and amazing. You could be told that you’re the hope for the future—the person who could save the church or at least a segment of the church. You’re going to be praised and honored for your achievements.

The crazy thing, according to Rohr and Merton, is this: Praise can be more threatening to our spiritual health than criticism. While negative reviews or insults can be deeply wounding, we can at least see what they are and take steps toward counseling and healing.

There is no ready balm for the damage done by success. Who would think of going into counseling to counteract the negative side of success? We may even tell such a person to stop being ridiculous.

Rohr and Merton remind us that success can exert tremendous power over us, trying to define who we are and what we are worth. If we can’t counteract our steps toward success with the grounding knowledge of God’s love and acceptance, then we are better off having failed in the first place.

There is great mercy in failure. Failure is an opportunity to step into our true selves, as loved and even praised by God as his beautiful creations, even when we don’t receive praise at the times and places of our choosing.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple spirituality and creativity practices you can incorporate into your day right now. It’s $.99 on pre-order until March 11th when it releases.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond. Click on the Prayer category to read other posts in the series.