Saturday, April 10, 2010

“Be” Careful What You Wish For…

Wouldn’t you love to have a dollar for every time you say you’re a writer, and someone pipes up with, “Oh, that’s so cool. I want to be a writer, too”?

Now, at this point, it’s nothing but a tribute to our sheer Christian charity (or patience, or naïveté—take your pick) that most of us actually play the game that follows. Smiling sweetly, we ask the question to which we probably already know the answer.

“And what are you writing?”

You know what comes next. A stammer, a blush, and a shuffling of feet (figuratively, if not literally). Then, the shy admission, “Well, I haven’t actually written anything yet. But I’ve got this great idea, and someday—!”


Reflexively, you’re probably nodding, because we all know this wannabe is making two key mistakes. First is, of course, relegating anything in your life to “someday.” We all know that day never comes. Second, also obvious, is that to be a writer, you need to write something.

I know, I know. Crazy, but there it is. Go figure.

However, just as the wannabe fools herself into thinking that just having a great idea makes her somehow “creative,” some of us fall into a similar trap in the writing life. Many of us, myself included, have encountered openings for paying gigs (!) in the writing biz and thought, “Wow, that’s something I’d love to be.”

Only when we start actually doing the job…we don’t like it at all.

How does this happen?

I call it the Bright Shiny Object syndrome. Bright Shiny Objects are everywhere; they’re gigs with great-sounding titles or trappings—but the actual essence of them isn’t bright or shiny. It’s just plain work, sometimes work that—at its heart—is something we actively dislike. And every Bright Shiny Object in writing has them.

Being a columnist is “cool”—struggling with relentless deadlines, not so much.

Being an editor is “cool”—having really awful writing to fix, when you didn’t buy it in the first place, not so much.

Being a consultant or freelancer is “cool”—having a client stiff you for payment, not so much.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Anything you think you want, remember—if you get it, you also get What Comes With It.” Many of us have discovered this to our chagrin; that while we like certain parts of the writing life, certain elements make us cringe.

But it’s doing those things—the stuff that Comes With It—that separates the wannabes from the real deal. A success guru once said, “The only difference between those who succeed and those who fail is that successful people do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.”

In other words, successful people do What Comes With It. They take the grunt work with the glory...the Brussels sprouts as well as the chocolate pie. 

So if this writing life isn’t sometimes all it was cracked up to “be” in your mind—if you’re dealing with nagging irritations, blocks, or other obstacles that get in the way of your bliss—you might need to do some honest assessment of what you thought you were getting into. Were there things involved in this career that you didn’t know about before you started writing? Or did you know about them but thought you could get away without doing them—or that someone else could be persuaded to do them for you?

(Bet you’ve found out the hard way about that one.*:-})

The bottom line is, no matter which step is your next one in this writing life—be careful what you ask for, or what you think you want. Try to learn all that Comes With It before you leap into any opportunity, no matter how much you “think” you already know about it. Nothing’s worse than grabbing for a Bright Shiny Object, only to discover too late that it’s actually a ball and chain in disguise.


(Janet W. Butler)

*Except for the Brussels sprouts. I actually love them, so you can pass them on.


  1. Nice reality check, Janny. The Seekers blog for today (4/10) posted details of this very kind--i.e., the unpleasant reality of what comes after the contract is signed. Definitely makes one pause. But... surely none of that will happen to me.

  2. Whoa, Janny, Truth in love and and great writing. This post should go in a writing mag or e-zine!

  3. Ok, we are usually not ready for the truth and like becoming a parent and all alone with the screaming baby at 2 AM or having the actual reality of being on a stage trying to remember the next line of the song before screaming fans, you just don't know it until it hits you like a cold slap of reality. (LOL.)

    This was a great post and I loved it. Made me smile (or is it a grimace? Never mind, still love it!)