Q. I’ve been reading your blog posts for a while and I’ve gone back and looked at early ones. Many focus on helping others. How does spending so much time doing that instead of writing more books affect your career?
A. Frankly, I’m not sure. I could write more if I reached out to others less. That’s always been the case, and as it becomes more difficult to earn a living writing, there’s every logical reason to do so—focus more on writing and producing more books instead of mentoring and helping others. It isn’t that I’m unaware of the costs. Believe me, I am. But I’m not just building a career, I’m building a life. To be of value to me, my life must have purpose, and my purpose is to help the broken heal.
I try to do that in my books and articles, but I also try to do it through helping writers. That’s been a big part of what I’m about and the life I’ve chosen to build since I began writing. It stemmed, in part, from not knowing other writers early on. I spent so much time frustrated over the most basic things because I had no one to ask, and I promised myself if I ever learned anything about the craft and/or business of writing, I’d share what I learned. I’ve tried to do that and I’ve trusted that my personal needs would be met.
Over the years, that decision has made for some belt-squeezing times and some where I’ve had to take leaps of faith that everything would work out, but it always has. When agents suggested that I stop “helping” and write more to elevate myself, I’ve changed agents. While they were wonderful and very good at what they do, we didn’t have a merging of the minds on my purpose.
I’m not driven by money. It doesn’t define my success. Worth to me is more about caring, nurturing, helping others see their own potential and to assist them in seeing the best in themselves and their purpose. Honestly, that’s been a blessing and a curse and it’s made for some scary times. But during those times, you just keep working in faith and trust that things will work out.
The world looks at you and your work and sees less. That creates some challenges and disappointments, but they’re not as significant on the grand scale of things. Admittedly, times have changed in publishing and that too has created new challenges. Today, more so than ever before, it’s a bottom-line market. Publisher fiscal health depends on that, and the business side of me (I was in corporate for years before writing) understands that. So these days require bigger leaps of faith. And, being brutally honest and blunt, I will write until I can’t afford to write anymore. And I’ll continue to help others in ways I can until I can’t. It’s my purpose.
You know, it’s easy to do the hard things when times are great and everything is going your way. But when it’s not, it’s harder, and yet that’s when you define your destiny. Like everyone else, I’m standing to meet my destiny. Sometimes on rubber knees, but I’m standing. 🙂
Q. I read your Lost, Inc. books and enjoyed them. Are you going to write more books in that series?
I’ve been asked this a lot in the last month or so, but I can’t honestly answer that question at this time. I’d like to—I love the premise of people helping others who are lost find their way in life—and I certainly could write more of the Lost, Inc. books. The decision is currently pending. The publisher would like more of them, but I’m waiting to see how they are received in the market before making that call.
If readers embrace the books and want more of them, they’ll let me know. Now that the third book in that series, Torn Loyalties, is out, the answer won’t be far off. So far, the reaction has been good. Reader feedback has been positive and the book, like the previous two in the series, has been on multiple Amazon bestseller lists. So early signs are good. I just need to give this third book a little more time to let the reaction filter back to me and then I’ll know if more Lost, Inc. books should be done.
This is another situation where the business side of me says, “Definitely do it,” but the purpose side of me says, “Give it a bit to determine if it’s best.” Here’s the conflict: Any one writer can only write so many books. Time’s a hard taskmaster that way. So it’s really important to write the right books to do what you’re trying to do in writing at all.
I’m eager to write case stories in that series. I think those would be fascinating and fun to write. So I’m hopeful and indications are good, but I can’t say for sure right this minute. Another month or two of data and feedback and I’ll know. When I do know, I’ll share it in the newsletter.
Q. I’ve been writing ten years and always earned a living. But it’s hard now and I’m torn between writing and doing something else where my income is stable and I have benefits. Am I the only writer with this problem? Is it me or just the way things are now?
It isn’t just you. (See the first question above. :)) Listen, I’ve written full-time since 1988. I sold the first book in 1992 and then nothing for two years. Since then, I’ve been publishing. There have been times in between when I had a year between contracts (I had a lot of eye surgeries in a short span of time that totally derailed momentum writing) and I faced the choice you’re facing. Should I return to corporate or stick with writing?
The truth is I can’t answer that question for you. Only you know what one needs to know to make that call. I did answer it for me, and I’ll share that for what it’s worth.
I did a lot of soul-searching and discovered my bottom line: I’d never be content not writing. There wouldn’t be a day that I wouldn’t miss it or a day when I’d know I turned my back on what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
It took a while to reach that bottom line, and it wasn’t a pleasant process. But it was an essential one and it did quell the questioning. There are no benefits and for most writers the money isn’t great. There are some for whom it’s fabulous and whether or not you’ll be one of those or one who struggles, well, you never know. Good writers land in both camps, and so do not-so-good writers. Readers make that call, and all writers can do is write their stories the best they can and pray. A lot.
This is going to sound harsh, but here it is—without any veneer or varnish to soften it:
If you can quit writing, quit. Get a job with stable pay and good benefits. If your heart isn’t in it, you’re better off to find a place your heart is. You’ll be more content there.
If you love writing, you won’t be able to quit. You’ll think on it and get to the place where you realize odds are stacked against you, you’ll work for an unknown amount of money with no benefits and absolutely no assurances (even signed contracts get cancelled) but a bad day or month or year writing is better than a good day doing anything else. You’ll take a part-time job doing what you must, if you must, to meet your fiscal needs, but you’ll write anyway. Because you need to write and want to write and the idea of not writing makes you physically ill.
That’s the best I do for you on this. It’s a personal call. There’s no right or wrong answer, only the right answer for you, and only you can make the decision.
I wish I could tell you that if you work hard and do your best, you’ll be fine. But I honestly can’t do that because sometimes it is fine and sometimes it isn’t. I know many writers who had successful careers suddenly tank and they were forced by circumstance to walk away. I also know many writers who had tanked careers and started over at the bottom of the ladder and zoomed to the top. Again, there’s no way of predicting which any one writer will be. You can do everything right and not reach fiscal stability. You can do everything wrong and stick to it like it was surgically applied. Writers can’t predict it, agents can’t predict it, publishers can’t predict it, booksellers can’t predict it. An author or project can look golden and tank. Or look like a midlist or low-income book and hit the stratosphere in sales. You write your book and take your chances. It’s that way on every book.
Whatever you decide, I wish you joy and contentment and peace with your decision. Spend some time with yourself and do your version of soul-searching. What most matters to you? Why? What do you need (versus want) and what must you do to get it? Ask yourself the hard, uncomfortable questions and answer them honestly. By the time you’re done, you’ll know what’s right for you.
Thanks so much for your questions. It’s a joy to hear from you. If I may, I’d like to thank you for the many notes you’ve written with comments and offering support and prayers for me (especially during the recent illness). I so appreciate being a part of your lives, and I’m grateful for your concern about me.