By Christina Katz
Romantic means fanciful, impractical, and unrealistic. As writers, our responsibility is to cultivate passion while not letting it cloud our better judgment when we need it. We need to fall in love with words and sustain that love affair over time, while not letting our fanciful relationship spill over into our perceptions of real, live people, not to mention business negotiations. We must be a hopeless romantic in love with the act of writing, while protecting our sense of self from the arrows and slings of critics and other careless individuals.
Lest this sound easy, it’s not. I spent half a decade in my twenties cultivating the romantic side of the writing life without due respect for the more practical side. I sat in cafés in Chicago, journal on the table, favorite pen in hand, staring out the window, or reading accounts of other writer’s lives and dreaming of how my writer’s life would compare some day. In retrospect, I realize how my imagination was actually limited by these accounts rather than being liberated or sparked by them. Very much the way a person might become hooked on soap operas to fulfill a missing sense of having a life, so too my writing life was kept a fantasy.
I wasn’t spurred to creating my writer’s life by reading these books, rather I was becoming more entrenched in the observer’s seat. Like The Little Match Girl, staring through the glass at the bakery sweets, but doing nothing to actually feed herself, I was killing my dream through inaction.
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But this is a column about romance, after all. Therefore, let’s get straight to the recovery portion of our tale. If you identify with my former plight, and feel that you would rather sit back and read about other people’s writing successes rather than make sound progress towards your own, there are steps you can take that will offer immediate relief:
Step 1. Don’t get stuck as the observer.
Take all of your books, magazines, movies and other materials that elevate other people’s writing lives and put them away for a time. Or only read them as a reward for actual productivity. For example, if you’d rather read a writing magazine than write a personal essay, then don’t allow yourself to read the magazine until you’ve written draft one of your story. Then read the magazine as a reward.
Step 2. Identify a specific heart’s desire.
Where is your romance of being a writer going? It’s difficult to succeed in this craft if you have multiple destinations. Too many writers overwhelm themselves with many goals, ultimately accomplishing none. So, choose the one goal you really want. If that’s publishing personal essays, so be it. If it’s writing features for national magazines, okay. If you dream of becoming a published novelist, great (it’s a long road, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embark on it). Don’t judge your goal, it’s not better or worse than anyone else’s. Just figure yours out.
Step 3. Make a list of appropriate action steps.
Now take your ultimate goal, even if it’s many years away, and break it down into steps. Go ahead and number one to twenty on the page and then fill in the steps from the end backwards that will accomplish your goal to the best of your ability. If you have gaps, consult how-to materials that deal in very specific terms with your goal. There are so many more how-to guides than there ever were before. Hooray! Get your hands on those you need.
Step 4. Choose the steps that will create results.
If you are a romantic, the time has come to compartmentalize what you read. Once you realize that inspiration is entertainment and not how-to, you are free to enjoy a healthy relationship with inspirational authors without imagining that your life is theirs. Once you choose even one step on your journey toward writing success and take it, you transform your story from a fantasy…to a reality.
When you are done with these steps, you will be so much closer to your goal than you were after reading ten inspirational books. What could be more idyllic than that?
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.