There Are a Million Ways to Be a Writer

I listen to a lot of writing-related podcasts. Sometimes it’s just a one-off episode to see if I like it and sometimes it’s a full-fledged binge. They’re an easy and usually fast way to get me in the mood to write. Hearing other writers talk about their journeys reminds me that I’m part of a larger community, even if I’m just sitting at my desk by myself. It’s the same reason I read writing blogs and follow the #amwriting tag on pretty much every platform.

And while soaking up the community vibe of these podcasts, I’ve learned something incredibly important: there are as many ways to be a writer as there are writers. At first blush, this might sound like an obvious statement. No two writers are going to have the same voice, habits, or career. But I think, especially when we’re first starting out, it’s super easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be like a handful of famous authors in order to be successful. You have to plot like JK Rowling, slice your prose to the bone like Hemingway, or world build like Tolkien. You see it even in the self-publishing world where writers feel the pressure to publish fast and often because they see that working for others. I admit that it’s why I love craft books, blogs, podcasts, and anything that vies me a peek into other writers’ processes. Because maybe I’ll find something that they do that works for me. That unlocks my blocks or helps me write fast or better. Subconsciously, I knew that there wasn’t one true way to succeed as a writer, but it’s become much more real since getting into these podcasts.

Ask the average reader to name every author they’ve read in the past year and you’ll probably end up with a handful of names. That’s how bestseller lists happen, casual readers pick up what’s been marketed or recommended to them. But ask a voracious reader? The ones who plow through seventy, eighty, a hundred books in a year. That’s a different story. Whether they read widely or deeply, their shelves will be lined with titles and authors the average reader has never even heard of. And as a writer, you can build an entire career off these wonderful diehards.

If your writing goals center around bestseller lists, prestigious awards, and being read for hundreds of years after your death, well, good luck to you. You’re going to need buckets of it because the competition is stiff. As for me, my once lofty (and pretentious) goals of literary success have given way to something more pedestrian. I’ve realized that what I really want for myself is to make a living by writing stories. Yes, I want to see my name on a book in real, live stores. Yes, I want to create worlds and stories that readers love. But when I imagine my perfect writing life, it’s pretty simple. I want to wake up in the morning and go to my desk knowing that my job is to write stories. And there are a million ways to succeed at that.

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