Are you writing for carrots?
It’s a weird question that I’ve had bubbling around my brain lately, so I probably need to explain.
You’ve seen the old cartoons where the horse was constantly chasing the carrot, right? It’s always there, just out of reach, and you know that poor horse is not going to catch that carrot unless he has a nice jockey who’ll give it to him after the race is run.
But would the horse run if there was no carrot?
Ditch the Carrot
Let’s take success totally out of the mix. Let’s ditch the carrot. Will you still write? Don’t get me wrong. Success is important. You absolutely should expect to make money from your writing business. But your eventual success is determined by your mindset.
Instead of being driven by what could happen, and then riding the rollercoaster of unmet expectations, practice existing in your present. What is happening?
If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ll know within minutes that I live my life by meeting goals. I am a HUGE advocate of setting goals and driving toward them. But solely focusing on the end goal can steal the joy of the writing….which is why we’re all here to begin with.
When we start focusing on our carrot instead of our why–the reason we write–that’s when we start to lose the race. We might win here and there, but over time, we’ll become tired, burned out, disinterested. We’ll feel like a workhorse instead of a horse who gets to run.
So how can we avoid becoming a dusty, tired workhorse of a writer?
Identify Your Carrot
This month, NaNoWriMo is all the rage. But when you don’t have an event pushing you forward, what drives you to write? Why are you a writer?
Determining this answer is going to be key to your longevity in this industry. Your carrot will change shape, color, texture, and taste. But your why should not.
Let’s say your carrot is critique partner feedback. You’ve sent your pages off to be critiqued, and the anticipation of getting feedback–being told what lines they LOVED, how the story has hit them, ideas for improving scenes–it’s distracting. It may be so distracting that you end up waiting for those pages to come back before you feel you can move on.
But what if your critique partner can’t get to your pages when they say they will? And you’re there, waiting.
You’ve become so focused on your carrot, you’ve forgotten your why. And in doing this, you’ve stopped running your race. You’ve hobbled your success.
So how do you keep writing…
- When there’s not a contest
- When you’re not waiting on agent or editor feedback
- When you don’t have a new release
- When you don’t have a deadline
- When you’re not waiting on critique partner feedback
- When your story won’t be ready for readers for a looooong time
- When it’s not NaNoWriMo
- When you’ve blown your publishing schedule out of the water
- When you’re starting over
- When you’ve lost everything
Find the Joy
Go back to your why. You started writing for a reason. What was it? Do you remember? Was it to write for that girl or boy you used to be? Or to tell a story that heals a heart?
When you figure it out, write your why down, in a place you’ll look at often. Even better, frame it and hang it above your desk. Spraypaint it all over your walls. Needlepoint it. Shave it onto your cat.
Just put it somewhere you’ll be reminded, because those carrots are enticing and hard to keep from becoming our sole focus.
I picked this up from my amazing friend (who also happens to be a creativity coach and uber-talented author) Kerry Schafer.
Instead of “I have to make this deadline,” reframe it to “I get to have a deadline!”
See what just happened there? You turned the work into a reminder for joy.
Instead of, “I have to make my NaNoWriMo word count,” REFRAME! “I GET TO WRITE 1,666.67 WORDS TODAY!”
Shouting, jumping, and dancing while reframing is highly encouraged.
Stubbornness is a virtue, as any two-year-old will tell you. For mommas and daddies, this virtue can be underappreciated.
But for a writer…good gracious, y’all, BE STUBBORN! Put that two-year-old stubbornness to shame. We all have that quality within us. Be the horse that stubbornly runs, no matter what’s in front of them. You don’t need that ol’ carrot. All you need is your own determination, a will that will not be moved, no matter how many times you’re told you can’t eat cookies for breakfast…
Remember Your Dreams…and Turn Them into Healthy Goals
An unfortunate reality of dream-living is we often don’t have control on the timing of our dreams coming true. So turning your dreams into goals is a really good way to set yourself up for becoming a tired workhorse.
But what if your goal was to touch one life with one of your stories? What if your goal was to just write? What if your goal was directly related to your why? How would that feel? (Another fantastic question picked up from Kerry–seriously, check out her Write at the Edge site.)
In Defense of Carrots
There is nothing wrong with having a carrot. Carrots can be great short-term motivation.
Just be careful that the carrot doesn’t become your only reason for running.