As a writer progresses in her craft, she may sometimes wonder how her particular path will look. In this four-part series, Charity Singleton Craig envisions a possible progression of a writing life through the lens of an Olympic snowboarder. In the concluding installment, she considers the place of strategy.
Writing in the Half Pipe
Snowboarding isn’t Olympian Shaun White’s only passion these days. He’s involved in so many different projects in fact, that in 2011, he created Shaun White Enterprises as a way to consolidate all of his business interests. He lends his name—maybe “leases” is more like it—to clothing lines and snowboarding accessories. He recently produced a documentary about himself. He plays lead guitar in a band called “Bad Things.” He’s the owner of an Air & Style Show franchise. Oh, and he still competes in snowboarding competitions.
His secret to soaring success both on and off the slopes? A good strategy.
“The whole strategizing thing is what does it for me, ” White told Elizabeth Weil in an interview for The New York Times. “That’s what I do on the hill. I’m always thinking: Well, if this could happen, then that could happen. It’ll leave me in this position, it’ll create these opportunities.”
The same is true for the writing life. In addition to a little serendipity, a life of words benefits from having a blueprint that envisions how each piece fits together. If my goal is simply to write, I could spend a lifetime of words on just my own blog writing whatever I wish. In fact, if I don’t even want an audience, I could buy a journal and get to work. But if I would like to have some readers, amass a few publishing credits, earn an income, or possibly hit the bestseller list, then I need a strategy.
Recently, in my editorial role for an online magazine, I contacted a writer about submitting work for publication. Within a day or two, I received a response from him telling me that he was interested but his minimum rate for freelance work is $1 per word. The rate was more than I could offer, so I rescinded my request. But his response has me thinking.
I don’t know this writer’s personal reasons for setting the minimum, but I recognize more than financial interests in that strategy. His rate creates limits on the type of publications he will work with and keeps offers to a manageable number. The minimum amount announces to others and reminds himself that he is serious about writing as a profession. And with these built-in constraints, he will have time to do the writing that’s most important to him.
In the early days of my writing life, I took every offer I got to write for other people. Newsletters, blog posts, articles, devotions. Everything. Because experience matters. Bylines count. Exposure equals opportunity. Actually, I’m not too far away from those days, if you must know. I don’t have a minimum rate. As my career moves forward, however, it’s important for me to remember that saying “yes” too often could be just as damaging as rejection.
“Not a lot of people know this: I have fewer sponsors than I’ve had in the past, and I’m making more money, ” White said in that New York Times Magazine interview. He turned down a deal with Red Bull in 2011 in order to retain more control.
Make the Most of It
We all long for success. And if we stick with the writing life long enough, and keep an eye on our strategy, at least a few triumphs will come our way. They may be smaller than we hoped. Or they may be bigger than our wildest dreams. Either way, the best response to our successes? Enjoy them.
In his speech, Make Good Art, writer Neil Gaiman talks about his regrets from his early success. “I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride. But there were parts of the ride I missed, because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit I was on.”
If we let ourselves soar during these moments of success, we might just experience a little of the fun we had in those days before we called ourselves “writer.” Back when we were just playing.
The work’s not over, though. Not by a long shot. I’m a writer now. I have to keep writing. Fueled by the joy of success, I start over each day, taking new risks, suffering new failures, and eventually realizing, the biggest success of the writing life is that I get to do it at all.
Read more in this series:
Read a poem a day. Become a better writer.