As previously mentioned, I’m a planner.
Last week, because I was a little bored, I sat down and planned out an entire two-week road trip around Ireland for myself and my friend, something we had kind of vaguely mentioned wanting to do next year. When I say I planned it out, I mean I created timetables and selected points of interest to stop along the way and even chose a few hotels and mapped mileage and all of that. All of this, just for fun. Because I was bored.
When I decided to try this whole self-publishing-novelist thing, I came up with a plan. I knew it would be tremendously easy to fall into a familiar trap – the Pit of Sudden and Immediate Failure.
The Pit of Sudden and Immediate Failure sucks you down and consumes you like a
snarlac sarlacc (I had to Google that – sorry Star Wars people) the moment you allow yourself to be discouraged when you don’t achieve instant success. It’s happened to all of us at some point. We get a great idea, we try out the idea, the idea doesn’t instantly make us rich and happy and successful and attractive and possessed with superpowers, so we chalk it up as a failure and move on. I’ve done this more times than I can count. I’ve watched friends do this. I’m pretty sure it’s ingrained in our human nature as a kind of survival mechanism, an instinctual ROI calculator that enables us to reject our own great ideas, even to the point of practically forgetting about them, if it turns out we won’t immediately reap the rewards.
This was part of what hindered my lifelong ambition to be a writer, and finally I reached the point where I was simply done with this shit. I made the deliberate decision not to expect any kind of success from this, but to do it because I had to do it.
I have a tattoo on my arm which reads, “no thought to the winnings”. It’s from an excerpt of a letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo about why he couldn’t just fall out of love with a woman his family deemed inappropriate (no, she wasn’t a prostitute), despite their protestations. The longer excerpt reads:
From the beginning of this love I’ve felt that unless I threw myself into it unreservedly, committing myself to it whole-heartedly, fully and forever, there would be absolutely no chance for me, and if I’ve thrown myself into it in the above-mentioned way, that doesn’t alter the fact that the chance is very small.
But does it matter to me if the chance is larger or smaller? I mean, must I, can I, take that into account when I love? No – no thought to the winnings – one loves because one loves…
And then we keep a clear head and don’t cloud our minds nor restrain our feelings nor quench the fire and the light – but say simply, thank God – I love.
This quote spoke to me for a lot of reasons, hence the tattoo, and the sentiment is one I have tried to apply to my life. As a planner, I tend to be overly cautious and pragmatic. I tend to analyze things ahead of time, and if I decide it probably won’t work out for me in the long run I don’t try. While at times this is a sensible and intelligent approach, it also means I don’t take a lot of risks – and if fear of failure (as opposed to fear of death or dismemberment) is the only reason I choose not to take a chance, I’m probably missing out on a lot.
So, while I’m still not very good at it, I have made several efforts to let myself try to experience things that are important to me – with no thought to the winnings.
This writing books thing is one of those. I was sick and tired of not writing books, which is all I’ve ever really wanted to do, so I decided I just had to do it. Whether I achieved financial success or not.
Of course, the meticulous planner side of my personality refused to simply shut up and take it. So I ended up creating a kind of hybrid attitude toward this. I decided I was going to set realistic, tangible, measurable goals to keep myself motivated and at the same time not allow myself to give any consideration or weight as to whether or not I was going to achieve those goals.
Shut up. It works for me.
Since I initially set out to write this blog as a chronicle of my process, I’m going to share with you some of those goals and show you how it’s going so far:
- Publish a short story or novella as a test to figure out this whole self-publishing thing ✓
- Create a website and social media accounts ✓
- Set up an author page on Goodreads ✓
- Publish the first of four planned books (To the North) ✓
- Have at least 5 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads within 3 months of publishing ✓
- Have at least 10 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads within 6 months of publishing (deadline: 6/21)
- Finish first draft of second book (To the East) within 6 months of publishing first book ✓
- Publish second book within one year of publishing first book
- Finish outline of third book (To the South) by the time second book is published
- Start making organic sales within one year of publishing first book
As you can see, I never had any intention of coming out of the gate as a bestseller. Hell, I even gave myself a whole year of having the first book out before I expect to get anyone besides family or friends to buy it. So far I’ve met all of my goals, although I’m probably going to miss the mark on the 10 reviews by June.
But even if I hadn’t met these rather low expectations I set for myself, I think I’d still be doing this. After all, I’m still updating this blog, even though my website traffic is pretty much nonexistent. At this point, I’m not thinking about the winnings. I’m writing books because I want to write books.
Still, I have to believe that this method will work out for me in the long run. Yes, there are millions of people out there who try to self publish and make careers out of it. A lot of them are much more savvy with marketing themselves than I am. A lot of them are much more talented writers than I am. But a lot more of them are going to give up and fall into the Pit of Sudden and Immediate Failure. I may not get there with brains or talent. But I’ll get there with persistence.
And if I don’t? I guess I’ll just have to chop off my ear.