I think most aspiring writers don’t fully appreciate the scale of their dream.
If your dream is to become a known, professional fiction writer, that dream is statistically on par with winning an Olympic medal, becoming a celebrity, or reaching a federal elected office.
While society may have a great regard for doctors, what you’re endeavoring to accomplish is actually far more difficult.
The problem for most writers is that at some point you were encouraged.
Maybe someone said, “You’re a great writer.” Maybe they even encouraged you to pursue that. They didn’t know what they were saying. It’s not their fault, they just didn’t know.
You likely have a Little Pond Bias, which is something that I just made up. It may be true that you were the best writer in your English class, even in your high school. You may be the best writer that someone local to you has ever met. You may have even won a contest.
But that means that you’re the best writer in 100 writers. The reality is that if you’re serious about writing fiction as your full-time job, you need to be the best writer in 100,000 or even in a million.
I’m not saying it’s impossible. In fact, I’d love to see you do it and I’ll even help you. But you can see that you have your work cut out for you.
This isn’t that unreasonable. For some reason, we just don’t think about it that way when it comes to writing. We understand this when it comes to other elite pursuits.
If you were the best golfer in your high school, would you expect to immediately just jump into the PGA? If you were the best football player in your district, would you expect to immediately be able to seriously compete in the NFL? If you were a great actor in high school, would you expect to just hop out to LA and get a part in a movie? Of course not. You’d have to devote your whole being to reaching that next level.
But for writers, we expect to be able to make a one-step transition from the local level to the national level.
Every year I have new apprentices join me at The Company. These are people that can absolutely tear it up in a local context. They’ve often been told for a long time that they’re gifted.
Are they gifted compared to other writers in their peer group? Absolutely. But then they step into an environment where everyone is gifted. Everyone here was a top 1% writer wherever they came from. Sometimes it’s shocking to step into an environment where everything you do is not automatically the best, and might sometimes even be the worst in the room.
But they’re also finally in a place to see dramatic improvement. Finally, the competition matters. Now they can begin to move from a 1% writer to a .001% writer. And that’s what it takes if they want to make a full-time income writing fiction.
If you want to get better, you have to hang around people who are better than you. That’s simple enough. I can dominate my kids at basketball all day long, but I won’t improve nearly as much as if I get on a court for an hour with guys that are bigger, faster, and more skilled than I am.
Jesus once talked about something similar. He said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him…” (Luke 14:28-29)
Now in this passage, Jesus is specifically talking about what it takes to become his disciple. But he’s really giving us a simple lesson. “Before you begin something really big, decide—are you willing to do what it takes? Do you have enough to get the job done?”
If you’re a Christian writer, Jesus’s words are in context here. You will need to lay down your whole life to pursue that ministry. It will take everything.
I don’t want to discourage you from becoming a professional writer. (In fact, I’d love to help you! Check out apprenticeships at The Company and join me next year.)
But I do want you to see the scale, the sheer size of your dream. And I want you to count the cost.
When you’ve counted the cost, you can figure out how to pay it.
You can’t want to be a professional writer and a professional anything else. To reach that high of a goal, you have to put all of your eggs in this basket, call in all of your favors, and step away from every other path.
If you want to be an Olympic medalist, you’re going to eat, breathe, and dream about your sport. That’s your whole life.
If you want to be a U.S. senator some day, everything else has to go away. Your whole professional life needs to be built around that singular ambition.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t have a family, reasonable commitments in your church, and things of that nature. I’m also not saying that you can’t become a writer first and then use that to open doors to some other things.
But professionally speaking, if your goal is to be a 1 in 100,000 writer (which is what you’re talking about if you want to make a full-time income off your books)…that’s your whole professional life.
Count the cost, and then you have two options:
- Keep writing, but lose the grand vision. Recognize that while you love writing, it’s really not worth your everything, it’s just a hobby that you enjoy.
- Recognize that you are all-in. Start clearing your plate and take big risks to make this dream a reality, recognizing that it won’t happen by accident.
It really is OK to just write for fun. You can even dream about becoming a bestselling author, but know in your heart that it really is just a fun thing. You can be OK with yourself in that.
But it also might be time to recognize that you can’t do write a few hours per week and expect to get where you want. It might be time to get real.
I’m biased, but if you’re serious about doing this, then get your butt to Cambridge, Ohio this fall. That’s one really smart way to go all-in. The Company’s apprenticeship will teach you how to improve your writing, teach you how to publish, and deepen your relationship with Jesus. Plus, it’s going to put you in a new league, surrounded by people who are as passionate and talented as you are. (Learn about it and apply here.)
J.K. Rowling quit her job and lived off of welfare to write Harry Potter. Sylvester Stallone was literally homeless when he wrote Rocky, because he had given up everything to pursue his dream.
Are you ready for the next level? Then what are you willing to do about it? Today is the only day to get started.
You can do it. I’m here to help. Sign up for my newsletter to stay in the loop, plus I’ll send you a book about publishing for free if you want it.