When Fairytales Crash and Burn: What to Do When Your Writing Dream Dies
Are you a writer who has dreamed of writing a book for years? An author who's had, “finally complete the manuscript” on your bucket list for years, but doesn’t have anything to show for it? A poet who wants to finally publish his book of poems, but feels stuck?
A problem writers face is The Fairytale Effect. We know that writing is hard work. We know it requires time and effort and energy. But buried way down deep is something much more dangerous to our writing dream: the belief that your publishing journey will have a fairytale ending. This may be a conscious belief or an unconscious one. We may not even realize we're waiting to be saved.
"Someday," you think, hands clasped to your chest, gaze on the sky above. "Someday an agent or publisher or book contest organizer will realize how special my book really is. And then they'll whisk me off to Never-Never Land, where we'll parade before my adoring fans and nibble chocolate-covered cherries into oblivion."
Except this doesn't happen.
The Fairytale Effect
Where does this strange belief come from? Well, the media tells us that it worked for J.K. Rowling. For Hugh Howey and Stephen King. Why shouldn’t it work for us?
In the western world, we have strange ideas about success. First, that there is such a thing as “overnight success”. Second, that if we just find the magic brew all will be well. Third, that success results in financial riches and that alone should be our goal. Well, maybe that along with a little fame.
Is Your Writing Dream at Risk?
How do you know if your writing dream is in danger? Here are five signs:
You stand at the cupboard eating salty corn chips. You promised yourself you’d write after work but are too tired. “Tomorrow,” you tell yourself. “Tomorrow I’ll get started.”
You have no peace or quiet. If your kids don’t go back to school and/or your spouse doesn’t go back to work soon, you’re going to burst into flames. When is Calgon going to save you from this quarantine nightmare?
You feel proud when you make a plan to write. Only when you do, no words come. Oh, and your creative well is as dry as toast.
There’s a running litany in your head that sounds something like this, “Why bother? You suck as a writer. You’ll never be successful. Might as well just enjoy your free time since there’s so little of it.”
Hearing about other writers’ successful book deals makes you want to alternately cry and scream. But you plaster on a smile and congratulate them, wondering, “Will that ever happen for me?”
A Writer’s Response to the Risk
Many of us don't realize our dream is at risk. If you recognized yourself in any of the above signs, that’s actually a good thing. It’s hard to fix what you don’t know isn’t working. (By the way, I’ve dealt with all of those—and more—and still do at times. You’re certainly not alone.)
What’s our natural response to these signs of trouble? We do a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work. We might amp up the volume, shouting about our books on social media sites. We avoid writing or reading anything about writing or talking to other people who write. We feel isolated and alone.
Sometimes, when things get really bad, we give up writing altogether. We sink a lot of money into a self-publishing course, a marketing class, or a writer’s conference. We seek out the counsel of famous people—or at least, pretty successful people—like other authors on boards like 20Booksto50K group or the Writer’s Café.
None of it works.
The Beginning of Your Writing Dream
Why did you start writing? Was it because you’ve loved to read since childhood? Because you wanted to be like your Great-Aunt Sue, who traveled the world and wrote for National Geographic? Does it feel like writing is the only thing you're good at?
Consider spending a little time this week brainstorming the “why” behind your writing. If it’s to become a famous best-selling author, that’s okay. Be as honest and clear about your answer as possible.
Next, take a little more time and consider this question: Who can you help with your writing? It might be something as simple as, “My daughter, who sees me pursuing my passion,” or something as complex as, “My fans who push me to keep writing better books”. There is no right or wrong answer, only your answer.
Creating Your Own Happy Ending: Taking Back Your Writing Dream
To get out of the fairytale mentality when it comes to writing your book, you’ll need to put up some boundaries. You might:
Try a social media fast
Ban yourself from reading any author success stories for one to three months
Write out your “why” and post it where you will frequently see it
Focus more on who you’re helping and less on how you're “failing”
Don't visit writing forums or author boards for a certain amount of time
Get support from a group of like-minded writer friends or hire a coach
Creating your own happy ending isn’t only possible, it’s probable. But first, you must get honest with yourself, your dream, and the fact that there is no Prince Charming on the horizon. You don't need to be a Knight in Shining Armor for yourself or anyone else to be the hero of your very own author's journey.
What do you think? Do you see The Fairytale Effect in your writing life? If so, what is one step you can take/have taken to change your situation?