This is more an outpouring of experience than anything else. But it may serve other writers who believe that writing full-time might be their calling. My main goal is simply to set out what limiting beliefs I encounter regularly, and perhaps why I encounter them. I call them limiting beliefs because they essentially limit me from confidently pursuing what I dream of doing one day: writing full-time.
Many writers would love to write full-time, but they’re convinced that this isn’t possible or practical. “Only a select few ever do that . . . Don’t put all your eggs in that basket.” I’m sure you’ve heard similar things. And yet you hope and wonder if it’s really that simple. After all, there are self-published authors such as Mark Dawson, Adam Croft, and Joanna Penn who’ve been wildly successful in writing full-time. They’ve put in the work, no doubt, but they’re examples for the rest of us. They are examples that say without equivocation, “This IS possible, if you’re willing to work at it.” I believe the assumption that writers cannot write full-time and provide an income for themselves and their family is outdated. But it takes some time for outdated assumptions to drift away from the public mind. And from our own minds, for that matter.
So, given that outdated assumptions about writing are alive and well, what are some of the limiting beliefs that keep us from pursuing our dream with passion, conviction, and confidence? Here are my top four.
- You can’t make enough money to replace a “normal” full-time job with benefits. This is probably the most common limiting belief, perhaps because it may have been true for decades. But with the arrival of social media, the rise of self-publishing, and the plethora of resources for authors who want to learn about marketing, it’s clearly not true any longer. It’s not easy; but it’s not impossible. Yet, well-meaning friends and family will repeat this limiting belief to us because they (1) want to make sure we are taken care of, (2) are unaware of the recent developments in publishing and marketing for authors, or (3) both. As a result, we often find ourselves repeating this limiting belief internally.
- You aren’t famous enough to sell enough books. This is an off-shoot of the first limiting belief. It suggests that there’s a simple and direct correspondence between fame and fortune, between being well-known and selling a million books. Certainly, there’s at least an indirect correspondence. It’s much easier in theory for someone who’s famous to sell more books out of the gate than a first-time author. But many have shown that it doesn’t take a massive audience or following to earn a full-time income from writing books. It may take as few as 1,000 committed fans to support yourself. When you think about it, that’s not so many, though it make take authors several years to get to that level. The limiting belief gets repeated because famous authors often do sell a boatload of books when they release a title. Still, that doesn’t mean that you must be famous to sell books. In fact, selling more books may be the very thing that begins building your reputation. And even authors who are now famous started somewhere. There’s nothing keeping you from building your audience and serving them well. With time, constant effort, and continuous education, it’s more than possible to be a full-time writer.
- It’s too hard to get noticed in a noisy world (the book market is too saturated). This seems the most plausible to those of us who have published a book or two. We know firsthand how difficult it can be to get recognized. And every time we struggle with success in marketing or sales, we fall back on this limiting belief. “It’s just too crowded. I can’t compete with everyone else.” False. While it’s certainly more crowded than it used to be, given the rise of self-publishing, that’s actually evidence that there is a market for writing and selling books. People always need more things to read, and they’re often looking for something fresh (maybe even from a first-time author). There’s also a ridiculous amount of free and paid resources for writers who want to learn HOW to get noticed. I’ve taken Mark Dawson’s “Ads for Authors” course and found it invaluable. It’s given me tools that I’ve only just begun to work out. The problem isn’t a lack of resources for getting noticed in a noisy world. The problem is a lack of will to find and implement those resources, as well as a lack of faith in their effectiveness.
- You should be happy just to have a job. This is tough. Especially during these turbulent times (the coronavirus chaos), we should be grateful if we have a job. And make no mistake: I AM thankful to have a good job teaching something I love (I teach English and writing to graduate students). However, the logic in this limiting belief is off, isn’t it? It suggests you should stay where you are even if there’s a possibility that you could be more helpful somewhere else. Think about it this way. What if someone called and gifted as an electrician could only get a job as a plumber. Would you encourage that person to remain a plumber indefinitely? Maybe, but maybe not. Those of us with families need to provide for them, so we shouldn’t be reckless. But neither should we dismiss the clear call to do something greater. And “greater” here only means “better suited to our gifts and passions.” Just because you have a “good” job doesn’t necessarily mean you should stay there. In fact, I’ve been thinking lately that you have to leave something good if you want to do something great.
These have been the most common limiting beliefs for me as a writer. I haven’t gotten past them yet. I’m not where I want to be professionally. But I’m committed to making my dream a reality. I’m not giving up on this. Writing isn’t my hobby; it’s my craft and calling. To keep treating it as a second hand concern isn’t healthy for me.
I write this to encourage fellow writers. We all have our limiting beliefs (you should know what yours are). As long as we follow them, we won’t reach the goals we have. The key is noticing and attacking them when they arise. It takes guts, perseverance, and no small amount of patience. But it’s worth it. Every full-time author I’ve interacted with says the same.
May today be a day when your limiting beliefs are brought to the surface and then crushed with confidence.
Pierce Taylor Hibbs is the author of several books, including Finding God in the Ordinary, The Speaking Trinity, and Struck Down but Not Destroyed: Living Faithfully with Anxiety. He has also taught advanced writing to graduate students for over a decade. You can read more of his articles about writing here: http://piercetaylorhibbs.com/lessons-for-writers/.