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3 reasons investment is key to writing success (and an elephant)

Advanced tips for writers

3 reasons investment is key to writing success

In this post I talk about investment in your writing life, the different kinds of investment  involved, and how to do it. I also digress by talking about the elephant from Zootropolis. Read on for more.

The elephant in the room

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. What is ‘writing success’? I went off on such a big diversion about this that I’ve published it as a separate blog post here. I’m going to assume that you now know what writing success is and how to find your way towards it and proceed from there. Alternatively, if you’d rather watch a random (but funny) 50 sec clip about ‘the elephant in the room’ go here. Actually, there is a serious point to watching this clip. More on that later.

What is investment anyway?

Investment = commitment of a resource in the hope of a positive return. There are (fight me over this in the comments if you want to!) three types of investment in the writing process. Investment of:

  • Time
  • Money
  • and Energy

Any writing habit or writing project will involve at least one of these forms of investment. So why is investment key to the writing process?

Reason Number 1: Showing up is the most important thing you can do if you want to write

The more time you put into practising any skill, the better you’ll get at it, especially if you deliberately practise particular techniques that you’ve identified as needing work. Early on in a writing career or a writing habit, investment of time is likely come first. Time is our most precious resource, more valuable than money, which comes and goes, because it can’t be replaced. You are effectively saying that you’re NOT going to do something else, in order to spend your time writing.

The positive return on your investment might be establishing a writing habit, or finishing a writing project, or the realisation of your writing goals. As with financial investments on the stock market, you don’t know for certain that you’ll achieve your writing ambitions by investing time – but you definitely won’t achieve them if you don’t!

Problems occur when you talk about writing or about a particular project you want to finish, but you never show up to do it. You don’t invest your time in doing it. Or you might read about how to do it or plan to do it. You invest your time in learning / planning but not in the actual writing part.

Here’s a quick guide to showing up (though this is only one way of doing it):

Here are a few quick tips you can use right away if you’re just starting out.

Reason Number 2: There are ways to decide whether investment of money is for you (advice I didn’t start following until years after I invested in an MA)

Knowing when to invest financially in your writing life can be a difficult decision. When I applied to do my Creative Writing MA, I didn’t know how I would pay for it. I was working in a community centre for 4 days a week, organising multimedia training for young people with barriers to education and employment, and commuting from London to Norwich 1 day a week to study.

Not earning much, I was wearing charity shop clothes and reading secondhand books or books that were gifts from my family. I was probably the most hard up I’ve ever been – and having been there, I definitely don’t suggest you invest if you don’t have money to cover your basic expenses.

There I was, investing time and money, but I could hardly afford either. Thank goodness that all changed for the better because a few months into my MA, I won a bursary, which paid my fees. Sometimes, if you put yourself in the way of the Universe – if you give something enough attention and energy in other words – the right thing happens. That investment of time and money in my MA has paid off many times over, but I didn’t know what would happen at the time of course. I simply felt that I ‘had to’ do that MA programme.

How do you know if your investment of money will pay off?

You might want to invest money in books on writing, or an MA programme, or an online course, or one to one support, or coaching, or editorial feedback. You could invest in advertising or your website. Or perhaps you want to pay to enter writing competitions – and you don’t know if it’s worth it. How do you know if it’s the right time to invest? How do you know if the investment of money will pay off? You can’t know for sure, of course, but there are some things you can do to mitigate the risk. You can:

  • Ask people who’ve already done it.
  • Use free resources / enter free competitions as much as possible so you gain tacit knowledge before investing your money.
  • Decide what kind of return on investment you’re hoping for in advance.
  • Take financial advice generally, find out about living a freelance life, and follow / read financial or ‘money mindset’ coaches.

That poor elephant

What about my MA programme? Was I foolish to enroll on a course without knowing how I was going to pay for it? Yes, probably. But let’s think about what happens to the elephant in the Zootropolis video I pointed you towards earlier. For a split second before the punchline is delivered and the Chief wishes him Happy Birthday, the elephant looks panicked. I know it’s a kids’ animation but allow me to over analyse it for a second.

Self-blame, recrimination, shame, guilt, uneasiness and discomfort cross the poor elephant’s face.

You could imagine him thinking: What have I done? Am I going to get the sack? Should I even be here? Do I even belong? I feel like an imposter! Will I ever belong anywhere? Then suddenly – boom – external validation kicks in, his friends are wishing him happy birthday, what a relief! Everything is ok!

The same is true of investment in your writing life, whether that’s an investment of time or money. You might find yourself thinking along the same lines as the elephant. What have I done? Should I even be here? (I certainly did when I looked around the room on the first day of my MA.) When will you get to that ‘happy birthday’ moment when everything is alright?

Actually, you can get to it right now. You can tell yourself that you definitely belong, you can push yourself slightly outside your comfort zone, you can challenge yourself to do differently (which is the motto of the university where I did my MA by the way) and you can turn up – not to get external validation – but because you believe in you.

Reason number 3: Investing in energy and mindset pays dividends – but they might be unpredictable ones

This is an odd one because in one sense you don’t really decide to invest energy in the same way you decide to invest time or money. Alongside investment of time and investment of money you’ll automatically end up investing energy.

You’re going to need to focus on your writing – that focus and working out how to get it is a kind of energy investment. There’s also energy involved in ‘literary citizenship’. That is, supporting other writers and writing events and connecting with the literary world. You’ll be reading and watching other people’s work, and showing up as a writer as part of the community, or your particular niche of that community.

Creating Positive Energy

Thinking about writing, the writing life and the writing community when you’re not writing (like a football supporter might with their football team) also requires energy.

However, you can make a firm decision to invest positive energy in your writing, as much as possible. In fact addressing your mindset is a proactive choice.

This is where knowing your values comes in really handy. If you know that kindness is one of your values, for instance, you’re unlikely to pick fights with other writers on social media! Here’s a post that discusses finding your values if you want more. And here’s how to make sure that the energy you’re investing is positive:

  1. Schedule time to write and avoid distractions proactively while you’re doing it. (You could stop combining Twitter and writing, for instance.) I have various resources available on finding time to write, including a free ebook and course.
  2. Put up inspirational pictures, postcards and quotations. For instance, I have ‘Fail again, fail better’ as wallpaper on my laptop, a photo of me swimming in the sea on the wall of my writing shed, along with several of my family and some nature photos I took after listening to a series of talks on gratitude. I’ve also put up a card showing Virginia Woolf’s writing shed as she’s one of my literary heroes.
  3. Find your tribe – either online or offline – by identifying other writers who are supportive and helpful. For instance, join a writing group at your local writers’ centre. Comment on each other’s work. Chat about your process and your writing routines. Don’t engage with or otherwise mull over social media debates about how hard or difficult it all is, unless someone in your pre-identified tribe is involved.
  4. Be a ‘literary citizen’. Support other writers and writing events. Cheer them on. Be kind. Share what you’ve learnt. Shout about books you’ve enjoyed.

Be the first to know about my new course

I’ve got a course in the planning stages that’s all about the writing life and what it takes to get your book done. If you’re curious, click here and join my mailing list and you’ll be first to know when it goes live.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx


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