The Most Significant Choice Of Your Writing Career

Image: urban wall with graffiti reading "Unlearn and rethink."
“Unlearn & rethink” by Jonas B is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Today’s post is by author, editor and coach Jessica Conoley (@jaconoley).


The most significant choice of your writing career happens long before your story makes its way into the world. This choice impacts every single aspect of your career, and it is a choice you make over and over and over again. This choice could leave you a husk of a writer, ravaged by the publishing industry, bemoaning the success of everyone else around you; or it could propel you to the next stage of your career and embolden you to try things you’d never thought possible. The funny part is this choice has nothing to do with the act of writing, but everything to do with words.

The most important choice you will make in your writing career is how you choose to talk to yourself about said career.

And for 99% of writers I know, the default setting of this conversation is: doubt, worry, and frustration. Fears on repeat include: Why would anyone ever buy my book? My story isn’t important. I’m never going to get an agent. I don’t know how to do this. Somebody already wrote a story like mine…

When we’re Uninitiated and breaking into the industry, we all have these thoughts, and we often feel powerless. But that feeling of powerlessness dissipates when you master your interior dialogue. You go from being a pawn in a multi-billion-dollar industry to an active player with a say in how your career unfolds.

You can change your default mental settings, and as you rewire your brain you may even learn to enjoy the current stage of your writing career.

But the jump from Why would anyone read my work? to My work is great is not natural. If you try to go directly from the former to the latter, you’re probably going to feel delusional, as opposed to empowered.

Rewiring progresses quietly, in stages. Mindset milestones include: That will never happen to me. Maybe that could happen to me. I can do this. I’ve already done it.

Here are a few exercises for both inside and outside your brain to lead you from That will never happen to me to Maybe that could happen to me.

Inside your head

  • Acknowledge how you think is a choice. Negative narrative is on auto-pilot by now, but someone had to turn on the auto-pilot function and that someone was you. Are you ready to turn it off? Does that idea terrify you? What about those negative thoughts are you holding on to? The choice is yours, all you have to do is make it.

For me, clinging to negativity offered a sense of security. I knew how to be an aspiring writer. But owning the fact I was a working writer put me out of my comfort zone. It forced me to realize people may actually read my work and that triggered a fear of judgment on about ten-billion different levels. But stasis equals death doesn’t just apply to our characters. And it’s only by making a choice to think and therefore act differently that I was able to move forward.

  • Notice when you’re having a crap-tastic garbage person way of talking to yourself moment and shut it down. Take a deep breath, and say out loud with your voice-box, “I choose not to participate in this conversation.” Add a physical movement, like snapping your fingers, as well. If you’re in public and catch yourself thinking negatively, you can use the physical movement to interrupt the negative pattern. That way people aren’t staring at you for uttering, “I choose not to participate in this conversation” when you haven’t been conversing.
  • Replace trash talk with a new line of dialogue. Once you’ve asserted your choice to disengage from self-trash-talk a few times, take it a step further. Replace your negative monologue with a question of possibility. I like Why not me? If somebody else has done it, there’s no reason I can’t do it too.

Rewriting your brain is hard work. It is physically exhausting to create new neuro pathways. That old wiring for negative thinking will always be there, so rewiring is something we have to practice as frequently as we practice our writing craft. And, just like mastering our craft, adjusting our thoughts and tweaking our mindset is never done—but with practice, your transition time from self-doubt to self-empowerment increases exponentially.

You can do some serious rewiring work on your own, but it has even more impact when you step outside your own brain.

Outside your head

  • Rewrite your narrative. Drag out your favorite-colored pen and a piece of blank paper. Write your question of possibility (Why not me?) eighteen times. Say it out loud eight times. Then fill up the remaining blank lines on the paper with a good old creative writing exercise where you indulge in all the sensory details about the moment you finish your manuscript, or get the call from your dream agent, or sign that three-book deal. Be brave enough to write it now, so you’ll be brave enough to live it later.
  • Enlist your writing support triangle. Tell them you want to be a mentally healthy, published writer. Ask them to call you out. When you talk about your career like a heap of garbage, have them ask your trigger question. Hearing “Why not you?” from your support team brings it to a whole new level of possibility.
  • Set up a writing career log to celebrate your accomplishments. This is an ongoing list of all the things you’ve accomplished in pursuit of your writing dreams. (I know, I know, you’re all I don’t have any accomplishments, but you do. The fact you’re reading this article confirms you are taking positive steps toward your dream.) My list includes the date and a brief line about what I accomplished. Sample items include: read a craft book, sent my first query, started a new draft, got feedback from my critique partner, got my first rejection, etc. And don’t forget to give yourself credit for rewiring your brain. Each line on that log is a positive step forward. Read it, breathe it, love it. You’re doing this.
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