By Rochelle Melander
The “How it started, how it’s going meme” became a thing in the fall of 2020, when a Twitter user posted a relationship update. (NY Times article) For me, the meme has become a great way to think about my path to becoming a professional writer.
Inspiration versus Perspiration
How it started: “I’m waiting to be inspired!”
When I started writing, I spent a lot of time waiting to find a marketable idea. I’m not alone. Many writers tell me they’re going to write as soon as they find a project that inspires them, get a flash of inspiration about how to approach a project, or feel inspired.
I get it. Who wants to waste time working on something boring? It makes a big difference to have a project that gets you up in the morning and keeps your butt glued to the chair all day.
How it’s going: Years of working have taught me that inspiration happens in the middle of the research and writing process and not before. Or, as Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Schedule time for your writing life—and treat it like a job. (If you stick to it, it might be your job someday!) Even if you have no clue what you’re going to do, show up. Use the time to brainstorm, explore, and research new ideas. Or figure out how to approach an idea you have. Or simply write a really bad first draft.
Books versus Blogs
How it started: “I’m not going to waste my time writing articles. I want to write books!”
After successfully defending my master’s thesis, I wanted to turn it into a book. My professor suggested revising specific chapters and submitting them to journals.
I recently met a young man who desperately wanted to write a book. He had an idea and a rough outline—but no real content to put into the book. When I suggested he might test market some of the ideas by writing blog posts, he refused. He was a book writer.
How it’s going. Books rock. They give an author plenty of space to develop characters and ideas. Plus, they come in these cool little packages that are easy to sign and give to family and friends! Blog posts? Articles? Well, they’re quick—but who really cares?
You should! Blog posts, magazine articles, and other short pieces provide lots of opportunities for writers. They build your skills. Spending years writing profiles of local physicians and celebrities gave me the writing chops to profile the writers in my new book Mightier than the Sword. Plus, I learned how to follow guidelines and meet deadlines.
Second, short pieces expand your reach and build your platform. I edit a periodical with a circulation of 125,000. My writers regularly tell me that they get fan mail from subscribers. These readers will buy their books someday.
Finally, short pieces lead to books. Many of my books started out as blog posts. When an idea gains traction, I might write a series of posts that will eventually make it into a book. My book Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity was based on several years of blog posts.
If only versus Write Now
How it started: “If only I had _____, I could write a successful book.”
I just saw a sales page for a splashy new program that promises to teach me the mindset I need to become a bestselling author. My mouse hovered over the “buy now” button for a moment before my inner voice reminded me, “You know this.”
Full confession: over a twenty-year writing and coaching career, I’ve purchased programs like the one I stumbled on the other night. They never deliver. They can’t. Because the secret to success is a mixture of hard work, persistence, and pure luck. (And no one can teach you how to get that lucky break.)
Many new (and experienced) writers believe that the secret to success is on the other side of the next word processing program, planner, or writing class. They look longingly at more successful authors and believe they have discovered the secret sauce to a becoming a bestselling author.
How it’s going.
Over the years, I’ve learned that hard work and persistence pays off. When I launched my writing coaching business, I created the tagline, “Where maybe someday becomes write now.” Our “If only” wishes and worries keep us hoping that “maybe someday” we will succeed.
But I’ve learned that if you keep writing and submitting, you will get better and you will get published. It’s not the juicy, romantic, and magical answer that I’d hoped for when I started twenty years ago. But it’s the surest path to success I know.
Your Assignment: Dream up your own How it started. How it’s going. meme
How do you want your writing career to unfold? Write your vision of where you want to be in five years. Once you know what you want to achieve, map out a plan to get there.
Then start moving forward. Today you might take a tiny step toward achieving that goal—attending a class, reading mentor texts, or revising that story for the fifth time. But those small steps add up and soon you will be celebrating big accomplishments!
About the author: Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) and Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She’s a professional certified coach who helps writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs overcome distractions and procrastination, design a writing life, turn their ideas into books, navigate the publishing world, and connect with readers through social media. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. Visit her online at write now! coach or Rochelle Melander