I received an e-mail update from Janet, a writer friend of mine who is in the process of researching her first contracted book while finishing up the proposal for a pet project.
In her update, she commented on a "light bulb moment" she recently had:
I have almost finished my book proposal - that is certainly not an easy task for an unfinished book, is it? It did help me pick up steam, better determine my audience, and examine several others along the way. Published books are really successful business projects, aren't they?
Ah! So they are.
Most books that get in print these days are really businesses. The sooner a writer realizes this, the better! Too many writers treat their books like hobbies, or pets, or illicit affairs, or toys. They don't take the books or themselves seriously. They fail to realize that publishing is a business and are all too often lax about learning how that business operates.
One of the things I encourage writers to do is to set goals for themselves. I encourage writing goals ("I'll write X,000 words a day." "I'll finish X chapter(s) a week."). I encourage business-building goals ("I'll submit to X new markets each week." "I'll research at least one relevant manager this month."). In all things, however, I encourage realistic expectations.
Sometimes, overly ambitious goals can arise from an unfamiliarity with the rigors of the writing profession. As with any job, some days are more productive than others. If an unfamiliarity with the ups and downs of any business venture does not inform our writing goals, we tend to set those goals while dazzled by the glow of an exciting new project. However, if our goals are contingent upon our being brilliant every day, we not only set ourselves up for defeat -- but we also pave the way for burnout.
New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick has some excellent advice on how writers can stay motivated without burnout.
One of the things she suggests is that writers build in a certain number of "sick days" and "personal days" when developing their goals. Doing so, Bostwick suggests, allows one the writing equivalent of calling in to the office and taking a day off when necessary for one's life, liberty, and general well-being.
Bostwick's approach to the business of writing is well worth considering.
If you are a writer, I encourage you to come up with a plan that will make this next year the one that develops your Pet Project (you know: The One that's just begging for your attention). As you plan, however, I suggest that you consider the business you are in. You are in the business of creating. Of living your life. Of learning, and loving, and growing, and expanding your horizons. Beware of becoming a workaholic. Treat your writing, and your books, like any other business venture. Build your goals around a schedule that allows you to grow your business and remain "open for business" for many years to come...