The hardest thing about turning my writing hobby into a writing career was learning how to put things in order. You see, there are a lot of people who have this misconception that my mind is the kind of mind that’s good at business, meaning that I gravitate towards business concepts and business thinking. That’s just not true.
At my core, I am an artist. I think like an artist. My mind—to be perfectly blunt—can be a chaotic jumble of disjointed projects, swimming in and out of each other’s paths to create a beautiful, incomprehensible mirage of progress.
When you’re writing—whether it’s marketing materials or a novel—you need that artistic jumble. That’s how artists make intuitive leaps that span the obvious or mundane order others are stuck in. That artistic jumble is the core of creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
But you can’t run a business like that. You just can’t.
In school, I learned to put that artistic “noise” in the background of my mind, and focus on one subject at a time, one lecture or chapter at a time, one assignment at a time. That skill helped me to get straight A’s, but it didn’t make me an orderly thinker. It’s more like a lid of orderly thinking placed on top of a bubbling cauldron of chaos. What I learned from my classes would stay orderly, on the surface, long enough to perform for my academics, and then it would slip quietly into the bubbling cauldron, feeding everything that followed.
My business knowledge works the same way. It starts as “this is how things are,” orderly, clean and predictable. Then, it slides into the cauldron and creative leaps are made. For example, in big businesses, if they want to survive over the decades, they need to diversify their products. Some of the diversification choices they make are based on easily recognizable logic accessible to the public; others are based on an intimate knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the company. How this works started in my mind as an orderly set of information I had to process, respond to, and apply in traditional context. Then, it slipped into the cauldron, and I began to apply that to my work, and the result is a wide variety of work tasks and projects that make sense from the context of that cauldron, but are hard to explain to anyone else.
I can be a copywriter. I can be a resume writer. I do both, and I can easily explain why doing both makes sense. I can also be a novelist of both fantasy and science fiction. We still haven’t quite deviated from what makes sense, because it’s easy enough to see that I need to make money (copywriting and resume writing) while I build my career as a novelist. But it’s more than that, because everything I learn and practice as a copywriter and a resume writer helps me to know how to build my career as a novelist.
I can also be a nonfiction writer and advocate. This, too, makes a certain degree of sense. But this too feeds into my other pursuits in a way that isn’t overtly obvious. Then, there’s the editing, the author marketing, and all sorts of other things that don’t seem to fit, but they do.
Recently I tried to explain, as part of my introduction to my college peers, what I do. I had to just stop and say, “I’m kind of all over the place.” Some of the looks I got from my peers indicated they were impressed, but the impression was faulty. I think my professor got it, though. He saw the sense behind the chaos, at least enough that he could follow along.
The key is not to duplicate the order someone else discovers. The key is to find the order that works for you, the process that works for you. This doesn’t mean you need the eclectic approach that works for me—far from it. What you need is to feed your own cauldron, and then pull from it a sense of order that, quite frankly, doesn’t need to make logical sense, but works anyway. Craft your career from all that you are, and provide yourself with order and constraints to keep everything in its place. Even if all you do is write and market novels, that involves a lot of different skills and a lot of different tasks, and you’ll need some sense of order to keep everything in its place and on track—but it needs to be a sense of order that results from the chaos of your own mind, not from a sense of what “should be” or what works for someone else.
We’re artists. We do things differently. That’s both our strength and our weakness. If you feed your strengths, you can use them to compensate for your weaknesses.