Use Your Obscurity to Become Staggeringly Good

How do you spend the days when no one is really watching you? |

If you're already on your way to being a household name, you can skip this post. But for the rest of us, I have a question:

How do you feel about being unknown? 

When I dove into writing full time, I had one goal: Proving myself.

For me, that meant being published by a well-known publisher. I needed to write a novel in a year flat, and then get picked up by an agent, and then a publisher. And I needed it yesterday.

I wanted three novels published before I turned thirty.

(Spoiler alert: I'm thirty now. No novels published. Don't tell my former self, because she would flip.)

I had an allergic reaction to the thought of waiting. Massive anxiety struck whenever I heard that it could take three years, or seven, or ten. I don't have ten years! I thought. I need to be making a career now!

I spent way too many days hating the fact that: it takes time to get good. It takes time to write something worthwhile. And it takes time to get published.

I thought that all that time was my career's biggest enemy. And now?

Well, now it feels more like a secret weapon.

Because I finally realized that I can take full advantage of this season of obscurity.

I'm using it to get better.

Like... a lot. A lot better.

I'm using these quiet, off-stage years to work on building a better story and building a better character.

BUILDING A BETTER STORY. Ever notice how the first solutions you use in writing--the first words, the first images--tend to be clichés? Well, this was true of my entire first novel. 

The whole thing was one whopping cliché.

I didn't even notice as I was writing it (so quickly, so desperately). I regurgitated years of reading in one big unreadable book. 

I actually fell asleep when I reread it.

The thing about rushing, the thing about being in a panic to be done, to be published, to be chosen, is that you stop asking good questions. You stop considering new paths. You stop taking risks. You stop exploring.

Frantic writing doesn't make for fascinating stories.

What if we honor our obscurity by:

  • experimenting with different genres
  • playing around with new subject matter
  • exploring our own history, and writing it out as stories
  • taking risks in our style, voice, format
  • daring to write what's on our hearts
  • getting crazy-good at all the most essential elements of the craft
  • reading like fiends
  • annihilating clichés in our work
  • diving deeper with our chosen subject matter
  • researching like pros

BUILDING A BETTER CHARACTER. Yeah, not my cast of characters, but my character. Me. The who behind the writer that I am.

Can we be real for a sec? Waiting for something--waiting for something that you want very, very badly--has a way of exposing your personality.

When all I focused on was Getting The Thing That I Wanted--well, it wasn't cute.

I became the most selfish, fragile, and demanding version of myself. And oh, you couldn't even tell me that someone else just got published. Don't even try.

Here's a free tip: Selfish, fragile, demanding people do not write awesome books.

If all we do is practice various ways of saying I SHOULD BE PUBLISHED, then that's what our message is going to boil down to.

Me. MEEEEEE. Look at me. Praise me. Pat my head. Give me money. Clap for me. Because I deserve it.

That is not a great message for a book.

Also not great for a platform, a networking session, or a career.

Heck, I don't even like seeing it typed out there on this blog post.

The words that we say the most: those are the words that will end up being our message. That's what we'll be known for. 

The stuff we say in our heads, the words we mutter to our friends, the tweets we post, the Facebook exchanges... we're practicing our message all along. And we're creating our character every step of the way.

My goal: I don't want to be a self-obsessed jerk.

I finally realized that I can stomp around and be frustrated; I can feed envy and discontent and let them bleed me to death.

Or, I could see this as my chance. My chance to lean in, to grow, and to get better. To figure out generosity, gratitude, and courage. To value the people around me instead of seeing them as interruptions. To get better at celebrating, better at loving.

It's actually an opportunity, this whole obscurity thing.

There will be pressure enough later. Can we learn as much as we can about ourselves, our voices, our craft, our genre, our material, before the pressure is really on? 

And can we practice being the kind of person who has more to say than "look at me"?

Because the day will come when we find ourselves on a stage.

And if we use our obscurity right, we'll have a better story, a better message, and a better character to handle whatever fame and whatever fortune we get.