Aim High or Aim Low?

Present word count of WIP: 20,552

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much.

This is the kind of advice that is comforting to the writer who has received a lot of rejections, the writer who’s gotten kind of lazy, or the writer who is surrounded by other successful authors and unsure whether he/she should continue.

But is it good advice?

I suppose it depends on your goals as a writer, and this leads me to a lengthy posting by Kristine Kathryn Rusch on her blog here, in which she takes many authors to task for not being ambitious enough or not being realistic in our ambitions. Granted, she’s definitely in the self-publishing camp (which becomes obvious as you read her post), but I think her main points are well-taken and apply to any author–traditionally published or not.

It’s the rare writer who actually has ambitions—real ambitions—and stands up for them. It’s the rare writer who not only dreams of glory (bestseller lists, millions of dollars, fame, lasting acclaim, or whatever) but actually works toward those dreams.

She teaches a lot of published authors who have lost their way in their career and are trying to get back on track. Her observation:

I urge these writers to become individuals and go on their own path, and if they don’t agree with something I say, then they should do it their way and prove me wrong. Most of the students are startled that I want them to question. I want them to think.

But that’s the only way you can have a long-term career as the person in charge of any business. You have to think, and be creative, and you can’t let roadblocks stop you.

You have to find a way around them.

But most of all, you have to question accepted wisdom. Last week, a lot of people came on my blog in the comments section spouting myths that teachers, editors, agents, and other writers have pounded into them, mostly telling these poor folks how impossible it is to do well in this business.

The key, in her opinion, is thinking big.

If you look around and see a small world, filled with a few friends, professors, and local bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business. If you believe you have to chase sales with low price points or blog tours or book signings at area bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business.

If you strive to do the best you can, write a lot of books, and make sure your books are in as many bookstores as possible—ebookstores, audio bookstores, foreign bookstores, as well as US bookstores, in English as well as dozens if not hundreds of languages (over time)—then you will succeed in this international business. You’re looking at the big picture.

So, do we aim low, not expecting much, as Godin advised, in order to ensure our contentment and happiness…or do we aim high, shooting for the stars, as Rusch advises? Something tells me the answer lies in our own personal natures, for that is where ambition begins. Do we tend toward fear and self-doubt or faith and self-confidence?

Originally posted 2012-01-16 17:06:11.

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16 thoughts on “Aim High or Aim Low?

  1. Great question–aim hig or aim low? It may depend on the writer, but it may also depend on the particular time in that writer’s life as well. I prefer to aim high, even if it means failure, because I want to push myself. Even though failure hurts, it’s in the picking ourselves up and getting on with it that we learn, in my opinion. I’d rather aim high and just barely miss the mark then aim low and hit it but never realize a greater potential. I think we limit ourselves much more than anyone else limits us.

    • Very true, Rebecca. As our situation in life changes, our aim can be adjusted. I try to aim high, as well, until the gun gets too heavy.

  2. I’m more of a ‘load the cannon with buckshot and aim high, low, and wide’ kind of a person. Cover all the bases, you know.

    Also, I’ve found that often in aiming one, way a ricochet will sometimes hit a mark you weren’t aiming for, but it turns out to be exactly the right mark for you.

    I think the important thing is that you keep showing up at the shooting range.

    • You’re too funny, Liz! Showing up is half the battle, as long as your gun is loaded. And yours is loaded with talent!

  3. “I think the important thing is that you keep showing up at the shooting range” is going to be my new philosophy. At this point, I can’t even think about if my book is going to be a best seller or a bottom dweller–I just have to write the dang thing. Once I do that, proving to myself that, yes, it actually IS possible for me to write one, then I think I’ll be concerned about the other stuff. Maybe I’m being short-sighted, but I find that in all areas of my life I have to focus on what’s in front of me or I become too panicked to do anything at all.

  4. I am not, as I have been quoted to say, interested in mediocrity. I am not, I am not, I am not. I am not interested in mediocrity of desire, mediocrity of thought, and mediocrity of action.

    Even so, I’ve been kicking around a blog post idea about the long-term success of those who have a steady diet of ordinary, or average days.

    For example, what would an average day of writing look like for a single year? Thirty minutes looks like nothing to the Aim High crowd, but thirty solid minutes a day for 365 days? Not quite the panache some of us are used to, but worth a celebration.

    • In my opinion, Melanee, thirty minutes a day every day is by no means mediocre. That’s what Rusch is talking about–writing a lot and not worrying so much about the marketing, etc. Her point is that, in order to aim high and reach your goals, you need to work hard and consistently for a long time. In terms of novel writing, when I’m in my groove I can produce about two pages double-spaced (or 500 words) in half an hour. That means over a week (meaning six days since I don’t write on Sundays) I’ll have produced 3,000 words. At that rate, that’s 156,000 words in a year–the equivalent of two novels.

      It’s the whole tortoise and the hare idea. If we keep our heads down and keep typing away at a good, steady rate, we’ll reach the finish line (our goals).

  5. Personally I feel like a success as a writer and a failure as a marketer. We all define success differently, so perhaps her advice to aim low was to redefine your definition of success. On days when my royalties don’t make me think I am a success, I think of all the good my writing has done.
    Aiming high is good as Rebecca says so that we push ourselves, but if we define our success by our sales or whether or not our book is in fifty languages or has made a best seller list or has been made into a movie, most of us are going to feel like failures. We should not only think of ourselves as successful parents if our child grows up to be president. If our child grows up to be a good person, we are a successful parent. I say aim high but define success in a variety of ways so that you can feel you have succeeded even if you haven’t met all the qualifications of wordly success. One of my books has not sold well, but it got the attention of a widowed college professor who says he fell in love with my writing and then he fell in love with me. We have been married for eleven years now.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Susan. I wrote a pretty good first book but I feel like I failed it when it came to marketing. Right now, I’m focusing on the writing to get this draft done. But, as my next posting will point out, a platform is essential. However, we shouldn’t feel like failures if we’re still working away at building that platform. These things take time. I think you’ve got a solid view of what success means.

  6. With apologies to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I don’t think I’ve ever met an author who was aiming low. We all enter this business with stars in our eyes, thinking the world will love our manuscript and it is destined for greatness. The world teaches us otherwise fairly quickly, and then many of us learn to lower our expectations. (But most of us bounce around between the two extremes.) Wherever you are in you’re bouncing, the thing I think is important is to love writing. If you love writing, you will keep on doing it, no matter the results. And really, that’s more important than money or fame anyway.

    • True. As I said, it comes down to what your goals are. Some are in it for money and fame. But if you love what you’re doing, those things don’t matter. Good advice, Janette.

  7. Thanks for this post. I laid low for the past year after the birth of my fourth baby and this post is what I needed – a kick to aim high! I agree with Janette, we write because we love it.
    I also think there are times and seasons when we can focus more on writing. I love to write but will not do so at the expense of my family’s happiness. I have two hours a day when the baby naps and big brothers are all in school. For those two hours I’m a writer and I aim high, the rest of the time I’m a mom.

  8. Don’t you remember that we have eternity ahead of us? Aim high. So many authors gain fame after their demise that if you’re not where you want to be in the flesh, then it is likely that your progeny will bronze a book in gratitude for you and your big, fat post-mortem royalty checks after you go to the big keyboard in the sky. ;o)

    • You’re right. We do have eternity. But I can’t help but wonder…is there really a place for fiction in heaven?

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