What happens when you want to be more than one thing? What happens when your mind wanders and your heart leads you down two separate paths?
That’s what I’ve been dealing with for the last few months and it took me a while to figure things out. Now, before I go any further, no, this is not about my marriage, my family or even my day job. This is about writing.
I grew up writing non-fiction. I love writing memoir and self-improvement books, books that involve history and adventure. It calls to my better angels and draws upon my experiences as a journalist. But last year, I published my first book for middle readers and, apart from being exciting, it confused me a little.
Not only did I not go through a publisher (I went the Kindle Direct route) which allowed me to own the process and the proceeds, I wrote fiction from my son’s perspective. It was exciting. And since then, I’ve completed four more manuscripts for similar books, which is great… if it weren’t for the nagging feeling that I have more things to write for adults and every minute spent typing for kiddos is a precious moment lost toward that big, long list of other projects I want to do.
The grass is always greener, right?
I know this sounds like a lucky guy who gets to write for part of his living complaining about having too many ideas and creative energy for his capacity, but it’s not. Instead, I think what’s bothered me about the seeming conflict between my writing interests is that it goes against so much of what I see, hear and read about 21st century branding and success.
Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about being singular and identifiable. I read blogs and listen to talks about focus and purpose. I feel inundated with the idea of mastery. And it all feels a little misleading. It makes it seem like success can only be found by focusing on one thing, which is true to a point. But as a person in the audience, a person who sometimes struggles with direction and a sense of purpose, all the talk about singularity creates inner turmoil.
Or, at least, it did.
I came the realization a few weeks ago, that I was parsing the needlessly parsed. True, I don’t have a ton of time to pursue every single interest (not with work, family, a baby on the way, a dog in need of walking and all the youth sports), but that doesn’t mean I have to be monolithic. Writing can be my one thing, but it doesn’t have to be only one thing.
As a writer, I’m supposed to be worried about my craft, but in reality, I spend more time worrying about my audience. Publishers want reach from their writers before they buy books – which is very chicken and egg to me. And if you go the self-publishing route, you need an engaged audience to try and get yourself off the ground. Writing about more than one kind of thing for more than one kind of audience means worrying about that times at least two. This was what was behind my crisis in confidence these last few months. I thought, in order to be successful, I needed to pick a path and stay on it. But how could I do that with so many projects outlined and ideas bursting out from every corner? How could I kill half the things I wanted to do for the sake brand clarity?
In the end, I decided not to. I decided to focus on my craft and be honest about where I was going and what I wanted and hope that there is an audience out there that might be as interested in reading about Creative Productivity as they are about the adventures of Harrison James, Monster Hunter; who might be as interested in reading about History as they are about Thaddeus & Chuck, junior high detectives; who might want to read about my tiny adventures as they are about my Adventure Books series.
I had an identity crisis there for a while, but in the end, I’ve realized it wasn’t my identity that was fuzzy, it was yours and that the only thing I could do is pursue work that feels honest and true to me, stories that I want to tell and do my best to bring you along for the ride, which is focused enough for me.