Just a couple of days ago I sat down to make a business plan while waiting in a Chinese restaurant for my takeout order to cook (tip: if you can’t figure out a surefire plan for your business in ten minutes, then why bother? 😉 The only thing I had time to do was make a list of 11 money-making ideas related to writing, and then rate each idea on a interest/excitement level of 1-10 (ten being screaming-at-the-ceiling-excited [so what, I scared a few patrons]). I put down the numbers as fast as I could, with a minimum of thought. The idea here was to get an almost subconscious feeling for how much I wanted to pursue these options. That idea may sound touchy-feely, but I believe that what draws you in is also where you have your greatest potential.
As I wrote down the numbers, I was surprised — there were strong feelings, and no hesitancy, in my actions. When I looked back at the list, the path — usually so muddied by my indifference as to HOW I earned a living writing — was suddenly crystal clear.
- Novels: Self Published — 3
- Novels: Traditional — 10
- Screenplays — 9
- Self Improvement Books — 7
- Articles — 1
- Teaching — 2
- Teleplays — 10
- Greeting Cards — 1
- Editing — -1
- Web Site Design — 3-5
The truth, however scary, was right before my eyes. I might enjoy writing articles (like this one!) and teaching for free, but my soul blanched at the idea of doing that as a job. The problem with this ‘revelation’ was that I already was making plans to push it this fall and write for Huffingtonpost, set up paid classes, etc. etc. But my list said (since I already have a ‘day job’ that pays the bills) that I should only really be working on four things — novels, screenplays, teleplays, and self improvement books.
Woah. That IS what I want to be doing, but is it also what I SHOULD be doing? To answer that, I need to go back and introduce you to a book that absolutely changed my life.
What are your strengths?
The online Strengthfinder test (which you get a code to take when you buy a NEW copy of the book ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths‘), has 34 themes or ‘talents’ that a person can have, like Includer, Intellection, Input, Positivity, or Responsibility (those are actually my themes). You get your top five revealed and for me, it was a life changer.
Like never before, I was able to see my positive qualities laid out before me. These talents are so integral to who I am and come so easily to me that I took them for granted. They are the traits that, when praised, make us say with a dismissive wave of the hand, ‘Oh, everyone thinks like that’, but other people are drawn in and in awe of your abilities. And we ALL have talents, but often we can’t see them without help — we’re just too close to their source.
Talents like ‘Intellection’ (the ability to think deeply about things), when combined with knowledge (like how to build a story) and skills (hours upon hours spent writing) equals a strength (fiction writer). It’s soul-level compulsion meeting a thing you love to learn about and do on a regular basis.
How does this fit into your life (and mine)? Well, I highly (HIGHLY) recommend buying the book, just in case it gives you a fraction of the joy it’s given me. But for now, look at the list of talents and see if any jump out at you —
Now, any talent can help any job — ‘Self-Assurance’, say, is helpful everywhere. But, when combined with your personality and passion — your talents can push you in certain directions. If you look back at my list of money-making writing ideas, you’ll notice that teaching rated quite low. I’ve done it from time to time, and even enjoyed parts of the experience, but it’s also nerve-wracking, exhausting, draining. I love the results — happy students and a chance to think more about a topic (that ‘Intellection’ again) — but the idea of doing it all the time for money sounds tiring. Also, none of my talents involve people except ‘Includer’, so a ‘Maximizer’ or ‘Developer’ might be more at home in a teaching setting.
On the other hand, take novel writing. I’m as happy as a pig in slop. Oh, the work is still hard, but I want to be doing it all the time. And it makes sense when you look at my talents:
- Includer — I love to look at the misunderstood, broken, forgotten characters and try to understand them and pull them into the story
- Intellection — Thinkin’ about stuff 24/7/365
- Input — Learning about Victorian England, old-fashion carriages, the experiences of orphans, the periodic table –everything’s interesting!
- Positivity — Novels take a long time, but faith that I can finish and finish well keeps me going
- Responsibility — Doesn’t tie in exactly, but it helps me manage myself and get the work done (sometimes)
Now, doing what you love and enjoy can sound like an overly simple answer. But if you think about it, even now, at whatever job you’re doing, there are facets of your job that draw you in and others that repel you. Try doing what you love a little more and the things you dislike less. Seriously. Stop doing the junk you hate and see if anyone notices. I did this at my ‘day job’ and now our department has risen to be ranked in the top ten out of over 1,000 stores. I didn’t do it alone, but I’m sure spending time on the things I was more passionate about helped.
The risk in not following your talents and passions is that you can work very hard and not really get ahead or have anything to show for it. You can give your life away to the ‘supposed-to’s and only end up with the ‘oughta-haves’.
But if instead you make your own list, and write down — real quick — your own 1-10s, you may discover what you should be doing with your life. And if you find a way to use your universe-given talents in service of your passion? Well then, we should all get out of your way, because you might just be about to take off like a rocket.
And now, I’ve got to get back to that screenplay. And that novel. 😉