What if you treated your writing like a business?

I seem to have a business mindset at the forefront right now (see my post from last week about criteria for bestowing grants), which isn’t surprising when you consider that we’re going through a marketing phase in my screenwriting master class at ScreenwritingU right now.

Sonya commented on last week’s post saying, “[this] is very close to the same list of things investors want to see when considering an investment in a business; a book and author are no different for a grantor (or publisher, for that matter)! They are an investment, and a risk, to manage.”

It fits right in with this idea that’s been swirling around in my brain: What if we treated writing like a business?

When I was in my early 20’s applying for jobs, my father taught me to look at myself as a asset that I was bringing to the job interview. As if I was the CEO of my own small company, and it was up to me to make smart business decisions based on my skills, talents, and abilities, and to communicate about them objectively to my prospective employers. He also taught me to consider whether or not that employer was a good fit for me, not just whether or not I was a good fit for them. 

In other words, it had to be a good match for everyone.

It occurred to me that it might be interesting to think about our writing endeavors as their own kind of enterprise. After all, at the end of the day, many of really are writer-entrepreneurs, even those of us that get traditional publishing deals. 

I’m sure there are artists out there right now rolling their eyes, talking about art for art’s sake and all that.

But I don’t really mean this in a grasping, heavy-handed business-y / gross marketing kind of way. (Though I do believe in grounded, sustainable marketing as a valuable thing — I do not subscribe to the belief that all marketing is evil and wrong.)

What I mean is this:

  • What if we look at every writing project we take on as an investment, with pros and cons and viability to consider ALONG WITH our level of passion and artistic interest and commitment in it?
  • What if we make real, practical choices about developing our skills in order to do our best work, by evaluating our writing skills not with a fixed mindset, but with a growth mindset, and pursue training and mentoring accordingly?
  • What if we treat our writing like a professional commitment and show up every day to do the work?
  • What if we set specific goals for our writing projects and careers and check in on them monthly, quarterly, and yearly to see how we were doing?
  • What if we think about a project from start to finish, including how we will take it to market?
  • What if we wrote because we said we would, and didn’t wait until we “felt like it”?

Again, I don’t say any of this to suggest “selling out” or becoming overly commercial.

To me it’s more about the mindset of being a professional and taking our work seriously.


And, as I write this, I also know that I love exploring the side of writing that puts the focus on the joy and passion of it.

I believe there is a lovely hybrid of business and pleasure that feels like a sweet spot for each one of us. That’s what I mean when I use the word “calling“. More about that to come in a future post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on the blog.



When performance anxiety rears its ugly head

I’ve had three experiences lately that have triggered performance anxiety for me. Two assignments, where I’ve delivered a project to someone else, and one where I’m sharing my work with other people in a public forum. Now you might think I’d be over that by now, given that I’m writing publicly every week, teaching classes, and coaching on the spot all the time. I’m in a constant practice of “performing” or being in the spotlight.

But the truth is, that whenever we venture into new territory, our fears and doubts about our ability to “deliver” can come cropping up fairly quickly. I’ve observed that performance anxiety tends to come up as a result of three things:

  1. We’re trying something new.
  2. We’re holding high expectations about the quality of the work we “should” be delivering.
  3. Other people are holding high expectations about our work as well (or we believe they are).

Performance anxiety tends to trigger an inner conversation (if we’re even conscious of it, which we might not be) that goes something like this: “What if I let them down? What if it’s not as good as they expect? What if I can’t live up to their expectations? What if I can’t live up to my own expectations?”

And that conversation in turn tends to leads to paralysis, perfectionism, and procrastination — the three Ps of writing doom.

What’s your mindset?

As I was noticing this behavior in myself as well as the inner conversation about it, I was reminded of Carol Dweck’s book on Mindset* that I’ve been reading lately.

In it, she describes interesting scenarios under which people demonstrate either a fixed or growth mindset. The sports examples particularly resonated for me.

In one example, she talked about how John McEnroe, a tennis player famous for his on-court temper tantrums, illustrated the fixed mindset perfectly. The minute anything would go wrong with his game, he was full of excuses about distractions, noises, other people, etc. It was never his fault and never his responsibility. This is very common among people who perceive themselves as talented or have the belief that other people see them as talented.

In other words, because we are so talented, we believe we shouldn’t have to work at it.

On the other hand, she also described Michael Jordon, and how after his basketball comeback, when they lost the big game of the season, he went back to the gym that night and worked on his game. He knew that he’d been resting on his laurels, thinking he could just drop back into the game after time away, and he was determined to change that — through hard work and dedication to raising the bar on his skill set.

And that’s the difference, that right there. The belief that talent and ability are fixed versus the belief that a skill set can be mastered and improved.

Strategies for dealing with performance anxiety

I’ve worked with two teachers lately who have really brought this home for me: Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU.com and Corey Mandell, both screenwriting instructors. Hal reminds me to have a “beginner’s mind” and to learn to be comfortable with the discomfort of growth. Corey reminds me to focus on what I’m learning, not on where I’m failing.

Ideas for dealing with performance anxiety:

  • Make growth mindset choices rather than fixed mindset choices. Keep working, learning, and growing. You’ll only get better.
  • As Hal says, be comfortable with the discomfort of growth and be willing to allow yourself to be a beginner.
  • As Corey suggests, keep your focus on what you’re learning, not on how you haven’t yet mastered the new skill you’re attempting to integrate.
  • Shift your self-talk by first recognizing that fear and doubt are coming up and helping yourself through it. “Okay, I’m worried about what other people think. What if I just let that go and focus on doing the best work I’m capable of right now, and allow myself to learn as I go?”
  • Give yourself permission to fully engage in the messy, glorious process of learning and revel in it.
  • Reward yourself for your efforts.
  • Have lots of support from your peers.
  • Be authentic about what you’re experiencing with yourself and with your peers. You’ll all benefit from it.
  • Find ways to create accountability for yourself so that you do the work, even in the face of creative anxiety.
  • Create a little extra time and space around the learning to help ease up on the pressure.

What works for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



p.s. I haven’t forgotten that I promised last week to write more about creative identity — and I will, soon! Stay tuned. :)


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