“Write what you are passionate about.”
I’d wager that almost every writer on the planet has heard this gem. It (like it’s more mundane counterpart: “Do what you love.”) is frequently followed by “The money/success will follow.”
Ask any writer who’s been a writer for more than a year and they will tell you there is much more to being a successful writer than just passion. What they won’t tell you is that what that “more” is, and even your passions are subject to change. In fact, they may change so fast and so frequently that you have trouble identifying what you are passionate about let alone how to be a successful writer.
Perseverance is more important than Passion
When it comes right down to it, successful writers are the ones who keep writing. Read that again. Think about it. Successful writers keep writing.
If you think that I, or any writer, has been passionate about everything they have ever written at the time they were writing it, you’re fooling yourself. Many of the things I have written, I really wasn’t all that interested in, let alone passionate about.
So why write them?
The easy answer is: someone paid me to. Sure, the topic, project or client had to interest me in the first place or I wouldn’t have taken it on. But I could have written about something else. Something I was passionate about. I didn’t. The truth is I will take an interesting paying assignment over writing for free about my passions any day of the week, even now. Why? Because getting paid keeps me writing. It’s why I show up every day and put my fingers to keyboard or pen to paper.
The better answer is: everything I write teaches me something, hones my skills and proves I am still here, writing. Good writing isn’t written in a vacuum. Projects I am not passionate about still get me and my name out there is the world which increases the likelihood that someone will stumble across me, discover my passions and pay me, either by hiring me to work on a project or buying my books/content, to write about them. The more I write, the better I write and the more people have the opportunity to read what I write. That, in a nutshell, is why I persevere and why “just showing up, day in and day out” is more important than loving what you write or what you are writing about.
Passion is a tool
So why do so many people advise others to be passionate about what they write? Do they want them to fail, leaving more assignments up for grabs? Hardly. I’ve never met a writer who wanted another writer to fail. Sure, writers can be (and often are) professionally jealous and some may not be as encouraging or supportive of their fellow writers as the could be. When competing against other writers for contracts or jobs we are as capable as anyone else at sabotaging other candidates (unfortunately, that’s also a great way to sabotage ourselves), but generally speaking we don’t want other writers to fail as much as we don’t want to compete with them for scarce resources and readers. If they can succeed elsewhere, great, just not in the same space that we want. Encouraging others to pursue their passions seems like a great way to move them out of our space but still encouraging them to follow their dreams or becoming a successful writer.
Passion is also important to perseverance. Although you don’t have to be passionate about everything you write if you hate all of it pretty soon you will hate to write and eventually stop writing altogether. For me, if I’m not getting paid to write something, I better be passionate about what I’m writing about or chances are, I’m not going to write it.
The best reason for writing with passion, however, is that those are the subjects you know the most about and have the strongest opinions on. Expertise and attitude give your writing an edge. If you’ve ever read something flat and boring, you know why writing with passion is important. Passion attracts readers like nothing else can and will whether you’re writing a novel, an article, a press release, instructions, a letter or anything else. Passion draws people in because you are deeply and enthusiastically engaged in what you are writing about and sharing that with the world. Can you think of a better tool for becoming a success than having others interested and excited about what you have to say?
Perseverance and passion are two of the cornerstones of any successful writing career. They aren’t the entire foundation.
To succeed as a writer you also have to have solid business skills from managing finances to knowing how to hire employees to marketing, sales and public relations. Most writers I know are jacks (or jills) of all trade in that they know a little bit about a lot of things. For many, myself included, that is their greatest advantage. It can also be their greatest challenge because it makes it so hard to focus and establish expertise when you can and do move easily between topics, projects and industries. Versatility is great but, believe it or not, it can get boring if you don’t have the passion and perseverance to support it.
Yes, successful writers write with passion. More importantly, they have the business skills they need to succeed without many of the things others need (like a regular paycheck, insurance, a boss or a defined career path). Most importantly, successful writers write. Every day. They may not put everything they write out there for the world to see but they produce and publish enough to demonstrate that they are writing today and will still be writing tomorrow. When it comes right down to it, writing is the one thing every writer is passionate about.