Your Book is Not Your Legacy

When the aspiring authors I work with are faced with a bout of writer’s block, I find it’s often the result of an intense stress they’re experiencing related to writing.

Where does this stress come from?

NOT from contractually obligated deadlines – most of the writers I work with are first-time authors who have not yet signed a contract.

NOT from pressure placed of them by their literary agents – most don’t have an agent yet.

NOT from a large and hungry fan base crying out for a new book – they haven’t yet built that fan base.

Alas, the majority of the time the stress is self-inflicted.

These aspiring authors stress themselves out by placing unrealistic expectations on the anticipated outcomes of publishing a book.

As I have written about before, aspiring authors tend to build-up their books in their heads to a point where their manuscripts take on a level of importance completely disproportionate to the reality of the situation.

Too many first-time authors believe publishing a novel will transform their lives financially, prove their brilliance intellectually, and establish a legacy that will live on long after they are gone.

Wow!

That’s a heck of lot of pressure to place on one manuscript. No wonder they become blocked.

I was thinking about this issue while attending a memorial service for my friend Catherine Brunelle, who passed away three weeks ago.

While attending the service, surrounded by Catherine’s family and friends, I was struck by where my thoughts of Catherine went. She was my podcast partner, a novelist, and a prolific blogger, but I didn’t find myself thinking about her art while attending the memorial.

Instead, I thought about the time I’d spent with Catherine. I thought about how much fun she was to be around. I thought about how she made me laugh, and how she made me feel good about myself. I thought about the three huge trays of absolutely delicious food she cooked and brought to my family after my daughter was born. I thought about walks we went on and events we attended.

Catherine was a wonderful author, but her legacy isn’t her writing. Her legacy is the way she treated people. Catherine will be remembered for the optimism with which she faced her life, the compassion she showed to those around her, and the joy she brought to the lives of people lucky enough to meet her.

Yes, Catherine was an author.

Yes, she wrote an incredible novel.

But that was just one small part of who she was.

I suspect your book is only going to be one small part of who you are as well.

So the next time you find yourself blocked up or frustrated that you’re not making the progress you feel you should be making, stop and ask yourself, “Am I placing unreasonable expectations on the outcomes of this book?”

Your legacy will not be the books you write. It will be how you lived your life and how you treated the people around you.

Let your writing be fun.

Let it be joyful.

If you insist on putting pressure on yourself, focus that pressure on being a good person.

When you are gone, that’s what people will remember.

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2 Comments

  • Janine

    Reply Reply September 25, 2017

    Hey Kevin,

    Great Advice. I have a question for you. What do you do when you have more than 1 book/novel idea (let’s say quite a few), where do you start? Because I have about 4 ideas with more creeping in!!! How do you know where to start?

    • kevintjohns@gmail.com

      Reply Reply September 27, 2017

      Hi Janine, I recommend you try to determine which of your ideas best support your message. What is it you want to say about the world? Writing a novel isn’t just about telling a story, it’s also about having something to say about the world. So step 1 is figure out what it is you have to say, and then step 2 is determine which of your story ideas best supports that message!

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