Don’t ride . . . DRIVE the train!

trainAbout fifteen years ago, while taking a graduate course in Spirituality and Leadership, I had a professor who presented me with one of the most motivational sayings I’ve ever encountered: “Don’t just ride the train, be the engineer!”

Okay, maybe not the most theological statement I heard in the course of my graduate program, but it lit up my brain in ways I’d rarely experienced since finishing my undergrad degree decades earlier. Knowing myself to be an introvert and nonconfrontational, I’d always preferred to have someone else take the lead in projects at work; the only role in which I felt confident enough to be in charge was as a mother to my children. (Looking back, I can only say that ignorance was truly bliss, but that’s another post or two or a thousand.)

But the moment my professor uttered that directive, I had an epiphany that any writing career I wanted to pursue was going to demand that I drive the train, and not just ride along on whatever might come my way. As a result, I began to view writing as a vehicle I would steer, and, when necessary, refuel with energy and hard work. I also accepted that no one else cared as much as I did whether that train finally arrived; not even the support of spouse, family and friends (as important as that is!) would bring that train into the station if I didn’t commit myself to being the engineer.

I share this story with you because every writer needs to know that writing requires you to make that train your own: if you want to be successfully published, you have to learn the business, and these days, that means EVERY aspect of the business: writing craft, understanding your audience, marketing, platform building, travel requirements, publishing trends. Gone are the days when your publisher says, “Thanks for writing this swell book. We’ll take it from here.” Even your agent – if you’re fortunate enough to land an agent – can’t hold your hand through every stage of book development, because she or he is swamped just trying to navigate a path to publishers through all the layers of the industry – layers which can shoot down a book proposal for reasons of marketing or audience or numbers of your social followers, which may have nothing to do with the actual value of the book you’re creating.

You have to take ownership of your career. You have to drive the train to where you want it to go.

And that may be the biggest plus of being the engineer – you can CHOOSE where you want your career to go. It will take hard work and learning from the experience itself, but if you find you’re being called to write romance instead of devotionals, or humor instead of profiles, or politics instead of fiction, you can steer that train of your writing career onto different tracks, and see where it takes you. Maybe it will only be a short detour and you’ll end up at your original destination. That’s great! Then again, it may be a whole new journey on the writing rails.

Are you ready to drive the train?

3 Replies to “Don’t ride . . . DRIVE the train!”

  1. Interesting article. As an introvert who also prefers to stay in the background, I have had to go into the limelight, so to speak, in my career–sometimes speaking in front of an audience of over 300 people. Terrified seems like such a small word for what I felt in the beginning. Eventually I was able to stop being sick hours before. As an introvert my painting and writing is the perfect place for me to relax and be myself. I have been doing this for about 12 years, but have to do the occasional book signing or book meeting and must pull that extrovert ability out from the past. I’m happy to meet others like myself, so thank you for this great blog.

  2. Outstanding post! I had no idea how much hard work writing takes. To the casual observer, a writer is simply typing away creative ideas at a keyboard, humming while he/she takes sips of lemonade. But platform building is a constancy of writing / social media monitoring, networking, learning technical ins & outs of websites & widgets, and keeping on top of learning the craft so we can grow. I determined a long time ago I wouldn’t let that deter me, but it sure takes a spirit of perseverance. When we get it right, we pass along tips and words of enrichment for authors who follow behind.

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