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The Work Is the Thing

Don’t make stuff because you want to make money—it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous—because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people—and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.

Maybe they will notice how hard you worked, and maybe they won’t—and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But, ultimately, that doesn’t change anything—because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for, but to the gift itself.

– John Green

The work is the thing. If you do not enjoy it, if you would not enjoy it if it never became something “more,” then you might be happier if you didn’t do the work at all.

You might be happier not writing. You might be happier doing something else, giving up, and letting go. You might not really want to write. Or rather, you might want to write, but you haven’t the need.

Writing is a lonely, ego-busting venture. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Becoming successful at writing will only mean you spend more time alone. More time doubting yourself. Creating more opportunity for others to discover you’re a sham.

Writing is loneliness manifested. It is sitting in a room, with no one to speak to, locked away from your loved ones and beloved things. It’s not even petting the cat because he wants out of that room, too. It’s your husband asking, “Can you sit with me tonight?” It’s your child afraid to knock on the door. It’s your neighbor asking, “Are you okay? We haven’t seen you in a while.”

It’s a horrible thing to do every day if you don’t need to do it.

And yet, it’s everything when it works.

  • It’s finding the perfect words to end a scene.
  • It’s the perfect hook that gets people to read your article.
  • It’s the unexpected plot turn.
  • It’s sharing new information, new science, new philosophy.
  • It’s opening someone’s eyes.
  • It’s sharing someone’s heart.
  • It’s making a difference in someone’s life.

It’s being alone in that room and cheering for yourself because you know beyond a doubt that you got it right. And even tomorrow when you re-read those words – when you think, “Did I really write that? That’s good!” – deep inside you’ll acknowledge the words came from you and nobody else. Because they couldn’t come from anyone else. They are you, right there on the page.

Don’t seek to write because you want to publish a book, because you want to sell a book, or because you are trying to sell yourself. Don’t write because of what you think it will turn you into. Write because it’s who you are now. Write because it makes you better at being you.

To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.”

– Hunter S. Thompson

“Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company. View of row of operators. View of chairs showing type of chairs used by… – NARA – 522875” by Unknown or not providedU.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Becca Borawski Jenkins
Writer & Editor
Becca Borawski Jenkins is an editor, writer, and writing coach. She is currently the Managing Editor at both The Whole Life Challenge and StrongFirst. She specializes in building authority and readership through high-quality content. She also coaches private clients, does developmental editing for non-fiction book projects, and ghostwrites for a variety of story-telling projects she can’t tell you anything about (but that are super, super fun).
Published inInspiration & Quotations
  • Susan D M Ayrshire

    It’s a pity I can’t write. It sounds like heaven to me – locked away in a room, alone…. 🙂

    It’s such a shame that most things you enjoy are ruined when you try to make money out of them. My husband and I are software engineers. Working for other people was living hell – you were never allowed to do work that you were proud of. About 14 years ago we both packed in well paid jobs and took a chance at going it alone. No plan in place and the most unlikely entrepreneurs that you could imagine! To be honest I still don’t consider ourselves to be anything grown up such as business owners!! We broke every rule in the book – partly because we were (and still are if I’m honest) clueless and partly because we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it any other way. We pretty much wrote our software as you say people should write. We wrote it for us – to our standards. We didn’t think about marketing, our end users. Would you believe that we only very recently discovered what people were actually using it for?!?!?! Every source insisted we were doing it wrong. But we got lucky – it worked and has kept us afloat for all this time. We didn’t make as much money as more savvy developers. BUT 10 years on and our software is still in great shape and flexible and well designed enough to still have a good few years of life in it. We designed it well and didn’t respond to customer whims. Some of the more savvy developers have disappeared because the ‘right’ way to do things a few years back was to get quick hacks out the door and put most of your effort into marketing.

    I’ve always thought we were stupid and lucky. I’d like to think you’re right though. 🙂

    I’m really enjoying following your posts.

    • Thanks for the comment, Susan, and good for you and your husband! I’ve seen so many passionate people over the years who have struck out on their own, in pursuit of their dream work, only to have it turn into an entrepreneurial mess because it turns out it’s a business after all. It’s a hard thing. I read “The E-Myth” many years ago and tell everyone I know striking out on their own to read it to. I love that you and your husband stuck to putting out a good quality product and didn’t let chasing the money change things for you. I, too, would rather make less and feel good about what I’m doing every day! Thanks for following my posts, and thanks again for commenting!

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