I’m well aware of the ridiculous odds against creative writers making a living from their art. Therefore, I judge prospective clients on their ability to contend with relentless pressure. As an agent, I hope I can help ease the stress, but I can’t compensate for an aspiring author who isn’t driven beyond logic to succeed. By driven, I mean insatiably curious about how to be a better writer, how to connect with readers, how to market written work. I mean highly motivated to learn, create, and compete. I don’t mean inspired by a sense of superiority.
It’s easy to confuse desire with drive, because they can evoke the same emotions in people. The difference is that desire can flourish as pure fantasy, while drive pursues measurable progress.
Aspiring book authors might be surprised to learn how obvious their lack of drive is to those working in the publishing industry. We all tend to see these symptoms as evidence that drive—drive that leads to action—is missing:
- Expectations of effortless entitlement or instant gratification
- Perpetual complaining
- Dishonesty, and its offspring:
- Blaming others for one’s own failure to make progress (not to be confused with taking a stand against unfair, systemic discrimination)
- Lack of technical skills required for editing, messaging, and online networking
Most of us give novice writers the benefit of the doubt, once, because inexperience can look a lot like the absence of drive instead of a simple lack of knowledge. However, when it’s necessary to point out a writer’s professional shortcomings, then we expect a person who is sufficiently driven to follow up by remedying the problems, by taking action.
The funny thing (which creates an opportunity for aspiring authors who are driven) is that almost no writers make effective use of the advice they’re given. In other words, by far the majority of aspiring authors drop out of the running when faced with work they don’t want to do. That’s good news for writers who are on a mission, because it eliminates most of their competition. It’s also bad news for writers who are on a mission, because rivals who put in even more effort and time can gain an advantage over them.
Maybe you have a better word for it. What does an absence of drive look like to you?