I love reading about tricks that business moguls use to hone their skills and build their empires. I find, over and over, that a surprising number of the ideas in business books can be easily applied to a writing career. Even though I have no desire to ever be a CEO or mastermind a hostile takeover, I do take my chosen profession seriously and so I occasionally read a bit on the topic of career building.
A few days ago I came across an article on Inc.com about Warren Buffett’s 25/5 Rule and it was one of those moments where I thought “yep, this totally applies to me.”
Here’s the gist: you write a list of the 25 things that you most want to achieve in life. Then you circle the top 5 and swear off the other 20. Just cut them loose. The idea being that those are the things you are most likely to get distracted by. You care about them, but they’re not you’r top priorities, and if you ever want to achieve those top five, you have to make room for them by not letting the other twenty get in the way.
I’m not going to give you my whole list, but I will share my top five:
- raise my kids well
- write a novel every three years (going for an average here)
- exercise six days a week
- travel to as many places in the world as I possibly can
- read all the books
A few things that didn’t make the top five:
- have a garden
- run a marathon
- take a dance classes
- painting/drawing/art of some kind
- play guitar
My heart aches a little, looking at that list. Because I really always dreamed of running a marathon. And I optimistically start a garden in a little patch of backyard at least once a year (and then watch it die when I don’t have time to tend it).
In short, I struggle with the reality that my time is limited. It is one of life’s greatest tragedies that I will never be able to do all the things I would like to do with this one short life.
So of course, my mind starts negotiating with itself. I could exercise six days a week by training for a marathon, right? I totally could, but then I remember when I ran my half marathon, how I would spend hours out on training runs. I don’t really have time for that (and more) right now, when I could walk the dogs for 20 minutes and call it good for the day (in terms of exercise).
Then there’s my blog (my two blogs, actually – this one and my weekly LitWeekLA newsletter). I count these as part of my writing career as well, but should I? They don’t directly contribute to completed novels. There are certainly writers out there who have never written a blog post in their life. And if I’m honest, I often hear a little voice in the back of my head (like right now as I write these words) that nags: you could be working on your novel.
But I enjoy blogging. And it’s a way to connect with other readers and writers out there, so it does feel justifiable as part of a writing career, at least as I have embraced my own thus far.
Changes to the Top 5
Then I start thinking about what factors could influence my list. One is parenthood. At some point the actual work of raising my kids will consume far fewer hours in my day. Eventually they will go off to college, and though I will always be their mom, “raising” them won’t really be on my to do list anymore.
Then there are financial considerations, of course. I certainly didn’t get into literary fiction for the paycheck (duh), but I wonder sometimes if I prioritized money, would I make more?
For instance, teaching didn’t make the top five, but it is something I’ve always been interested in doing. And it does pay. Not a lot, but still – money. The trade off is writing time. Is the money I make teaching worth publishing a book every 4 or 5 years instead of 3? I guess it depends on how much money I make with my fiction in the coming years, which is totally unknowable, which has my head running in circles.
No wonder Warren Buffett never wrote fiction.
Anyway… would love to hear what other people have on their lists. How do you decide what makes the top five and what gets bumped? How much is about passion? How much is dependent on practical concerns?