The city of Tokyo is in a precarious spot, balanced at the juncture of four tectonic plates. Even as Tokyo’s inhabitants conduct daily life and continue to build upward, somewhere in the back of their minds they are anticipating a sudden shift in any one of these plates that will remove the ground beneath them.
Today’s publishing world is similarly positioned. Its author inhabitants are trying to build careers on top of shifting plates outside our control—we might name them Publisher, Agent, Reader, and The Economy. You might think you have everything aligned—your perfect advocate will find your work its permanent “publishing home”—but this is modern capitalism, not family life. When a market shift occurs, everyone must scramble to protect their bottom line.
It is difficult to build something lasting on uncertain ground—but it’s not impossible. Since Japan is the world leader in anti-seismic building technologies, let’s look at what the adaptations they’ve made can teach us about building a sustainable publishing career.
A foundation concretized with writing craft and business savvy is a great start, but might not be enough to keep your career from crumbling in the case of a quake. Because here is what Tokyo’s architects have learned about concrete foundations: when poured over a shifting world, they are prone to cracks.
In response, these architects are developing new strategies. Hydraulic dampers allow the façade to absorb seismic energy. Base isolation technology lets the building separate from its concrete foundation so it can float, then settle. Looser bolting systems allow movement. New super-elastic alloys can pull a twisted building back into position.
In other words, from the outset, they are building flexibility into their design.
Build flexibility into your career design
How can you build the type of flexibility into your writing career so that it might withstand sudden market shifts? Here are five ideas that can be employed at any stage—but the earlier you can embed them into your growing career, the less damage a quake will inflict.
- Get real. Accept that you alone are the architect for your career. Editors and agents can be valuable advisors, but they have enough buildings going up that if one topples, they have others to work on.
- Say aloud: “I am not my fear.” Career quakes might not threaten life and limb, but the fear of losing respect, earning potential, and self-concept is real. Use a looser bolting system to that fear. Feel it and let it go. When you settle back onto your base, you’ll realize that you are the same career architect you were right before the quake was felt. You might have a bigger challenge before you, but since the days you first began digging your foundation, you have grown in the skills needed to tackle it.
- Ask: How can this challenge help me? Quakes shake things up. How could that inspire you to find new building materials? Could you write in different genres under different names? Try different forms, such as screenplays or essays? A setback need not diminish you. It could inspire you to grow.
- Seek the support of other writers. When your high-rise optimism cracks, writing friends can pour on the flexible perspective that allows your twisted sense of self to regain its shape. Through valuable give-and-take, friends can tether each other’s buildings to safer emotional ground.
- Love the writing. Career stagnation need not equal writing stagnation. If you love to write, do that. Stockpiling projects in itself creates the blocks that build a career. On the days when writing is all you have, the deep satisfaction it brings needs to be enough.
Today’s authors build careers on shifting soil, that is a fact. But adaptations created by Japanese visionaries suggest that sudden shifts needn’t tear down a career. We can plan for ways to absorb the shock when the inevitable happens. Then, while others turn a blind eye to the rumbling from below, you’ll be able to use your greater emotional flexibility to keep reaching for the sky.
To buoy each other up, let’s share: What moments of deep satisfaction sustain you as a writer? What methods have you used to shore yourself up when a setback rattles you?
Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, both from Writer’s Digest Books.