How to embrace risk when you’re a writer

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about how to embrace risk…

I work with several hundred writers every year — thousands over my working life — and I can tell you one thing most of them have in common: They are shy.

I figure this is just the way genetics works: Those characteristics that make us interested in writing also cause us to fall on the introverted side of the spectrum. And what goes with shyness? Fear of risk.

As a shy and introverted writer myself (albeit one who has learned, over time, to be brave enough to speak with clients and, pre-Covid, speak at large events), I know I am also risk-averse. Perhaps that’s why the headline of a recent blog post by Michael Hyatt caught my eye. It read: “Learning to Embrace Risk.”

In making the case for risk, Hyatt phrases his argument this way: “The people who find success and continue to advance are those who keep pushing for better. Whether they tackle a project that seems impossible, push to break record sales goals, start a new product line, and so on. Whatever the goal, people with a mindset that embraces risk understand that you can’t allow a fear of failure to hold you back.”

Although Hyatt is now a leadership developer (early in his career he was a literary agent), I’m going to take his four tips for how to raise risk tolerance and put them in the context of writing:

  1. Failure is something to be learned from, not feared. Writers — especially freelancers — benefit from taking plenty of chances. Pitch on an article/job you don’t think you can ever possibly land. Interview the celebrity you’re frightened to call. And if you work in an office, challenge your boss to give you adequate time to write the articles you’re required to produce.
  2. Life is always moving. New publications (and entire businesses) change every day, some collapsing as new ones emerge  — especially during the pandemic.  Yet many of us aspire to avoid change. Recognize that’s impossible. Instead, determine the direction you want to go, and run after it.
  3. Practice by taking small risks. Ask a risky question during your next interview. Include a metaphor or simile in your next piece of business writing. By embracing small risks like these, you’ll be able to shift in your focus. And you’ll also find yourself empowered by small wins along the way.
  4. Surround yourself with people who measure the ‘gain not the gap’. Sure, some people are born with more writing talent than others, but talent is not the key issue when it comes to being a successful writer. Instead, focus on your own improvement. Work to become better each day, week, month. This concept — of what’s known as a growth mindset — has been proven by researcher Carol Dweck to be a key to achieving success. Some people will lift you up as you work to grow, while others will only bring you down. Be sure to associate with people who lift you up.

Risk can be scary. But measured, carefully calibrated risk can also be liberating.

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