Keep Your Dream Alive

Some mornings I look in the mirror and even I think I’m nuts.

At one point or another, everyone who knows me well (except my brother) has told me I should give up writing and get a real job that comes with a regular paycheck.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

My particular brand of insanity goes something like this:

Work all year on a book.
Pay for editing and cover art.
Wait for money to come flowing in.
Earn back almost enough to pay for editing and cover art.

The vast majority of writers out there can relate to the sheer joy of the creative process and utter befuddlement when it comes to marketing and sales. Most of us have no idea why some books sell and why some great writers struggle on in anonymity and poverty.


I don’t think you can truly appreciate the frustration until you’ve spent a year working on something that everyone tells you is great, yet still doesn’t sell.

For me marketing seems more like voodoo than science. I must say I’ve done a lot of fun things with book marketing and I’ve made some great friends on Facebook and at conventions. I’ve also been really fortunate to enjoy great feedback from readers. Those kind words above all are what has kept me going this long.

I often get comments from people who think I’ve gotten rich selling books. Some have even accused me of being greedy and only caring about money. That one really makes me laugh. For those financially minded among you, I’ll share some numbers.

I’ve been writing (and marketing) what amounts to a fulltime schedule for almost 12 years. This spring I broke even for the endeavor. Imagine a job you’d work at fulltime for 12 years without getting paid and you’ll have an idea how much I love writing. Another interesting number… This year I have given away 120,000 e-books. If everyone who took a free book this year sent me one dollar, I wouldn’t have to listen to Johnny Cash at 3:00 A.M.!


Needless to say, being an indie writer is hard. So I hope the next time you see a shabby-looking writer burning copies of Twilight in Barnes & Noble, you’ll think twice before turning him in.

It’s not just writers who have it hard in this economy. So many of us are really struggling to make ends meet, I thought I’d share some of the things that help me keep the faith when I’m feeling down.

The first thing that comes to mind every time I’m thinking of giving up is a saying by A.L. Williams, a direct marketer I crossed paths with in the 80’s. He said, “All you can do is all you can do.”

I don’t know why I always hear this saying when I’m down, but the quote has a special brand of circular logic. At first it tells you it is okay to give up if you’ve done all you can do. But then, just when you’ve rationalized selling your copy of Microsoft Word for gas money, you realize there is one more thing you haven’t tried. It works on me almost every time.


When that doesn’t work I pull out my Foreigner 4 CD and listen to the greatest song of all time. Jukebox Hero. How can you not love a song about a kid who finds passion listening at a concert hall door and then learning to play guitar? He makes it big and still loves what he does. And the song rocks!

There is one more song for extreme cases of it’s-time-to-give-up-itis. It’s Never Give An Inch by 38 Special. The song talks about how hard it is to make it when millions of people want the same dream. Sorry, this song isn’t on Youtube. You can find the lyrics here. Or you can play a sample on Amazon here

I wonder if these artists had any idea people would be playing their songs for inspiration thirty years later. I guess that’s what art is all about and why we are willing to struggle so hard to make our own.

What inspires you to keep going when things get tough?


36 Comments on “Keep Your Dream Alive”

  1. Tasha Turner says:

    Great post. I can see how that saying would keep you going. Love both of the songs you mentioned. I recently sat down with my husband and did some math and have a better idea of what it will take for me to break even with the social media coaching… Ouch. Last week I got serious again about working on my short story. I know who my target market is, what my sales goals are, and supposedly what I need to do to hit the goals for the short stories and book over the next year or so.

    Congrats on breaking even. May the coming year see you selling as many books as you give away.

  2. Great post! I get the wanting to burn the Twilight books. Fifty Shades of Bullshit is another I’d like to see in flames. What keeps me going is passion. Writing is a passion and when you’re passionate about something that’s where you feel most alive 🙂

  3. ellie mack says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve heard for most of my life to quit dreaming and pursue a real job. Well I did that, and it left me flat and unfulfilled. Now I’m pursueing my passion, writing. I don’t expect to get Bill Gates rich, I expect to be happy! Happy because I’m dong what I feel I ‘need’ to do. Satisfaction makes hotdogs, and peanut butter sandwiches taste better! I still have a ‘day job’ to pay those blasted bills, after all I can’t use my computer without electricity! Thank you for sharing your frustrations inspirations!

  4. I love that song! In fact I bought Foreigner’s Complete Greatest Hits just for “Jukebox Hero”
    I’m a firm believer in “You can do and be anything you want, you just have to work at it.”
    I wrote a blog post on Success back in November and I think it applies to some of the things all of us go through as we sit here and type away, following our dream.
    Hang in there CJ and Just keep writing!

  5. Ann White says:

    We get what we need when we need it. Today I was feeling bummed – sitting at my keyboard, no inspiration for writing – wondering if it is all worthwhile — all the work, all the time, all the money (going out) — then I saw your post. I guess it is passion. When I am writing and creating, I am hot and full of life force energy. Also – I keep my vision, my goal – of creating a global audience for my work on creating calm within chaos. I keep reminding myself (on days like today) that I do believe in it – and it is important – and it will make a difference to people who are living stressed within the chaos. So I breathe and put on my big girl panties and get on with it. Thanks for sharing — I guess it feels good that we’re not alone — but won’t it feel better when the dollars come in and one doesn’t need to sell stuff to buy gas! Thanks C.J.

  6. Malini Moon says:

    Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
    Albert Einstein

  7. queency says:

    Just got a rejection letter off a request for a partial yesterday. Thanks for your post, CJ. It helps to know that even established authors have the highs and lows of the rest of us. And I would KILL to have given away 120,000 copies of my book for free…it means you have a good audience. You write and people listen.

  8. Marcia says:

    I can’t stop writing, I have too many stories to tell. But the financial payoff, well hopefully over time it will balance with the output of effort. If not, the bigger payoff is doing what I love, meeting so many amazing people and learning new things. That’s worth a lot more than money for me, in the end. For you, I suppose that’s worth a lot, too. I wish for your books to sell fabulously—you and your books deserve that. Sin and Vengeance is still with me long after reading The End–thinking about all those twists and turns that kept me wondering about the ending. 🙂

  9. Kim Mullican says:

    Oh you are so right! I quit the day job back in November and focused on this thing we do out of pure masochism. Then, we run the risk of cranky peeps on the Kindle Forums bitching about Indie authors. There are those out there who are being successful. That keeps the dream alive. There is one self-pubbed who has made a tremendous amount of money and after reading one of her books, I just can’t see why. It was horrible.

    But the lack of incoming funds is stressful at home. I started a small cleaning business just to get SOME money coming in. Cleaning up after others is no fun.

    Keep the faith CJ!

  10. Debbi says:

    Hey CJ,

    The next time anyone says your job is easy money, just tell them about this NY Times ebook bestselling novelist:

    Ha ha ha … yeah, really easy! 🙂

  11. You are so right… tis sometimes hard to keep the ‘ego’ going, doubts set in, ”am I being a complete plonker writing every day… should I be doing something else?”…. I dont know how it happens, but everytime I feel like giving up I get a review from a kind fan that pulls at my heart and makes me realise tis our job to entertain folks, help them escape for a moment to another world, make them smile, make them think… if I can do that am a lucky person, would give my work away with pleasure… but, hey the bank manager doesnt agree with me :-). Keep up the great work CJ, tis what you were made to do… 🙂

  12. […] in your home or, if you can, away. Or check out these fantastic, inspiring posts: C.J. West: Keep Your Dream Alive Tameri Etherton: Rewriting the Ending The Journal Pulp: William Faulkner Answers Student’s […]

  13. […] So … like I was telling CJ West, I can totally understand how difficult it is to be an indie author. […]

  14. CJ–good post. I get your frustration. Maybe I’m crazy too. I’ve not been at this as long as you have, but I’ve got four books out now. I can’t even give them away, it seems. I’ve definitely spent more thank I’ve earned (if I have to pay taxes on my meager sales…).

    Anyway, keep at it. You’ve got some narrative chops.

  15. athenabrady1 says:

    A great post CJ I can relate as writing is my passion but it is always nice to be able to earn your living from it. After all, we have bills to pay, like anyone else. You are getter there don’t give up hope the world needs writers like you.

  16. […] an honest, sad, but determined post, and I love it so much I might have to frame it. Here’s a link if you prefer to go direct. Otherwise, read […]

  17. Reblogged this on and commented:
    This is for writers. CJ West’s motivational posting is on to read once more.

  18. […] an honest, sad, but determined post, and I love it so much I might have to frame it. Here’s a link if you prefer to go direct. Otherwise, read […]

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