There's the Hard Way and the Smart Way
One of the reasons I write this blog is that I have always been fascinated by successful people. What makes them tick? Why are they different? What do 5%ers do that separates them from the rest of the pack?
I saw an interesting tweet yesterday on Twitter. “What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great quote, but in my humble opinion, it’s only partially true. Content matters. Merely submitting the same crap over and over and over is not enough to get traditionally published. Perseverance can be admirable…or annoying and grounds for a nomination for a Darwin Award (see picture above).
Writers, especially new writers, LOVE inspirational quotes because, well, they are inspiring. They don’t require any effort. Motivational quotes might be important for maintaining the right attitude to BE successful, but we still have to do the work.
This is the first Warrior Writer blog of the New Year, and I’m sure I’m not alone in vowing to do better at all sorts of things this coming year. That said, why don’t we take time to look at some habits of successful authors? The Serenity Prayer offers great guidance for today’s journey.
For those who might need to be refreshed…
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
1. Accept the Things they Cannot Change
Anyone in the world of publishing will quickly confess that this industry runs at glacial speed. And while there are some new trends that might speed things up a bit, all in all, we as writers can expect a long drawn out process. A year to write a book. Another 6 months, year, two years to find an agent. Another year to get a contract. Another year to year and a half before book is ready for sale. Another year to receive our first check. Start a book today and expect at least three years minimum before that sucker is even in print.
Is that bad? Well, that’s a subject for another blog. But, whether good, bad or indifferent, it is what it is.
We as writers cannot control whether we get an agent or even if our agent can sell our book to a publishing house. We cannot control if vampires are hot or Chick Lit is passé. We have no say over the latest trend, and certainly no input into future trends. We can’t control whether Americans are reading more or less, etc., etc.
So stop thinking about it!
Worrying about things we can’t control saps valuable energy we could be using to change what we can control.
Successful people generally are not worry-warts. Yes, they acknowledge possible influences and barriers, but then they move on. Race car drivers have to acknowledge there are other cars on the track and a concrete barrier they could run into, but they cannot spend their time focusing too long on either unless they really enjoy being a ball of fiery debris. Race car drivers, like writers, have to maintain focus on the finish line (deadline) and on their driving (writing) if they hope to not only finish, but win.
2. Have the Courage to Change
When something isn’t working, WE have to change…cuz the world ain’t gonna change for us.
I’ve been in writing groups for years. I have witnessed my fair share of members bringing the same tired prose every week and never changing a thing. Despite feedback from fellow writers and a growing stack of rejection letters, these individuals keep believing that it is others—not them—who are the problem. Deep down they cannot admit there is something wrong, that THEY need to change, and it is that attitude that seals their doom. They honestly believe that the only reason they are not yet published is because all agents must be idiots for failing to recognize their talent. Thus, they drift from writing group to writing group, agent to agent feeling unappreciated and misunderstood.
These types of writers are a great illustration of my earlier point. Perseverance is not enough.
Change is not easy. Mainly because it requires us to admit we have somehow fallen short or that there are things beyond our control.
Bob Mayer will be the first to tell you that he has his fair share of manuscripts sitting in his desk drawer unpublished. His last manuscript, Jefferson Allegiance, is a prime example. When he first believed the book was finished, he sent it out to his beta readers, and we all said the same things. We almost unanimously detested his female protagonist, and the plot, while interesting, was so dark we were drinking heavily by the second act. I’m sure this wasn’t easy for Bob to hear. I know he worked very hard fixing the problems. And by the time he’d revised and revised and revised, he had a terrific book…only to have the manuscript rejected because, in the current political climate, his agent believed the book would flop. Again, hard to hear.
Now in the first instance, Bob’s writing fell short. That was something he could fix. He could rework the characters and lighten the topic. In the second instance? That was a case of events beyond his control. His best course of action? Move on. Time is too precious to waste. Work on something else and keep an ear to the ground for the climate to change. Who knows? In three years or five years, Jefferson Allegiance might be just what the publishing industry is looking for.
Successful people are courageous enough to admit when they’ve fallen short, and they don’t squander time focusing on events beyond their control.
3. Seek the Wisdom to know the Difference
Notice I used the verb “seek” not “have.” Wisdom is expanded in two ways; through experience, and through guidance (which in my opinion is merely experience by proxy). If we desire to count ourselves among the ranks of the successful, then it is incumbent upon us to gain this kind of discernment. If we don’t, then we are hamsters spinning in a wheel.
How does one acquire this wisdom? There is the hard way and the smart way. The hard way is that we try, so we can fail, so we can learn…
Or the smart way…
We seek feedback from others who have tried, then failed, then learned and who are now willing to guide us in ways to do it better. Make no misunderstanding. We are still going to have to do a lot of the hard stuff. But we can also work smarter, not harder.
Persistence is vital. But so are skill and knowledge. It is a great goal to want to climb Mt. Everest. But, if we are climbing the wrong mountain while wearing flip-flops, then we’re just idiots.
So in 2010, resolve to save some heartache, and learn from those who have blazed the trail ahead. Not all successful people are generous enough to take time to help others. Read their books and articles. Take classes. Go to conferences for more than the singular reason of “finding an agent.” Seek out workshops run by successful authors.
NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer (and inspiration for this blog series) holds his Warrior Writer Workshops in major cities all over the U.S. and is now offering an on-line version (so NO EXCUSES! :)). Bob has been in the publishing business for a long time. He’s made all of the common mistakes and probably even invented a few of his own. What a great resource! Bob learned the hard way so we can learn the SMART way!
Be humble. Be teachable. Be grateful. Be successful.
Good luck to everyone.
Until next time…
Sign up for a Warrior Writer Workshop today at www.bobmayer.org