Many of you reading this blog aspire to be professional authors, and that is a fantastic goal. I blog three times a week to help you guys reach that goal and far sooner than you imagined. Writing can be the best job in the world, but I feel too many beginners glamourize the profession and fail to get the proper emotional preparation before traipsing off to battle. That is a formula to get creamed. So, today I am going to give you some perspective and tools to be successful.
Becoming a professional writer isn’t all rainbow and unicorns. Let’s face it. Many of us are screwed from the beginning. We have our basic personality working against us. What do I mean? To put it bluntly? Writing is a vortex of flakes. We creative people are not usually known for our self-discipline. I’ve been there. I don’t know about you guys, but I am a notorious procrastinator. I was once the High Queen of Do-It-Later Land, a sorrowful place of forgotten Post-It Notes, where the roads are paved with shiny good intentions.
What I have observed over the years is that very often, the personalities that are the most creative, also tend to be free-spirits who flutter around like fruit flies with severe ADD high off a case of Red Bull. Now, we are great at being creative, but unless it’s channeled and focused, creativity just looks like that kid who likes to run head-first into a wall over and over while giggling. Thus, it is easy to see why people might roll their eyes the day we announce we want to be a writer.
Writing is a very emotional business, and to write well, we must reach into the deepest parts of our being…and then place them out for public display. After running countless critique groups and helping hundreds of writers, I will share some advice that will help you reach your dreams. We will resume talking about craft next week. But all the craft classes in the world will not benefit you if your heart and mind aren’t in the correct place.
Persistence can look a lot like Stupid
Oh Twitter. It is so fun to watch all these writing quotes float by. One of the favorites of the newbie writer (Yes, it was mine too :P) is You know what you call the writer who never gives up? Published. I have no idea who said that, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great quote. But, it really kind of needs a caveat, because persistence can look a lot like stupid.
My goal can be to climb Mt. Everest, but if I am on Mt. Shasta then I am not persistent, I am a moron.
You are on the wrong mountain!
Can’t hear you! I’m climbing! Never give up!
But you are on the wrong mountain you idiot!
What??? You’re just a dream-stealer! My motivational coach said you would try to stop me! I’m climbing! Never give up!
I teach at a lot of conferences, and every year I see the same writers shopping the same novel that has been rejected time and time and time again. These writers show year after year spending good money, believing that they just haven’t found the right agent who will see the beauty in their vampire-mystery-romance-YA-horror-memoir. It is as if they are stuck in a feedback loop. They can’t move on until this book gets an agent. They believe that if they don’t get an agent for this book, then they are a failure. No!
I have been there. I shopped my first novel for three years then woke up one day and realized I was swimming against the current carrying a corpse. When you make a decision to become a writer, you will be swimming against the current. People are fascinated by people who dare to dream and do great things. But….deep down, while they admire them, they also resent them.
Do not expect your family to embrace your decision. In fact, expect them to believe your writing group is really a cult (see Writer Reality Check). So expect to be swimming upstream, which is a heck of a lot harder to do carrying dead weight. If your book is being rejected time and time and time again, move on. Maybe you will grow enough to fix that first novel at a later time. Or, maybe you will take it for what it is…a learning experience. Always be moving forward.
Persistence is a noble trait; tunnel-vision is not. Be persistent. Read more books on the craft. Sign up for on-line workshops. Read…a lot. Be persistent the right way and the payoff will eventually come.
Learn to Fail Forward
One of the biggest frustrations I have with writers is their attitude toward failure. I think we like being tragic. Goes with our artsy side.
Hand over the beret. Give. This is for your own good.
Learn to have a healthy relationship with failure. One of my favorite books is Failing Forward by John Maxwell. I highly recommend everyone to read it. This book changed my life.
I used to have constant panic attacks. I was absolutely paralyzed by fear. All I could see was what I hadn’t accomplished. I magnified my failures and minimized my progress. Instead of looking forward, I was always looking over my shoulder to the past, crying over the broken dreams and what ifs? That is a load of crap.
Want to know the difference between winners and losers? There are 2 critical differences.
1) Winners have a healthy relationship with failure. Losers cry and whine and self-flagellate when they fail to meet the mark. Their focus is always on failure so that’s where they stay. Winners, however, look at failure as a stepping stone. They land on their tush and scratch their head and ask critical questions.
Why didn’t this work?
What went wrong?
At what point did my plan go south?
What can I do differently next time?
Do I need to adjust my goals?
All through the month of November I kept my eyes on the #nanowrimo hash tag column. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, a # symbol will put you in a group bound by that topic. Time after time I wanted to scream as writers posted crap like this:
My goal was 1000 words today. Only wrote 300. #nanowrimo #epicfail
I saw that stupid #epicfail over and over and over. Now how do you think the Epic Fail group fared for National Novel Writing Month?
But, I also saw tweets like this:
My goal was 1000. Only made 500. Hey, 500 more than I had. Will start earlier tomorrow. #nanowrimo
Which writer do you feel will have a better chance at success?
Hear me now—Where the mind goes, the man follows.
If our mind is always on our failure and where we blew it, then that is where we will go. But here is the thing, we are in control. We are the boss.
I’m going to give you guys a great tactic to keep your mind on the positive. I want you guys to picture a monster crouched in your soul. Every time you beat yourself up, call yourself names, whine about how life isn’t fair…you feed it. As you feed this monster, he grows larger and larger and hungrier and more demanding.
How do you kill him? You can’t. We are human and he is a part of us. We can’t kill him, but we sure as hell can weaken him. How?
We starve him.
Every time you go to open your mouth and gripe about some way you failed to make the mark, stop yourself. Take a breath and rephrase in the positive.
I didn’t make my goal of 1000 words…..BUT I did write 300 and that is 300 words in the right direction. Every day I am getting better and better. I’m not where I want to be, but I am not where I was.
Starve that monster in your soul and he will get skinnier and smaller and weaker. Eventually he will be starved long enough that he will lose his appetite, and you will be a happier, more optimistic person for it.
2) Winners have an internal locus of control.
Your locus of focus is very important. People with an external locus of focus believe other people or things hold all the power to their lives.
Well if my family would just take me seriously, then I know I would write more.
If I just had a better computer, then I’d write more.
If I just had quiet time, then I would be more productive.
IF we want to be winners, our goal is to maintain an internal locus of focus. We are in control of all things. We cannot control others. We cannot control events. The only thing under our power is our attitude and how we react to other people, events, and circumstances.
Well, my family thinks I’m a nut. I hope that changes. The only thing I can do is work hard and maybe one day my work ethic and commitment will change their opinions.
This old laptop crashes every other time I use it. What can I do to get a new one? In the meantime, maybe I can borrow one, or go to the library, or even write long-hand. It isn’t ideal, but Shakespeare didn’t have a Mac. I can do this.
I know I need quiet time to be productive. Can I stay up later? Get up earlier? Either I need to actively seek quiet time, or I will just have to be happy with a lower level of productivity. At least I am being fruitful with my time.
Be the captain of your own ship; the master of your soul (Invictus). No one is control of your destiny but you, and you have a lot more power than you believe.
Face Your Fears
I owe my friend and mentor Bob Mayer a lot, but the biggest lesson he taught me was to learn to face my fear. Do what is counterintuitive. I know that if I start feeling a flutter in my gut, then I am likely on the right path. The best writing in you lies behind your greatest fears. Think of it this way. Just expect a dragon to be guarding the cavern of treasure. In fact, the bigger the treasure, the bigger the beast standing sentinel.
Courage is not being without fear.
Courage is feeling fear, but then doing it anyway.
Only idiots and sociopaths are devoid of fear. Fear is your friend. Fear is like a water witch guiding you to your greatest reservoirs of creativity and strength. When you feel fear, keep going. Likely you’re onto something. No one ever accomplished anything great staying in the comfort zone.
I hope you guys feel fired up, and that you’re ready to take on 2011. I’ll be here to help you every step of the way. So what are your biggest challenges? Any advice? Suggestions? Do you see fear differently? Do you feel more hopeful? What are your deepest fears? Toss them out there. Sometimes the monster in the closet is only a coat when you turn the light on ;).
Until next time…
Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books. Put that gift card you got for Christmas to good use.
Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.