The Character of the Successful Writer–A New Level or a New Devil?
It’s Friday! *insert Happy Dance here* What a week! Today I have an amazing opportunity to pass on some wisdom that I hope will change your life as much as it has mine. This blog is dedicated to helping the human writer. Why do I say human? Because we are more than robots sitting in front of a computer pounding out word count. We have fears and hopes and dreams and bad habits. We are all targets of Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies.
Today, we are going to talk about character. There are a lot of people in the world with the talent to take them straight to the top, but they lack the character to stay there. I hate to admit it, but I was probably one of those people. Writing, for me, has been a journey of developing my character as much as it has been about growing in my craft.
In the not-so-distant past, I was the reigning Queen of Do It Later Land, a sad realm paved with good intentions, nestled between the Post-It Note Mountains. For years, I was better at meddling in the affairs of others than focusing on my own life. Why? I didn’t have the right perspective when it came to my own problems. I dwelled on my failures and mitigated my success. I didn’t have the proper relationship with failure. Instead of looking at my failures as learning experiences, I felt it was proof that I was a loser and nothing good would ever come my way.
I was so negative, I couldn’t take my own company, and I had no clue how I was sabotaging my own success. The more I focused on failure, the more failure came my way. My life was filled with toxic people, and why wouldn’t it be? I was gravitating to people just like me…negative, hopeless, and always living in expectation of failure. I had this horrible belief that, if I never expected anything, I could never be disappointed. Those were dark years, but I thank every day for them. Why? Because I learned to view dark times and dark people differently.
Film develops in a dark room. Character develops in dark places. So today we are going to learn some Attitude Alchemy by changing hardships from loadstones to steps in a golden staircase.
Jerks are Good for Us
I know! Hard to believe. The day I understood this principle was the day my life began to change.
All of us have areas of our character that need to improve; rough edges that, left alone, will always be rough, making it impossible for the best aspects of who we are to shine through. First, how does coal become a diamond? Pressure! Lots of pressure! Even still. Ever seen a diamond dug out of the ground? It isn’t exactly ready to be set in an engagement ring. It looks like a dirty hunk of glass. It needs to be….CUT! What cuts diamonds? Other diamonds…low grade industrial diamonds that will never be good for anything but their ability to be highly abrasive. Jerks are the low grade industrial diamonds that shape the facets of our character. We cannot shine until we are cut, and cut again, and again.
As writers, prepare to deal with a lot of jerks. When we start out, most of us are dirty, rough hunks of glass. For most of you (me included), family will be the first line of industrial diamonds. Yes, they are likely going to roll their eyes and have sarcastic comments. They may even sabotage. We can choose to feel like a victim, or we can believe they are shaping our character. Do we love writing enough to continue? Or are we being a people pleaser who will quit the second someone has something nasty to say? My family’s sarcasm made me a finisher. I had never been one of those before, and that massive flaw in my character had been a huge stumbling block barring the way to genuine success. Hah! My family thought they would stop me, but what did they really do? They polished that flaw out of my character.
When you decide to become a writer, jerks will come out of the woodwork. Join a critique group and there is a quota that every group have one jack@$$. Another layer of industrial diamonds.
BZZZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTT Owiiieeeee!!!!! No! Ouch! You’re a writer too! I thought you’d say nice things and be supportive! Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!
The first time I read my work for critique, I thought I was going to throw up in my shoes. But I was so proud of what I had written. Even though my family was no longer speaking to me, I finished a novel. It was the first thing I had ever stuck to. I brought it to critique so I could send it to an agent.
There was a published writer who took my pages and threw them in the air and said, “This is crap.” The scent of blood filled the water and the sharks circled.
I got slaughtered.
I gritted my teeth, determined they would not break me. Somehow I made it through the rest of the session then stumbled through the parking lot to my car and cried. I so wanted to run away and give up, but that was what I had always done in the past. I dried my tears and resolved to prove I could write and write well. I refined and read and studied until the pieces I brought were polished perfect. My prose became the strongest in the group.
Once you make it past the critique group, you will have to likely endure the agents. Most will send you a form letter and, if you are lucky, they will even spell your name correctly. It hurts. But again, this process is cutting facets so you can shine brighter. Maybe you need to read more or take more writing classes. Maybe, because of fear, you aren’t writing in a genre you really love, so your voice isn’t developing.
We can take all those “No’s” as proof we are a failure, or we can take that and use it to change… BZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTTT OWWW NOT THAT!!!!! AGHHHHH!!!!
Even when you get published, and probably especially when you get published, there will still be jerks. They will write hateful stuff on your FB page and your blog and even send you nasty e-mails. Candace Havens (who is one of THE most awesome people in the world) showed to a book signing in tears after someone posted a horrible, eviscerating review on Amazon. I have never seen a writer give more effort to teaching new writers than NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. Bob had a workshop participant act so badly I seriously expected Bob to start speaking in tongues. He handled it with class, but I know he was deeply hurt by a writer he was trying very hard to help.
Jerks are part of life, and they can be a new devil or can bring a new level. The choice is ours.
Jerks can test our commitment level. They can challenge our convictions or even make us angry because they speak a truth we are scared to face. Whenever something makes me angry, I stop and ask why it bothered me. Jerks can teach us how to set effective boundaries. In Kindergarten we get taught to be nice to everyone. It’s a good principle to follow, and most people are respectful. But, being nice doesn’t mean we give carte blanche to people who want to tear through and wreck our lives and be hateful and disrespectful.
Sometimes we have to set boundaries, and that isn’t always pleasant. I had to unfollow someone on FB yesterday. I NEVER have to do that. But, he was bullying me and my friends and kicking sand in their faces. He wrote hateful comments on this blog and even wrote a blog calling me all sorts of ridiculous unfair names. But, he was teaching me a lesson that I have struggled with all my life. When do we stop being polite and put our foot down? Was I going to cave in what I believe, or was I going to water down my humor so he would not be offended? I happen to believe that a sense of humor is the sign of a healthy society (and person). This individual was challenging that belief. Would I compromise?
No. I wouldn’t. And I wasn’t going to permit him to bully me or any of you.
If we want to be NY Times best-selling authors (and many of us do), it stands to reason that we will have to be effective at setting and enforcing boundaries. We will need to be disciplined and committed and believe in our work and ourselves. All those jerks along the way just BZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTed off all the rough edges.
So the next time someone kicks sand in your face, you can get upset, or just smile and think….BBZZZZZTTTTTTT Boy are you gonna make me shine! It isn’t easy and it isn’t instinctive, but the activities that are contrary to our nature and what we want to do, generally are the best for us.
Lifting weights, eating broccoli or even giving up a movie with friends to make word count are not always the things that we want to do, but they take us a step closer to the big goal. Same with how we handle jerks. We can give in and cry and whine and go tell all our friends how we are picked on, or we can think, A new level or a new devil? I choose another level. Bring it on. The more you grind, the brighter I’ll SHINE! Give it your best!
What are your thoughts? What challenges have made you better? Share your triumphs! We love being encouraged. What have been your greatest trials? Suggestions? Recommendations?
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.
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.