Maturity–The Difference Between the Amateur and the Professional
Happy Friday and WHEEEEE!!!! Finally, a holiday weekend! I don’t remember the last time I needed rest this badly, and just so you know, no blog on Monday.
I’m honored to serve the writing community, and one thing I know for certain, is that being a successful author is not for the faint of heart, no matter which path we take. There are a lot of people who are more in love with the “idea” of success than the hard work that goes into making success happen.
As the WANA Mama, I feel much of my calling has been to teach you guys how to grow from baby writers to mature professionals. Those of you who have children know that it is no great trick to get them to eat dessert, but kids cannot grow up strong and healthy living on ice cream and candy. They need the spinach, broccoli and fish, too.
Same with writers.
I can be very inspiring, and get all of you stirred into a big happy dance of fun. Wheeee! We’re all going to be best-selling writers! Wheeeee! Feelings are great, but they aren’t enough. Feelings will fail you, especially if you try to do anything remarkable. To be successful we need to grow up. We need to mature, and just so you know, this process never stops.
This year, I have been taking on a new leg of my own adventure. I launched WANA International and a new social network for writers and creative professionals, WANATribe. I would love to say this has been one big fun party, but it hasn’t. I’ve had to grow up, and I am still learning and maturing. It is brutal, especially for me, to have to do math, figure out technical stuff, and even fire people. I’ve had to learn to be a boss as well as a leader and the process feels something like this:
AAAAAGHHHHHH, NOOOOOOOO!!!! WHY MEEEEE?????? IT’S NOT FAAAAIIIIIRRRRR! WHY CAN’T PEOPLE JUST DO WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO?????? WHAAAHHHHHHHH!!!! IT’S TOO HAAAAAARDDDDD!!!!
See, even I am not always dignified. In fact, sometimes I am downright pathetic. Hey, they are not called “growing fluffy kitten touches.” The are called “growing PAINS.”
Accounting is tough and legal is a headache, but it is all a process. We cannot have the rainbow without the rain. Everyone wants to be there for the party, but how many people really want to be part of the set-up or the clean-up?
I’m not where I hoped to be, but I am still here, and too many people underestimate what a big deal that simply staying in the game really is. To have any kind of success in life, we must grow up, and this applies to anything we want to do in life that is beyond mediocre.
Writing is no different, and, in the new paradigm, maturity is probably more vital than ever before. Writers are in charge of roles they’ve never had to worry about (oh, but let’s remember there was a 93% failure rate to go with “only having to write books”). Most people will never reach success simply because they fail to ever grow up.
So, to help you guys out, today we are going to discuss some marks of maturity.
Mature People Stick to the Dream
Immature people always have a new calling. They don’t stick to anything, so they are never around long enough to enjoy any of the harvest. They flit from calling to calling, idea to idea, book to book, and they don’t finish what they start. Dreams take time to yield harvest. We can’t toss in some seeds and quit a few days, weeks or months later because the seeds “didn’t work out.” It is shocking to me how many people quit in less than a year.
Mature People Understand there Are No Bad Jobs
Sticking with the farming analogy, some crops are planted merely to prepare the soil for the real crop. Years ago, I moved into a house that had no gardens, and I like to garden. Well, Texas soil, for the most part, is good for growing Johnson grass and weeds. It’s sandy and rocky and has clay instead of nutrients.
What did I do?
I removed all the rocks and took a hoe and worked in top soil and fertilizer and planted plants and flowers.
And they died.
So I planted some more.
And they died too.
Then I planted even more.
caught on fire then fell over and sank into the swamp died too.
Each time a “crop” failed, I hacked up the crispy plant bodies into the soil and added more top soil and fertilizer, then I would plant something different. By the second year and numerous rounds of plants, something changed. The plants and flowers started to thrive. Everything I planted looked AMAZING, even varieties that had previously died.
Yet, let’s look at what happened.
Every failed “crop” added something that was missing in the soil. But what if I’d given up on the first round of dead zinnias? What if I’d started a new garden in a different area? What if I had just decided that gardening wasn’t my real calling and I needed to play the ukelele instead? I would have never enjoyed the lush beautiful gardens.
Most of us start out as poor, rocky soil. We need to be “prepared.”
I remember when I left my sales job, I wanted to be a writer so badly. I wanted my first novel to take New York by storm and launch me to wild fame and success. Hey, at least I’m honest. I figured I’d have agents fighting over me, but instead I got a couple dozen form-letter rejections in the mail.
Yet, something strange happened. I didn’t get an agent, but out of nowhere I was offered a job as a technical writer. I would be the person who wrote instructions for software. *shivers*
In terms of writing jobs, let me tell you that this was the bottom of the barrel for me and my personality type. I rarely ever read instructions and now I was going to write them? And computer stuff? Were they crazy? I took the job even though I knew it wasn’t my end dream. I knew that this job was there to each me something. It was there to test my character, my discipline, and prepare me for the real dream.
I wanted to be a novelist, but I ended up teaching social media to writers. I look back at the tech job and realize it was preparing me for a destiny I didn’t even know I had. I understood technical stuff so well that I could make a frightening world not only accessible, but fun for people like me who were terrified of technology.
Your day job is there for a reason. What is it teaching you?
Yes, right now you might be working for another person’s dream, but what tools is this job giving you? Is it teaching you how to use certain computer programs? Is it teaching you accounting? Are you learning to meet deadlines? Work with difficult people? Are you learning to prioritize? Are you learning to meet self-imposed deadlines?
Let me be blunt. When we turn pro at anything, we have to be willing to work no matter what, no matter how we feel and when there is no boss standing over our shoulder. We also have to understand (as NYTBSA Bob Mayer states) that writing is the entertainment business.
How many artists make millions only to end up penniless because they didn’t understand the business side of their business? How many actors, musicians, and writers taste the dream, yet it all crashes down because they missed the lessons that would have matured them into responsible efficient business owners who would have spotted a thief or an embezzler?
Mature People Do the Hard Stuff
We will have lots of friends and cheerleaders in the beginning, when everything is shiny and new. But when it gets hard? Prepare to do this alone. To be successful, we need to be willing to do the work even when it is hard.
Yes, blogging can be hard. I’ve had only a small handful of days off in three months. On Wednesday, it took me almost FIVE hours to write my blog, but I showed up. Might not have been the best blog, but I was there, and attendance counts in the Game of Success.
I wasn’t always that person. I was the person who would have felt the first push-back and decided that maybe I didn’t have the right dream. I would have given up and found a new shiny.
If you go pro, I will tell you that I can almost guarantee that you will have to fire people. It could be an agent who doesn’t return e-mails, a web person who is taking too long, a cover designer who failed to deliver what you wanted. It is an uncomfortable spot to be in, but it is part of growing up. Grownups do the hard stuff.
Mature People Do the Boring Stuff
This is in line with the last point. Being a writer is not always a glittery unicorn hug. Some of it can be downright tedious. Revisions are a pain. Revisions will make you question your own existence. Revisions separate the amateurs from the professionals. There is a lot of boring stuff that goes with being a professional anything, including being a professional author.
Mature People Honor Their Commitments
One thing I have learned over the course of my career is that “Talk is cheap.” Many people will promise the moon and the second it gets tough or boring, they will find excuses to dump the mess off on someone else so they can start something “funner”. Hey, I used to be one of those people, but until I learned that this behavior was bad, I had very little victory to show for my life. I had to grow up and start taking my commitments seriously if I hoped to be successful.
This is one of the reasons that the uber successful are called The 5%. All of us want to believe we are a 5%er, but are we? Our actions, choices and decisions testify to where we sit on the bell curve. It takes no great character to start new projects, to pursue new callings, and to leave the mess for others to clean up. The Spawn does all of these things at least 20 times by breakfast.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit on some high seat of successful piety. I am still learning all of these lessons every day. Even I struggle with temptation. I fight the siren’s song of a new idea, calling, destiny. I struggle not to throw up my hands and walk away. It would be so easy just to give up, and I’ll be blunt, there are days I wonder what the hell I am doing.
But they pass.
And I show up, day after day, step after step, even when it sucks. Our trials can defeat us or define us. The choice is ours. Success is a journey, and we will never find a time we won’t face opposition. In fact, if we aren’t facing opposition, then we aren’t doing anything remarkable.
There Will Be Blood
The picture at the top of this blog serves as testimony. I’d had the worst week and it just kept going downhill. I’d had some people flake out, fail to deliver, and then quit at the worst possible time. I stepped off the plane in LA exhausted, ill-prepared, overwhelmed, and discouraged.
As I was leaving from doing my keynote speech for the RWA WF pre-conference, I realized I didn’t have my phone. I leaned into Jenny Hansen’s trunk to see if my cell phone was in my bag, and the trunk lid crashed down into my head slicing an inch and a half gash in my head. Blood went everywhere, and I narrowly escaped a trip to the ER.
But, I iced my head, Jenny helped me clean the wound (because she is an amazing person and a phenomenal friend), and I got up the next day and got back at it even when I could have called in sick, and let me tell you there was a time I would have. No one would have blamed me for staying in bed. My head hurt and throbbed the entire next day (I had a mild concussion), but nevertheless I found my work shoes and my smile.
***And, yes, I know I shouldn’t have had a glass of wine after getting bashed in the head, but it was all I had for the pain and I was fine. It also made the picture funnier, because it was all I could do not to break down and give up.
Anyway, I don’t tell you this story to brag. I tell you this story to show you that maturity is a process. I wasn’t always the person who would have gone back to work with a busted head. I was a whiny wimp who quit the second stuff became difficult. To this day I have my wimpy moments. Just ask Jenny Hansen, Piper Bayard, Rachel Heller and Jay Donovan (TechSurgeons), some of my dearest and closest WANA peeps who have had to talk me off the ledge more times than I like admitting to.
Some days we are the windshield, but most times, we’re the bug. But those interested in real success keep going back again, and again and again and our WANA pals are here to support us in those dark times.
We are not alone!
Enjoy your holiday weekend and stay safe. Rest, relax and recharge. Prepare for battle, because it all starts again come Tuesday. I can’t promise this journey will be easy, but I can promise it will be worth it and I will be here day after day ;).
What are your thoughts? What would you add? Where do you struggle? What is your biggest area of weakness?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of August I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.