Searching for Treasure–The Winner Inside

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 ;).

Happy writing!

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.


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  1. A quote I use in Warrior Writer comes from film-maker (and former Python) Terry Gilliam:

    “Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.” Terry Gilliam.

    1. Mule-like stupidity….I like that one!

  2. Great post. I just bought your “We Are Not Alone” and am working through developing my name into a domain. Tks!


  3. I really needed this today!!

    For me, my biggest fear right now is having another failed direction for my novel. I’ve made MAJOR changes to my novel three times already and I’m basically starting over again with a new direction. Granted this time around I’ve read your blog posts on structure, did some planning, character arcs, etc. that I didn’t do the last few times. I guess I’m just afraid that I’ll expend all of this effort again, only to find that this time around, it’s not working – again, especially when I’m trying to publish my book the latter half of this year. But like you said, I can’t keept looking over my shoulder at the past. It’s just a very scary thing to push forward again, knowing my track record thus far!

    Like I said, I really needed to read this today! Thank you!

  4. Funny I just wrote “I needed this today” and then looked at the comment above which said the exact same thing. It is not easy being a writer or blogger or tweeter. At least it is not easy for me. This past week I have faced more self doubt than ever. I wrote a blog that maybe didn’t come off right, and I lost 4 Twitter follwers. I started to wonder about my abilities and if I actually had anything worthwhile to share. But like you said, winners see failures as stepping stones. So maybe this setback can propel me to more thoughtful posts in the future.

  5. Happy New Year! One of the reasons why I keep on reading is that I really enjoy your humor on your blog posts. In addition, they were very helpful. About your Mt. Shasta/Mt. Everest goal, I think it’s okay to climb Mt. Shasta. It builds your stamina to go to Mt. Everest. However, we should realize that although Mt. Shasta is our goal for now, we should not settle there. We should use it as a steping stone to eventually reach Mt. Everest.

    Fear… Up until two years ago, I have a lot of fears–fear of driving, fear of being in large crowds, fear in failure. These were understandable, considering the traumatic experiences I had in my life. Some people think I’m a survivor but the only way I felt like one was when I faced my fears. One by one, they disappeared. My turning point was when I sky dived even though I am terrified of heights. With white knuckles, I along with my instructor, jumped off that plane. It was an amazing experience. Afterwards, whenever I fear something, I just do it anyway (while taking a deep breath, praying and meditating). As long as they’re not self-destructive, they’ll help me grow.

  6. Great post, once again! I think my biggest fear is finishing the final edits to one of my novels, because then the next step is Putting It Out There. It will be the best novel I can write and everybody (OK maybe a few people, at first) will read the synopsis, and maybe even the entire novel and they will judge it, and judge me as a writer. Then all the fantasies I have about being an Earth-Shatteringly Gifted, Brilliant, and Talented Writer will be dashed . . or maybe someone will like my novel. Maybe a couple agents will show interest. And just maybe I’ll be a Great Writer after all! Whoopee! Time to find out.

  7. So many truths in such a little post. 😉
    And the “I am climbing!” made me laugh real hard.

    Stretching the comfort zone is essential in life.
    And I am doing it right now. Feels strange, scary, yes – so it must be the right thing. 😉

    • Kerry Meacham on January 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm
    • Reply

    It’s obvious from the replies already given that you touched on a subject that is very personal and very important. It goes to the heart of the main reason most people stop before they reach their dreams. Fear. Thank you so much for an awesome post Kristen.

  8. It’s scary to finally put your work out in the public. I could tweak and re-tweak til the cows come home, but it doesn’t do any readers any good to have the manuscript stuck on my computer forever. I know my book will help somebody!

    1. Doesn’t do you any good either ;). Can’t please everyone. Just keep trying :D.

  9. I only use epic fail or plain old fail when I’m laughing at my mistakes and trying to get over my embarrassment at my blunder.
    “Courage is feeling fear, but then doing it anyway.” << I like that, makes me feel brave because already I've been plowing on even though sometimes what I want to achieve w/ my writing terrifies me. I'm gonna have to bookmark this post to reread whenever something scares me to remind me to be brave, positive and ready to deal with hard choices.

    1. Yeah, I have seen that too. The Epic Fail can be funny and a way of laughing off error. In fact, I truly believe that humor is the heart of the #epicfail. But what worried me was that I saw far too many writers using it to beat themselves up, and that is never healthy. Iam so glad you enjoyed the blog and thanks for taking time to comment :D.

  10. You know, Kristen, your blog posts are the only ones I allow into my email inbox as a direct feed. They are the only ones I allow into my writing bubble before the timer goes off. *smile* And, they are always worth my time in reading them.

    Thank you.

    And I agree with you. Maxwell rocks. Think for A Change was the book that reversed a lot of my thinking. I’ve used his planning/goal strategies for years.

  11. “Persistence is a noble trait; tunnel vision is not.” You are so right. I have to keep myself focused and remind myself of my new writing goals each day. If I don’t I find my fridge empty cause I just fed my inner monster a schmorgishboard! (is that a real word?) My biggest fear is disappointing all those teachers and friends who were mentors to me. I left college thinking I would change the world, and be some bigshot instantaneously. But I wasn’t, and now I tell myself that’s ok, because I’ve already taken back my passion. I’m writing everyday, even if it’s just a little. I’m acknowledging that a lot of what I’ll write will be crap, but at least I’m writing again! And the more I do it, the better I’ll become. I’ve checked out books from the library on blogging, journaling, and writing, I’m signing up for a workshop weekend in April, and I find it’s making me happier to feel like I have a plan again. I’m not worried about this new year’s resolution flaking out because I already feel like I’ve taken the right steps to surrounding myself with good advice (such as your excellent blog), realistic goals, and admitting to myself there is much to learn, but hey, being a student is what I do best!

    P.S. Your inner monster is freaky looking.

  12. My monster is named Insecurity. I know I have talent and either I just have not crossed paths with the right people or have not hit upon the right combination of writing/idea/plot yet. I am three full length novels in since last June because the ideas keep flowing and each one is just different enough that I figure it counts as “tweaking” my style. Will I get anywhere? Not if I stop forward momentum. A lot of people don’t realize that forward momentum is not just finishing one book and moving it along the submission process…it is moving the self into the next great work.

  13. I really needed this today! I’ve been stuck in procrastination mode for way to long now. I don’t believe I have a fear of failure…I’ve become lazy. I let myself become distracted with social media and family. I have taken on four projects and instead of accomplishing something, I became overwhelmed and let my mind wander. I need focus. I also needed a good kick in the buttocks. Thank you for the much needed motivation! Off to slay my monster!!

  14. You have a whole month’s worth of great stuff in this one post. Awesome. I want to put a crown on this post and name it goddess. Or something. From the self-defeating words to the stupid = persistence, *whew* great stuff.

    • kate macnicol on January 4, 2011 at 12:14 am
    • Reply

    Terrific post Kristen. Thanks!

  15. Positivity and patience are two of my goals this year. I have accomplished a lot more appreciating what I have done, realizing how far I have come, and enjoying the process of writing.
    I’ll look at your book because I know I’m not using social network to the fullest. Thanks!

  16. What a great post! You’re saying what I’ve been thinking for this past year and longer.

  17. You just made my “lunch-hour.” : ) Thank you for writing these thought-provoking and useful posts, Kristen.

  18. This is all very true. I try to drive forward, but it is always, “If only…” I have been focusing more on getting stuff done, rather than think about what I am not doing. So it is funny how this blog was reading my current thoughts. The other day, I was at a coffee shop with friends, all of us on our laptops. I didn’t have a socket for my laptop and it died, but instead of sitting there doing nothing, I took the time to research kings and rulers of history and take notes for character and historical templates for my future novels. More reading than note taking, but hey, I knew more on how I could form my own royalty than I could before.

    Thanks again, Kristen.

    • Rhonda Hopkins on January 4, 2011 at 10:12 pm
    • Reply

    Great post and advice as always Kristen. Thank you!

  19. My word for the year is:courage. Even before I read this I realized that I had a lot of fears in pursuing publishing. My fiction is fun, no prob with that, but I am being encouraged to push with my non-fiction first and that, to be honest, terrifies me! I have a personal deadline to get my edits done, and realize they emotionally more taxing than my fiction, however, I am determined, and leaning into the fear and am going to push through and see where this all leads me. “courage” is kind of my personal “CHARGE!” for 2011! Thanks for the great post!

  20. I love it! ” . . . persistance can look a lot like stupid.” Lol. Thanks for giving me a compass and a map off of Mt. Shasta.

  21. This is EXACTLY what I needed. Thank you. So true and to the point.
    This year is going to be GREAT!

  22. Most excellent, Kristen! I will definitely share this with my CPs and other writing friends! I am even more fired up than I was before I read this blog! I have been at this for a LONG time!

  23. Loved this post, Kristen. It’s very timely for me: I recently got turned down by 18 publishers, and my agent and I are regrouping before the next round. We decided that I’m going to revise/add more action to the early part of my story. Part of me reacted with “Oh, no, I’m screwed!” while the other part (my more optimistic side) thought: “cool – what crazy stuff can I throw in?” Off come the gloves.

    Looking forward to today’s post – hope it talks about mash-ups and trackbacks (which I know zippo about) and other ways to boost my blog traffic.


    1. LOL how funny! The Angels of Prose & Publishing are smiling on you today. It is exactly what I am talking about, :D. I hope this helps you grow a platform that will catch a good publisher and sweet book deal. All my best!

    • Tamara LeBlanc on January 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm
    • Reply

    I’ll be honest, a week ago I had never heard of you.
    I happened to be emailing back and forth with a friend and she mentioned reading this fantastic book, “changed my life!” she said.
    The book was We are not Alone…by you.
    I bought it, installed it on the good old IPad, and from the first page I was hooked!
    I’ll be honest again. When people tell me a book changed their life, I’m usually skeptical. “Um, ok…whatever. Changed your life, sure.” I tend to be a glass half full sort of chic.
    But my friend was right, and it is possible to read the words of another human being and come out transformed by her message.
    And not only did I find myself transformed by your book, I also evolved exponentially by your post today.
    I’ve bookmarked the page. I want to read it over and over and share it with everyone I know. because your words not only apply to me, the romance writer, but to anyone else with a pulse and a brain.
    Thank you for your wisdom and insight.
    I am now and forever will be a huge fan.
    Have a fabulous day!
    Tamara LeBlanc

    Oh, and P.S.
    There’s a little box above this comment where I could have inserted my website. because of you and your teachings I will finally be able to fill in that box very, very soon:)

    1. Make me cry!!!! Thank you for such a lovely comment. It makes me so happy to help you guys in a meaningful way. Please keep me informed of your progress so I can one say soon help you promote and grow your platfomr, :D. All the best!

    • Tamara LeBlanc on January 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm
    • Reply

    Hi again Kristen,
    Since you asked, I thought I might let you know that I was recently published, this past December sixth, with a contemporary romance called Blessing in Disguise. My publisher is Liquid Silver Books, and I really enjoy writing for them. They’re fantastic people, very supportive, very helpful, ready to answer any question I have.
    They do a little bit in regards to marketing, but not much, so I’m responsible for the bulk of my own promotion.
    I’ve been a slow learner as far as the computer goes. I’m only recently on Facebook, I haven’t accessed Twitter yet, and as I said earlier, I’m just now working on my WordPress website.
    These of course are things I should have been doing over the five years I’ve been seriously writing, but, alas, I didn’t have the knowledge I have now (thanks to your book) five years ago.
    I’m thrilled you asked about my progress.
    Any advice at all you might provide would be more than welcome.
    Thanks again, so very much,
    Tamara Le Blanc

  24. Thanks Kristin. Fear is paralysis. Your post was very invigorating for my stalled muse.

  25. Another great post and I echo what has been said above. Your book has taught me so much in such a short space of time and the best bit? I didn’t feel like I was being taught anything! Brilliant!

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kristen Lamb, Tina Thomas. Tina Thomas said: Searching for Treasure–The Winner Inside: […]

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