Today I am starting a new series that I am calling Don’t Eat the Butt. Why? Because typing “butt” makes me giggle. In all seriousness, I like to think. In fact I think a lot and probably far too much. I wonder about the first person who ate an oyster. Was it a dare? Someone lose a bet? What about mushrooms? There are 100,000 known species of mushrooms, yet only 2,000 are edible. How do we know this? Someone had to eat the bad shrooms then pass that knowledge down for posterity. But seriously, who volunteers for this kind of stuff?
But the most fascinating culinary assassin, in my POV, is the puffer fish. There is only ONE TINY PART of the puffer fish that is not deadly. Oh, and if you don’t know how to cut a puffer fish correctly, you can unwittingly unleash deadly poison into the non-poisonous part.
Herb: Hey, this puffer fish kind of tastes like chick–…*grabs throat and falls over*
Fred: Note to self. Don’t eat the butt.
This idea of the puffer fish made me start thinking about our careers as artists. There are a lot of common misperceptions that can leak poison into our dreams if we aren’t careful. Thus, this new series is designed to help you guys spot the toxic beliefs that can KILL a writing career. In short, Don’t Eat the Butt. Some of us have been there, done that and got the butt-tasting T-shirt. I am here to hand down what I have learned from being stupid enough to eat the literary puffer butt and survive. Watch, listen and LEARN. The smart writer learns from her mistakes, but the wise writer learns from the mistakes of others.
Without further ado…
Lie #1 I’m not a real writer until I have a finished manuscript, landed an agent, am traditionally published, am selling books, have spent my retirement funds earning an MFA in Creative Writing.
This is crap and don’t buy it. What yahoo decided that we aren’t real writers until we meet some silly outside standard of validation? On what plane of existence does this make ANY professional sense? We are writers the second we decide to take this career decision seriously. And screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. There is no try, only do. We don’t try to get out of a chair. We either stand or we sit.
Think of it this way. As writers we are entrepreneurs (refer to this post). Do entrepreneurs use the term aspiring? I am an aspiring restaurant owner. Oh, I am an aspiring landscaper. I am aspiring housekeeper.
If I want a house-cleaning business, the second I gather all of my cleaning supplies and a vacuum together in the back of my SUV and print off some business cards, I am a house-cleaning business. Even before my very first client. In fact, I cannot land my first client until I first call myself a business. Who is going to let me into their house wielding a toilet brush if I approach them with, “Hi, I am an aspiring housekeeper. I am still learning the best ways to get rid of soap scum, but maybe you can hire me even though I am not, per se a real housekeeper.“?
If we want to own a restaurant, the second we take out a small business loan, we are restaurant owners, even before we have served the first hot meal to our first customer.
The title is not something we earn it is who we are. Our title defines our level of commitment. No other entrepreneurial profession waits for success or outside validation before they feel comfortable using a professional title. A dog-walker doesn’t wait. Neither does a gardener, a contractor, a party planner, florist, cake decorator, or a carpet cleaner.
We are writers, which means we are artists and entertainers. We are in the service industry. Yet we treat being a writer as if we are a doctor or a lawyer and need some outside professional certification before we can hang up a shingle.
Guess what? Comedians are comedians the second they put together a skit and find the courage to stand up in front of a crowd and invite criticism. Now, he or she may not be a talented or successful comedian, but that boils down to the quality of the content and the level of commitment to try again and again as long as it takes. Same with actors and artists and…yeah, WRITERS.
Many of you have invested thousands of dollars in computer equipment, conferences, workshops, books and reference materials. You’ve invested hundreds of hours of time writing, yet still refuse to use the title of writer. Would a caterer who’d spent thousands on a Viking stove and oven, fancy cooking tools and ingredients wait until she’d landed a huge wedding party to call herself a real caterer?
Why Writers Fear the Title
When we decide to use the professional title writer, it is a sign to others that we are no longer hobbyists. Others will expect a certain work ethic to go with our title. If someone uses the title “Landscaper” we generally expect this person owns some yard tools and that he actually mows yards more than once a month. I feel many writers fear using a professional title because we invite a new level of accountability. We fear failure and so we hedge with euphemisms like “aspiring author” so that we can goof off and write when the fancy strikes.
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work. ~Stephen King
Writers are professionals who treat their writing as if it is their first, second or even a third job. They have a solid work ethic and they know that they have to ante up and take the consequences for better or for worse. They are mature and no longer playing Literary Barbies with their characters.
Excellence begins with honesty.
We cannot ever be successful until we risk failure. And sure there are always going to be @ssclowns that will tell you that you are a poseur fake. But, when we rest our future on the validation of outsiders, we jeopardize genuine success. There is ALWAYS going to be a jerk to tell us we aren’t good enough.
There are people who believe I am not a real writer because I am not traditionally published. My answer? *shrugs* Can’t please everyone. Another example?
I have been working with Piper Bayard for almost two years. She has dedicated at least 30 hours a week to blogging, social media platform building and writing a novel. She finally got the green light to shop her finished 110,000 word manuscript. Yet, there are people who would claim she is not yet a “real writer” because she hasn’t landed an agent, landed a publishing deal, hit a best-seller list, gone yodeling while drunk on Jaegermeister.
Okay, Piper probably has done the yodeling thing.
Yet, here’s my point. Piper will tell you that the only reason she ever accomplished the successful blog, sound platform and AMAZING manuscript was that early on she made a decision to claim her professional title. She called herself a writer. From that point on her attitudes, habits and priorities changed to reflect the life of a professional.
So today, I shout, Don’t eat the butt! If we don’t take ourselves seriously, who will? Instead of nitpicking over who can call themselves writer or author let’s just refer to the Editor’s Mantra…Show, Don’t Tell. Actions speak louder than words or titles. So claim your title…then get to work ;).
And let other people quibble over who can call themselves what and when. We have books to write.
So what are your thoughts? Opinions? Fears? What keeps you from claiming the professional title?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. 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 . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! 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!