Want to be a writer? Expect suffering. Lose your illusions and embrace pain. Writing is not always a glittery unicorn hug, and we don’t get what we wish for, we get what we work for. This profession is not for the faint of heart, namely because 1) it’s hard 2) it’s often under appreciated 3) great writing requires us to expose our soft tender parts and hope no one carves them out with a spork.
I’ve said it before. Just because we have command of our native language in no way qualifies us to create a work of art spanning 50,000 to 100,000 or more words. We need to study, practice, apply what we learn (WRITING), and grow a damn thick skin.
Grow Rhino Skin
No matter how well we write, someone won’t like our stuff. It’s just reality. Ten years ago, I went to my first critique thinking every word I wrote was a rainbow kitten dream. Guess what? The group slayed me–it was all blood, teeth and adverbs. Later, when questioned, no one could positively ID the body (of work).
I sat in the parking lot alone crying, but I didn’t give up.
How badly do you want the dream?
Expect criticism, and get good at taking it…but not taking it personally. Remember, others have a right to be wrong. This is why it’s critical to know your craft. Any whackadoodle can join a writers’ group and give advice. If we don’t know our stuff, then when someone suggests we add a bunch of stupid description or adverbs we can politely thank them…and then gift them a copy of On Writing.
Know your $#!t.
Learn all you can and embrace peer review. Writing groups, conferences and workshops are good investments of time and money. If you can’t find a writing group, or you live in an area with no real access to a writing group, hop on to WANATribe and find the tribe that suits you best, or create one.
You are no longer writing for fun, Sweetheart. You are writing for keeps, so train like it. Read books, take classes, go over to WANA International and sign up for a class.
Learn to Take a Hit
Boxers volunteer for others to punch them in the stomach over and over and over to toughen their solar plexus so that, when it comes time to hop in the ring, their bodies are hardened and can take a hit. I see too many newbie writers more interested in the “glamorous life” of being a writer, than the grueling pain of the professional, so they enter the “ring” soft, sloppy, and untrained.
They treat publishing a book like furnishing a Barbie Dream House, and are more interested in cover art and bookmarks than the quality of the manuscript. Too often, they self-publish too soon and with no peer review. The first bad review they get, they go nuclear and give up.
This is a profession, not a playpen. Toughen up. Learn to take a hit and get back up.
You know I am here for you guys. I’ve been here for a lot of years and am rooting for your success, no matter which publishing path you choose to take. But real love is tough love.
All of these lessons I had to learn, too. I used to goof off, write when I felt like it, constantly start new projects, and daydream instead of getting my @$$ in the chair and writing. I had to put away my Author Barbie Dream House and grow up, too.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust me.
Social media is critical, but books are the most important. Thrilled you stopped to read this, but back to work.
It writes the words or it gets the hose! ~Kristen Lamb
I love hearing from you!
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 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).
NOTE: December’s winner will be announced when I return from Seattle.
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 January 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.
The Ugly Truth…but one I needed to hear. Thank you!
It’s what my publisher constantly says: “Butt in chair, write!” No talking, tweeting or blogging ABOUT it will get your book written for you. That said, I’m looking forward to the release of my third book with Buddhapuss Ink in June. 🙂
With my first editorial review of my ‘masterpiece’ I learned that I was ignorant of point of view, used way too many adverbs, and too much passive voice. I cut 30% out of the length with the rewrite. Those were lessons I will always be grateful for.
Pain certainly has its merits, and nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without it.
Biggest, HUGEST lesson I’ve had to learn (multiple times, sigh) partially with Kristen’s help is: We are unique as writers, and should never compare ourselves to any other writer, for good or ill. Our job is to write the best book we can and treat ourselves like the professionals we need to be.
Oh, I love the Dita quote, and I think this is one of the most important lesson in writing. And the best thing about the pain that comes with writing is the ability to cultivate it into a learning experience. Workshopping has always been one of my favorite things; I could get a story ripped apart, but, you know what? When you get up and pick up the pieces and put them back together, it’s much better in the long run.
Good advice. Sometimes writing is about putting on the blinders and focusing on the back forty rather than the shiny place next door.
The hardest thing for me to do is project the value of my work. It seems so self-evident to me. Always difficult to toot our own horns — but I’m getting an air horn when I take my current project on the road.
Your blog entires have given me the courage to try. A fear of failure and criticism has kept me from doing so. I am on my way.
Great advice. I needed this right now. Thanks for that!
You so eloquently capture every writer’s worse fear. It is sort of like life, we all want to be loved all the time and how disappointing it is when we’re not. But, it is what makes life interesting and provides more fuel for our craft of writing. Thanks for inspiring me by keeping it real!
Thanks, I needed that!! I’m now feeling fighter fit… okay, not quite but I’m working on it 🙂
I just recently found a CP through another blog I follow, and I’m loving it. She gives great advice for raising the stakes or letting me know if something just isn’t working. Having a CP keeps me motivated. I have accountability (’cause she’ll be sobbing for more chapters if I don’t keep writing).
I’m interested in your take on how to balance social media activity with getting in the pages. In this fluid publishing environment, the message everywhere seems to be to “create a platform” and “increase engagement,” both with readers and (for traditional publishing newbies) industry pros and peers. Plus, there’s a need to continue educating oneself in the craft as well as to keep up with online trends and so on. It feels overwhelming. :-/ Thanks for all your insights.
Thanks for the pep talk, now back to writing!
I would love you to define: Best Selling.
If it hurts, don’t show it.
Thanks for the post – Ms. Rainbow Kitty Dream
LOL. LOVE the name :D. Best-selling is now more mutable and can fit our individual dreams. Best-selling can be big, like a NYTBSA, or USA Today BSA or best-selling in an overall category on Amazon (Fiction) or a sub-category (Science Fiction Men’s Fiction). There are all kinds of bars to reach these days to let us know how our books are being received.
I like the reference to the Author Barbie Dream House. All full of potential cover designs and cute character icons! 🙂
I recently published my second novel and sent it to reviewers to review. Two of them didn’t like it at all! But that’s okay because I also had two others tell me that they didn’t usually like the genre but they loved it! I have determined to keep writing! Thanks for reinforcing my resolve!
I LOVE this and want to add that nonfiction writers need this advice just as much as fiction authors do. Just because I love my topic doesn’t mean that there aren’t people in this world who will always hate it. That only means that they aren’t my customers, which is fine.
Great blog post, and so true! I think the single most helpful thing that happened to me as a writer was a hard but honest review of my first self-published novel (which is unavailable until thoroughly edited again…). Yes, it hurt. Lots! But it helped me grow as a writer. I learnt to take a deep breath and evaluate what she said, then take from it what could help me, and improve.
Thank you so much for the advice – I am very new at this and will take this to heart.
Thank you for telling it like it is! And whackadoodle is now my new favorite word!! 🙂
Thanks for this. My current WIP is fiction but I’ve self-published two non-fictions which are doing fine. People seem to be much more forgiving of NF over fiction so I consider myself fortunate. I am very glad it worked out this way because I write much better on my third go around than my first!
I’ve got my worst review memorized: “First class perceptions let down by awful repetitive prose.” Ouch. I’ve also got a folder full of fan mail. It took me a long time and a lot of tears get anywhere near Dita’s wisdom. Love that graphic and plan to print it in full color for my bulletin board. Thanks, Kristen!
“A glittery unicorn hug”. Love it! This is excellent advice. I still consider myself sloppy and new to writing. I know how important it is for me to toughen up. Still working on it. This post was good for me to read.
Love the boxing analogy. I’m keeping that visual handy prior to every submission. Am I soft and flabby or ready for the blows?
Reblogged this on Ink Drop Interviews Presents… and commented:
Thought this was worth a share. I love Kristen’s no nonesense (often humorous) approach to giving writing tips and advice…
Ha, yes this brings back memories. My younger brother found a copy of the first short story I ever wrote and promptly told me that it was “juvenile”. He was fourteen at the time. I died a little bit that day, but it did teach me that no piece of writing is finished until it gets an “it could be worse, I suppose” on the James test.
I have to keep fighting to make sure I’m finding the right (write?) balance between for pleasure and for profession. I think the first draft is for pleasure. The rest of the process, that grueling part will be for profession.
This pep talk came at just the right time for me, thanks Kristen!
The critique group I joined was the best thing I ever did for my novel. They have given me so many wonderful suggestions and aren’t afraid to say something is rubbish.
I have attended only one writing conference so far and can’t wait to attend more!
One of the writers associations I belong to focuses more on bringing in experts within the field to give us practical advice. I will be joining another writing association in my area as well that, from what I’ve heard, focuses more on the work we do as writers than the business side of it.
Santa graciously left loads of books on writing, the business side of it, under the tree for me this year.
I would say that I am really starting to take this job seriously and will be able to make the transition to full time writing (not just my novel(s) but as a freelancer as well) within the next 1 – 2 years.
Thanks for being there for us, Kirsten! It’s wonderful to know WANA!
I liked this article very much. I’m about to send my book to some of Amazon’s Top Reviewers. I expect some pretty harsh criticism.
Do you have any weight or health issues? If so, I’ll happily send you my book, “Lose Weight with LCHF,” free-of-charge.
Just let me know which format you’d prefer; iPad, Kindle or PDF. Also let me know if you’d like the Rated-G or Rated-PG edition. The latter contains some adult language.
Eric Ahlswede loseweightwithlchf.com
[image: Inline image 1]
You’re so right about the boxer analogy. It’s a tough writing ring out there! 😉
Great advice as always! I especially like the part about knowing how to take critiques and knowing your craft. I joined Critique Circle a while back and while its a great place to get reviews on your work you have to realize that some of the people critiquing are spot-on and some of them are just being cruel/opinionated/idiots. You have to be able to tell the difference between a harsh critique with valuable info and a harsh critique that is full of egotistical bs.
Anyway, thanks as always for your awesome, totally-true post!
Hope you’re enjoying my fair city – we apparently rolled out the mountains for you. And thanks for the blogged pep talk. I started acting at 6 years old, stopped 20 years later and I *still* don’t have rhino skin. At least it’s just my husband who sees me weeping and gnashing…
Great post, Kristen. This is among the many things I’m glad I didn’t know before I began this journey, or I might not have started. That would be sad. Not because I would’ve missed being published with folks getting to read my brilliant words and being moved. I’m still not there but getting closer. But because I’d have missed meeting some fantastic people along the way. You’re included in that list. Thanks for you help. Look forward to the next post.
I love what you said, “we don’t get what we wish for, we get what we work for.” Yes!
Getting pugilistic with your writerly self. I like it. Can’t necessarily do it though.
I approach the whole “tough skin” issue like I approach courage. Courage doesn’t mean you’re not scared out of your gourd. It means you act anyway. I take criticism poorly no matter how objectively I look at it. I don’t have thick skin. That doesn’t mean that I disregard criticism out of hand nor does it mean that I’m going to stop writing.
I’m a writer. I’ve written since I was 7. I’ve been published (poetry and short stories). I will write until old age and illness (it’s going to take both of ’em ’cause I’m not going down without a fight) rob me of the capacity.
So I may discretely lick my wounds, but I’ll never quit.
I think that’s better than thick skin.
I agree. Because we need that thinner skin so we can write the blood into our most poignant scenes.
Well-put. I started to elaborate, but realized that your concise comment did the job. 🙂
Reblogged this on Crazy Fun Sexy Guide: For Women and commented:
This sums it up!
that is all.
To quote a cliched phrase, “Thanks! I needed that!” Seriously, the way you described your first critique experience sounded like mine. And, yep, whackadoodles abound!
You have to love it even when the going gets rough. Personally, I don’t understand people who say writing is akin to slitting your wrists. If the writing part is that painful, why not do something else? However if the writing is the thrill, that makes the other hard parts worth it.
Oh, how I hate hype! Especially I hate hype about success. That’s why I like your blog. You tell us the truth. Thanks, Kristen. I suppose that in this sense writing is a metaphor for life.
I remember how crushed I was in freshman comp, as we called it, when we passed around our writing in groups and I got shot down. I was later vindicated, but it was no fun. I recently took an on-line writing course through Gotham. I found out I couldn’t write nearly as well as I thought I could. But how else was I going to learn anything? I did find out that I excel at writing critiques, however. Ha! Maybe I should just be an editor.
Well, I’ve joined WANA and a couple of tribes. My only misgiving is that it seems pretty much like a girlie club. Where are all the guys? I think you need a man tribe.
Reblogged this on Scribbling In The Storage Room and commented:
Sometimes the universe sends you exactly what you need to hear at the appropriate moment. Kristen’s words were the smack upside the head I needed today. How about you?
Exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks!
(reblogged at scribblinginthestorageroom.wordpress.com)
Thank you for reminding me to grab my copy of “On Writing” and re-read it.. seriously this time!
Don’t put my name in the hat; I have nothing for you to critique. (When I’m done playing in my Barbie Dream House, I’ll let you know.)
Reblogged this on "CommuniCATE" Resources for Writers and commented:
Hard to take, yet sound advice worth passing on. Kristen is a must-follow.
Thanks for this ‘toughen up, buttercup’ post, Kristen. I’ve been very fortune as the readers I’ve shared my manuscript with have all wanted to be helpful. They’re goal wasn’t to destroy me. Still, some of their comments hurt. And some of them were ill informed. Through it all, I survived, grew stronger and developed my craft.
“It writes the words or it gets the hose.” Promise? I’m thinking I should enlist my girls to use the hose when I’m goofing off. Love this!
“This is a profession, not a playpen. Toughen up. Learn to take a hit and get back up.” So true. I have known writers who have given up because their feelings were hurt in a critique group or by an editor who was just being honest about the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of work. I stress the fact that all editing is of the work, not the person, when editing for a client.
What’s the worst thing somebody can say to you? “Don’t quit your day job”? Chances are you’ve been telling yourself that from day one. Kristen’s right. You’ve got to harden up.
..or at least learn to rodeo-ride those shockwaves of blunt-cut criticism like a rhino-stone cowboy…..
Love the boxing example since I co-wrote a memoir with a female boxing champion. There was no give up or goof off in that collaboration. Great post, K.
Wonderful post as always! Wish more people were aware of the difficulty and required thick skin before they even think about sending a manuscript to anyone!
Love this post…and not just because you used the awesome word “whackadoodle.”
I love to box, but my physique takes hits much better than my muse. I don’t know if I will ever truly roll with those punches, but I have committed to puting words on the page, polishing the work and sending it out. If I get worthwhile criticism, I’m happy to change my manuscript, but I can’t make anyone love YA fantasy or inspirational romance or mystery (things I write).
Also, we can hate something without being hateful. I appreciate you, Kristen, because you’re blunt but never cruel. Thank you.
PS. I would NEVER pass on your critique offer 🙂
Excellent. You nailed it!
Dead on great advice.
Love your ending line: “Thrilled you stopped to read this, but back to work.”
I’m at my favorite cafe, supposedly working on a guest travel blog piece, but, here I am checking the social media sites, lol.
I like you blog and am going to put a link to yours on mine.
Back to work for me.
I’m bruised and bloody, but thanks to you I’m still in the game!
By the way, did my reformatted query letter ever reach you?
I think i have it. Right about that time, we were robbed and so December was just a nightmare and you probably didn’t want me looking at it, because my brain was just short-circuited with stress. When I get back home this week, I will look at it and I’m really looking forward to it :D.
Take your time, dear lady! I didn’t realize you’ve been through the wringer recently.
I simply feel I need your expert advice desperately, I was turned down by an agent recently and the experience has made me realize that while I have a certain amount of talent, I still have miles to go…
Great post, and so, so true! Thick skin is vital to the art of writing! There are two sides to this; people are hurt by critique because their writing is ‘their baby’. As you rightly point out – get over it. Writers have to be abstract, have to keep their emotions out of the OUTCOME of their work, even if (as Hemingway put it) they sit at the keyboard and bleed in order to CREATE it.
However, the flip-side comes when people who define their self-worth by their interest in what they write view the writing of others as an intrusion. The fireworks have to be seen to be believed. It’s endemic in New Zealand, which is a tiny, tiny place writing-wise. Indeed, it’s worse, Because of the scale of the place, the result of a sustained campaign by an aggrieved academic or enthusiast actively damages the repute and (worse) income of the targeted author. It’s happened to me, and the advice I had from a solicitor was that it wasn’t worth the cost and aggravation to sue.
Sounds like you’ve had a pretty hard time of late – hope your 2013 pans out well & all the best for what you’re doing & your wonderful help for writers of all kinds!
Reblogged this on Joshua Lisec.
Inspiring! I am new, quite feeble. I need to toughen up I suppose. I tend to lack the discipline for organizing my ideas and thoughts. Thank you.
Reblogged this on wonderfulworld2013's Blog and commented:
Wonderful advice to take to heart.
I love your comment, “This is a profession, not a playpen.” So true! Love this post, Kristen. It’s my first time here, but I’ll be back.
Love the post, but am particularly enamored with your fabulous cuss-word-via-symbol-spelling. Outstanding.
Good post. I think the best thing I’ve learned is that writing is something I do it’s not who I am. Therefor when people critique it, it isn’t about me, it means I may still have something to learn (surprise 🙂 and if others are nasty, it isn’t about me and I don’t have to take it on. It truly is about learning, learning, learning and learning to stay in the game. Always… onwards and upwards.
Yow! Thanks, I needed that. I need to find some rhino pills that will make my skin tougher.
Very apt information. Thank you!
Reblogged this on Edits by Jade and commented:
This is advice I can use myself so I feel certain that there are others who need to read it as well. But be warned: this isn’t for writers who are faint of heart.
Thanks for posting this article. I reblogged this on my editing blog, Edits by Jade, https://editsbyjade.wordpress.com/ and commented:
This is advice I can use myself so I feel certain that there are others who need to read it as well. But be warned: this isn’t for writers who are faint of heart.
“Know your $!#t.”
Indeed, it is important to know the basic rules of grammar. But this rule should also be applied to the content of your story.
You should know your story inside and out, upside and down, backwards and forwards. You should even know what sort of foods your minor characters’ likes and dislikes. Each detail should be mapped out in your mind or filed away on your computer.
Why? So that when you do submit it for a review or critique, you can be ready to answer any doubts others might have. And as it was mentioned before, others might not like your story or characters. They might give you suggestions, actually really good suggestions that seem to make sense if you haven’t fleshed out your characters or developed the plot.
Critiques put things in perspective, too. When I took my first short story to an online critique group, I expected them to find problems. I was puzzled and then horrified when well-meaning readers congratulated me on my English and asked where I was from! I was born in the U.S. and English is the only language I’ve got, but I wrote the story in such a strange way that my fluency wasn’t obvious at all. Now even when I get an arm-length critique full of grievous errors, I can still be happy that readers assume I’m a native speaker.
Love, Grow a Rhino Skin. Must remember that and not worry about pleasing everyone. But, can I use the Rhino’s horn too? 🙂 Kristen, so glad you’re here to push, cheer and point us in the right direction.
Thank you, Kristen. That was amazingly well said and I’ll be sharing it with all my critters.