So far we’ve made it through most of our Writer Acrostic. V is for Voluntarily Submit. Know there will be trials and challenges and there is far more strength in bending than breaking. I was for Identify Problem Areas. We can’t fix what we fail to acknowledge. Every day in this profession is about writing better than we did the day before. C was for Change Your Mind. We can only achieve what we can first conceive. Make your mind and set it and keep it set. T was for Turn Over our Future. When we let go of things we can’t control, we’re far more powerful to drive and direct that which we can.
O is for One Day at a Time
I don’t trust people who’ve never failed. As I’ve told you guys, Hubby was Special Operations. Recently we were talking about the training for the Green Berets and Delta Force. These programs are designed to make participants fail. They WANT people to fail because failure shows what people are really made of.
In those programs, the rare few who do make it through the first time still are not guaranteed a slot. Why? Because the folks who run Special Forces know it is the Type A Overachiever who gravitates to these careers. It’s the athlete, the guy who maybe made the best grades or went to a prestigious military academy. This is a person driven by success and accustomed to winning.
Those responsible for the training don’t want the first time a candidate faces failure to be in combat when others could die.
Thus, they break them to see who they are, what they are capable of (or not). Will the candidate who fails rise or fall apart? Will he try again? And again? And maybe…again?
The Old Gold Standard
Not that I long for the Old Publishing Paradigm, but it did have its merits. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was nightmarishly tough. We failed, often over and over and over. Thus, when we finally landed an agent and saw that book in print, it was an accomplishment few ever saw. Gatekeepers stood in the way and not everyone wore
a green beret the title of “published author.”
Deep down, many of us still want that Traditional Seal of Approval. I do. Granted, it makes ZERO business sense for me, but my heart still longs for it. Why? It was simpler. In the olden days, so long as NY granted me their blessing, it didn’t matter if my book sold ten copies. It was out of my control. Sales weren’t my validation so long as I could loudly proclaim, “I AM A RANDOM-PENGUIN!”
Now? All us.
And this can be liberating and terrifying.
I know I’ve written three best-selling books that never would have been published if I’d stuck to the NY model. But? Succeed or die, it has ALL been on me. That is enough pressure to crumble most. Heck, crumbles me some days. Guess what? That is OKAY.
I’m not asking you or even me to be perfect every day. I’m only asking you recognize this happens ONE day at a time. Success isn’t permanent, but guess what? Neither is failure 😉 .
My First REAL Mentor
I began this blog in honor of my first real mentor, Bob Mayer. I own every one of his books. I loved his self-published version of Who Dares Wins and dogeared and highlighted until the book fell apart, gifted copies to everyone I knew. I met Bob at a conference years ago when I believed I knew how to write. Could I edit? OH YES. I had a gift in that area. Writing?
Bob was so kind to me. I’d send him a sample and I’d get back:
Sucks. Try harder.
We had a long-running joke that one day I’d get more than a four-word e-mail.
Do it again.
*Insert sound of Kristen weeping*
Bob never even referred to me by my first name until a year after he published my first book…and MAN that was a GLORIOUS day. When I first met Bob, I was so full of what I thought I knew. He tore that down so something better could take its place. And I don’t want to make Bob sound mean, because he’s far from it. I wouldn’t be here had I not been blessed enough to know him.
Here was a NYTBSA who was taking the TIME to read my pages and respond. But…he never gave me the answer, so I had to hunt for it. I had to EARN IT. One step at a time. One day at a time. One blog at a time. One BOOK at a time.
Bob never gave me a First Place Trophy for Attendance, for “trying.” To this day I don’t think I’ve earned First Place Anything in Bob’s book other than being a pain in his neck, LOL. But he was the BEST mentor any author could ask for. He challenged me.
How badly did I want the dream? Was I willing to fail, and fail, and fail, and REALLY fail, and fail some more and keep going, learning, growing?
Yes, but I did it ONE DAY AT A TIME. My mentor taught me this.
I honor the gift he gave me with every post, with every book, with every step forward. I want all my actions to show his time was never wasted. I believe deep inside that Bob never would have answered my stupid newbie e-mails had he not seen something in me. He saw the good, but I know Bob is a WISE man. He also saw the bad. My craving for approval and fluffy unicorn hugs. He fired that crap out of me quickly.
Embrace your failures. Learn. If we aren’t failing it means we aren’t doing anything interesting.
Try, fail, learn, do again. Repeat.
And, if we learn that progress comes ONE DAY AT A TIME we are far more forgiving with ourselves, but also able to WRITER UP.
What are your thoughts? Is it easier if you break it into one day at a time? Do you bite off too much? Do you overwhelm yourself? Is your skin getting thicker? What are you proud of? What thing took you FOREVER to achieve but you value it so much because it was SO dang HARD?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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. 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).
If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.
Another great – and true – post!
I belong to a critique group in which anyone who feels like they want to be a writer is welcome to join. The leader of this group, however, is my mentor and she knows how serious I am about writing. I asked her to be brutal with me, beat me up and tear my work apart, because I knew that was the only way I could improve. When her friend drove her home, she was told she had been much to hard on me so she called and asked if I was ok. My response, “Heck, yeah!” I’ll never forget the day two newbies showed up and sat silently listening to one of those no-holds-barred critiques! I saw their faces and tried to explain to them that I had asked for this and reassure them that we really were a nice group of people and unless they wanted a critique like mine, they would get a much gentler version, but we never saw them again. They should have stayed. Out of a group of eight, we have four published authors (three multi-published) and a fifth person has had numerous stories published in anthologies and magazines.
Success teaches nothing; failure teaches everything. Great article. Thanks.
That’s exactly who those nasty e-book only contracts were targeting back in 2012, the authors who just wanted to say they were on (insert big name here), even if they had nothing to show for it.
Great post, I really enjoy your stuff Kristen. It’s great motivation as I undertake an *EXCRUCIATING* rewrite of my first book, for no reason other than I think it needs to be better. ARGH (self-flagellation continues)
I stood my ground and held out for something better. An independent traditional publisher who valued my creative vision. 🙂
Honestly, I have no idea what I am doing anymore. I don’t want it enough, and I am starting to come to terms that I never really wanted anything at all. That’s the only one day at a time I can come up with right now for me: How much I don’t want it.
I had this huge drive to be a novelist, to write amazing worlds and make something…
And the fire just died out. I wasn’t driven, I wasn’t honest, I wasn’t striving for anything.
Nothing was good enough and I didn’t care enough to fight through it and fix it because I just don’t care.
I do have a few small things published and I am writing down all of my life story (at least the first half so far), but I look at books and groan. I try to read in my genre and/or field and I really just don’t care.
I get the passion for reading and writing, but now I often doubt if I had that to begin with.
These are some stirring words and I hope someone is motivated to take it one day at a time and get their stuff done.
Matthew–thanks for sharing this. So much of what you said resonates, and I’ve had five novels published…I’m striking matches hoping to get the fire started again.
My sister Sheila, ever the sweet Southern darling, tries to spare my feelings. “Jean, I love this line, but how the hell does it move the story forward?” She has a wicked sense of humor at http://www.cowpasturechronicles.com/p/author-profile.html
Wow! This has to be a first for me! I’m the second one to leave a comment! Wow! Anyway I agree fully with everything you said. The writing has easy days and rough days and working with editors is kind of the same. It took me four years to write my first book and by the time it was published, it had been changed so many times, I lost count, but the finished product was SO worth it.
I searched and found a small publisher to produce my first book because doing it myself would have turned out very bad. I knew I’d probably not live long enough to see my book in print if I went with the BIG guys in New York. Even the nine months it took working with editors and finally getting published seemed to take forever and it’s proving true with the second book also, but in the end, it’s all worth the worry and heartache.
Online writing groups gave me thick skin. My work was critiqued and I couldn’t say one word to defend myself which was perfect. It forced me to carefully think (once I’d cooled down or stopped crying) about the feedback I got and if I wanted to apply it to my story and/or writing.
My bff is my critique partner now and the thing I love most is that she’s brutally honest. Knowing she’s going to tear my stories apart makes me work harder at making them better and what things to look for in my writing. I wouldn’t change for her anyone else!
Kristen, I love and read all of your posts. You’re inspirational. I agree with the thought that it is validating to have a book traditionally published. I didn’t do that. I just self-pubbed my first book this month (after years of re-writing, editing, querying…) and though I am getting great reviews, it’s difficult to market. Thank you (again) for your post. I would love to be considered for a critique. I have yet to find a mentor like Bob Mayer, though not for lack of trying. Enjoy your day!
Reblogged this on Montairyus and commented:
Kristen Lamb continues to give some valuable advice…
Thanks for sharing this inspirational message. I am neck deep into my first full novel and have come to believe writing is for masochists. The pain and strain offers a joy that only a few understand. I link it to be similar to a long distance runner persisting through the pain to find the euphoria on the other side. After all these years writing short pieces this is truly a new experience building characters and bringing them to life with a relevant and relatable plot in a painted setting that virtually stops time but not the interactions and emotions between the characters. Thanks….
When I took this year off for writing my father looked at me like I was insane. “So you’re basically going to lie around and do nothing for a year?”
Now, after 9 months of me getting up at 6:30 every day and doing 8 hours of intense work on writing, editing or plotting, his mind has changed.
“I never imagined being an author could be so much work.”
One point for writers everywhere, yay!
Oh wow Kristen. This really touched me! I feel invigorated to keep striving for excellence. I resonated with the example of your mentor and how he pushed you to earn what you have. Thank you so much.
Failing is tough, but I agree with you — it’s the best teacher in the world. Or at least the closest thing to a mentor like Bob Mayer most of us will ever get.
SOOO much easier to take things one day at a time! And I’ll tell you what, I’ve grown up over the last year. I’m taking care of things and learning not to sweat the small stuff. I’m proud of myself for stepping up and getting things done, even though its tough.
Thanks so much for this post!
Have a great afternoon,
Amen. Preach it. Seriously, I have to think one day at a time or I get overwhelmed. This is one of the best things to remember when writing a novel. Write every day even if it is just a little and it builds and becomes a novel.
Thanks for your never-ending words of wisdom and reminders!
I’m proud of myself, bewildered and sometimes overwhelmed. I never imagined that the words would flow so freely on many different topics, that post titles would swim eagerly into my mind (seemingly out of nowhere) and a story would happily doggy paddle it’s way behind. I write mostly everyday. And somedays when I hadn’t ‘planned’ on it. 🙂 ~Karen~
Just wanted somewhere to post: “I finished my fourth draft and it’s going to a proofreader after one more read through from me.”
Next step: querying agents. Ugh. This is where I gave up the last two times I tried this writing gig. Now I’ve truly committed (quit my job, write every day) so even though I feel hopeless about this step, I will take it one day at a time.
Great advice. Thanks for being my digital mentor. I wouldn’t be this far without you.
What? No unicorn cuddles? Can I still be a random penguin if I self-pub? 😀
I’m getting better at taking it one day at a time, but I’m still haunted by how many ‘one day’s are involved – and what if after all that time and effort, my work turns out to be a painstakingly piled heap of skybalon – not worth it? Only one way to find out…
You can always wear a tux and stumble around with your arms glued to your sides while you make SQUAK noises. Do penguins say squak? Whatever.
Some days I feel like it’s one MINUTE at a time, haha!
Note to self: find tux; research penguin vocalization…
Learn from Bender: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyXvxfi8Ugk
Kristen, I believe you also offer a service critiquing authors’ stories for a fee, do you not? Can you remind me how that works? I’ve been writing short stories – as well as several novels – for several years now but, except for some small initial success on selling my stories, have had no luck selling any to pro-paying ezines. I’m at wit’s end trying to determine what is lacking in my stories since the ezine editors don’t give any feedback other than saying that “it doesn’t work for me.” I’ve studied the stories that have been published and frankly, am not impressed with many of them.
Sincerely, *Alice A. Kemp*
Website: http://www.aakemp.com Go to my website for a free download of my collection of sci-fi and horror stories.
I can edit pages. Shoot me an e-mail at kristen at wan a intl dot com.
I needed this today. I needed to have my grit and determination and failure compared to SEAL training. Thank you for being brutally honest with us. It does take a certain kind of person to cling fiercely to their dreams. I’m grateful to count myself one of those people today.
I’ve failed and on occasion I’ve succeeded and I’m certain I’m not through doing either. 🙂
Since childhood, reading books by some wonderful authors, I have been dreaming about writing a book myself. Few days into my online blogging journey, after getting some encouraging comments about my posts, I actually wrote few pages for my book. And… the fear of failure overpowered my enthusiasm.
Now, your words coming have rekindled my passion! Thank you and special thanks to your Mentor!
Wish if you can review my attempt at writing at ydandgavhal.wordpress.com & say a few words, some guidance to help me improve…
If at first you don’t succeed … hang gliding may not be for you.
Just about any other task, though, is fair game.
My standards are so high that I have not yet been able to meet them.
Every day I learn something new, and I get closer to my goal.
To me the writing is a joy, it’s the marketing that is a one day at a time slog, but it is part of the process and there are good days. A mentor would be lovely. I’m in the market for that.
Oh absolutely. If I think about all that has to be done before my novel is ready to publish, I may just break down and spend all my evenings watching Bill O’ Reilly. We don’t want that to happen. But if I can write one killer sentence per night during my writing time, that’s how I know I’m really going to make this happen. To be honest, it scares me to death to know that I won’t have the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing industry to keep me from publishing crap (yet, every day, I read traditionally published crap), but that’s why we’re so good at forming communities. We become our own gatekeepers. Glad you’re all here.
Great post and it came for me at a great time. I, too, am a huge fan of Bob Mayer’s. I’ve read all his books on publishing and whenever he’s in town I go hear him speak. By following Bob around I was blessed to meet Jen Talty, his business partner, and she’s been a kind of mentor to me. It was her encouraging words that helped me take the leap to self-pub and she allows me to ask her all kinds of dumb questions about the business process. I love her.
But with the release of my second book, which I should be thrilled I’ve accomplished, all I see are the lack of sales. And I feel like a failure. You’ve reminded me today, to keep trying. Try again, try something new, keep going. And hopefully, someday, I’ll have the success I hope for. Thanks again!
Thanks for this, Kristen. It’s been a horrible couple of days, writer-wise, and I really needed a reminder that not all the days are like this. In fact, most aren’t. I just need to put on my big-girl panties and deal with it, already. 🙂
This is exactly what I needed today. Thank you so much!
Thanks again, Kristen. A post that I needed to read today.
So well timed once again Kristen, as I have just sent my work in progress to a literary consultant, and am looking into her becoming my writing mentor. I just want her to say that it’s fantastic already and there’s hardly any work to do. I don’t think she will say that. I’m going to have to carry on failing and getting up again to get where I want to be. Great reminder!
Love that “Writer Up.” Also good to know that the same “one day at a time” that’s kept me sober for over 25 years can also get me back to writing.
I over extend myself every day. I’m notorious for bearing the weight of the world then wondering why i had to let things go for so long. I constantly have to remind myself its okay to fail as long as i keep perfecting and trying. My parents were never kind to me for failing at anything so i often have no one but you who tells me its okay. My friends often see me as the guru of all things successful but then they, like most readers of good books, only see the finished product of anything I do. The few who were bless/cursed to work along side me in any project i have been “in charge” of see how much i fail before i get it just right. Its very hard for me some days, i want to succeed so i can quit the crappy day job. But i also know to do that i need to make high sales, so i’m trying very very hard to do it all, and mostly do it alone cause I got me, myself and I. Then I got you telling me what to do and what not to do so i take sanctuary in that.
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Darn I missed the cut off day
As long as each of your mistakes is different from the previous ones, you’re doing great.
Some of us need to learn by making every possible mistake before we figure out how to get it right.