);

Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: aspiring writer

Original image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin
Original image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

When we begin this dream of writing, there are a number of hurdles we must pass if we hope to become successful. Some of those obstacles are on the outside, yet many are internal battles. If we waste precious energy fretting over the things we have no way to change? That’s valuable creative energy that can be focused on what’s within the domain of our responsibility.

Schrodinger’s Cat Writer—Who is a “Real Writer”?

I see blogs about this all the time, and I’ve been through this myself. We fall into existential thinking. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it fall? Or, if a writer writes a bazillion words and no one reads them, is the writer a “real writer?” Personally, I am into practicality, not philosophy.

I don’t believe it is a case of “real writer” or “fake/poseur/hobbyist writer.”

Oh, I’m not a “real writer” until I’m published, making money and have a three-book deal.

Many of us are asking the wrong question. Real Writer? Hobbyist?

The question has nothing to do with a finished book, a published book, or even hitting a best-seller list. If we use these questions as a litmus test for our success, we will always feel we don’t measure up no matter how much we attain.

I’ve put boundaries on my family and write an hour a day, but since I am not published, I am not a “real writer” yet.

Oh, sure, well I finished a full novel and even published it, but I only sold a few copies. Not a “real writer” yet.” When I hit a best-seller list, then I’ll be a real writer.

Well, I hit the best-seller list on Amazon, but I’ll be a REAL writer when I hit the New York Times list.

We are all “real writers” (if we are putting words on a page) but this is a fruitless pursuit that generally leads nowhere because it’s the wrong question. The question isn’t whether having a finished book, an agent, a three-book deal, high sales numbers and best-selling lists make us “real.”

There is a Difference in the “Real Writer” and the “Professional Writer”

Why? Because I’ve seen many writers attend writing groups for five, ten fifteen years and I know they likely won’t make it in the business. Are they “real”? Sure, there are pages to critique and they do have that novel they’ve been perfecting since the Bush Administration.

Yet, are they going anywhere?

Being a professional writer is a shift in mind-set and how we view ourselves. We begin to look at our art as our profession even if that profession is the second job next to the day job.

Screw “Aspiring.” “Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer.

I’ve attended conferences where attendees easily forked out a thousand dollars or more to learn business and craft. When I ask who in the room is an aspiring writer? Always hands raised. Trust me, anyone willing to put money on the line? That is a “real” writer. In fact, that is part of being a “professional” writer.

“Aspiring writers” are the people who say things like, “Yeah, my life would make a GREAT story. Hey, maybe you could write it. I give you the idea and you write it and we split 50/50.”

Sure, after I go bathe my pet unicorn.

Now, of course, there is the difference between a “professional writer” and a “published professional writer”  and then even a “successful professional writer.” Yet, I assure you if you learn to view yourself first as a professional writer then making your way to the next two levels will come far faster. It’s why I loathe the term “aspiring writer” and encourage titles like “pre-published writer.” Aspiring Writer is fruity-tooty and gives permission for us to be hobbyists and dabblers.

Professional Writer assumes the victory.

The mind is the battlefield, and we have to master how we view ourselves and what we do in order to reach that final tier we long to be part of “successful professional writer.”

When I began, I was an “aspiring writer” too. I spun my wheels, allowed family to walk all over me, and believed my writing time wasn’t valuable (because it was really just a cute hobby since no one could yet buy my book). When my mother wanted to go to lunch or shopping, I stepped away from my work. When my brother needed a last-minute babysitter? Okay, I was only writing.

Transitioning to Professional Writer Gives Us:

Permission to value what we are doing.

We can’t reach our goals if we believe they’re unworthy, or that we are unworthy of attaining them.

Permission to set boundaries.

I remember when I finally put a boundary on my mom. She meant well and wanted to spend time with me. But I finally stood up and said, “I don’t show up in the middle of your shift at the hospital and then give you attitude when you can’t walk away from your job to go shoe shopping with me. This is my job. And no, I am not published yet, but I never will be unless I do the work. I love you and am happy to go to lunch, after I make my word count for the day. You are just going to have to wait.”

Permission to Invest in Our Business

Writing books, craft classes and conferences are now business investments. Yet, some people claim, “Yeah, well anyone can write.” No, you have to be literate and have a desire first. I counter with this. Anyone can be a salesperson (provided you don’t have social phobias and aren’t mute). But not everyone can be a successful salesperson.

There is no licensing or college degrees in “sales” only results. But salespeople have no problem claiming the title and then investing time and money into getting better at SALES, because the good ones embrace the professional status.

Social media isn’t a frivolity, it’s a necessity. How can we learn the dangers in our business, discover great agents, the right publisher, understand the climate of our industry, and network with people who can help us do better (discover great formatters, reviewers, book cover designers, beta readers, editors) if we are an island of one?

Without social media, how can we create a platform that will eventually support and drive book sales if we don’t invest the time in laying the foundation? Blogging isn’t an indulgence, it’s training to become a stronger, faster, leaner writer who makes self-imposed deadlines. It’s also the most stable form of social media and plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers WRITE.

This job requires self-discipline. Trust me, we learn self-discipline when we write no matter what, even if we are blogging to the ether. Yet, keep going and growing? And eventually that won’t be the case.

Blog like I teach you in Rise of the Machines and eventually your future readers WILL find you, but they can’t find you if there is nothing to discover.

Professionals see value in all of this. They read books, listen to audio books, go to conferences, network, place boundaries (on themselves and others) and they do the WORK.

Permission to Embrace Small Beginnings

There are hair stylists with 6 month waiting lists filled with A-List Hollywood clientele. Guarantee you they didn’t start that way. But what if they gave up when they first began doing hair because only one or two people a day sat in their chair? Followings for blogs and books start slowly and grow with guided, intelligent, persistence.

Permission to Get the Work DONE

The world doesn’t reward perfection, it rewards finishers. Once we shift our view to “professional writers” we innately understand professionals don’t work when they feel like it or are inspired. Professionals have goals and a drive to meet deadlines and benchmarks. They get the butt in chair and work.

So instead of debating the issue of what makes a “real writer”? Which is all opinion and everyone has a different one. I say focus on being a professional writer, because those are far easier to spot :D.

Thus the question I want you to ask yourselves daily (and I do it too) is: Am I being a professional writer? This will make it far clearer to praise what we’re doing right and come up higher in areas where we fall short.

What are your thoughts? Questions? Have you called yourself an aspiring writer and had friends, family, pets and needy houseplants wall all over your writing time? Have you made the mental transition and found greater focus? Have you had to invest in a meth-addicted Tasmanian Devil with a gun to guard your office?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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. 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

***I have a class coming up TOMORROW, I am running a Your First Five Pages webinar. Bronze is $40 and Gold is $55 (I look at your first five pages) and use WANA15 for 15% off.

A few weeks ago, I started a series that I called Don’t Eat the Butt. Why? Because typing “butt” makes me giggle. No, I think there are some important lessons here, so let me explain. I have always found the puffer fish fascinating. For those who choose to eat 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.

Take a bite! I dare ya!

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 series is designed to help you guys spot the toxic beliefs that can KILL a writing career. You might have heard the saying, Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Well, I am saying, 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…

Don’t Eat the Butt Myth #4–Real writers never struggle.

It takes a lot of courage to write a book and even more courage to share that book with the world and open ourselves to criticism. Many new writers fall in love with their first book and, like a new parent, fall in love with their “baby.” Thus, when anyone criticizes our child we get angry, protective, defensive and eventually depressed (when we finally are brave enough to realize our baby has flaws).

It happens to most writers.

There is this pervasive myth that real writers are these born geniuses who gush forth brilliance and never need to rewrite, revise or, sigh…start over. It is a LIE. Yes, there are the odd outliers who write one book and they shoot to fame, but beginner’s luck is highly overrated and almost impossible to duplicate. Many times these writers are one-hit-wonders who are befuddled as to how to recreate the magic. They have a different curse, one that is similar to child stars.

 

Oh, dear.

For the rest of us, struggle is part of the process. Writers struggle because they are writing. Just because you are having a hard time, doesn’t therefore make you an aspiring writer. The aspiring writer is the one who says, “Oh, I’ve had some really interesting experiences that would make a good story. One day, I’ll write a book.” The aspiring writer is lazy and tries to solicit real writers to do the hard work for them.

Frequently, they will offer to share royalties if a real writer writes the book and they just furnish the “best-selling” story. One can always spot the aspiring writer—Genus-Species Scrivnus Aspirus Lazytuchus—by their key phrase, “One day…”

They say things like, “One day, when I have time…” “One day, when I get a better computer…” “One day, when the kids are older…”

Do not be fooled. The Scrivnus Aspirus Lazytuchus has evolved to get out of doing any hard work. The Scrivnus Aspirus mimics the Scrivnus Authenticas so it can have all the adoration of being an artist without any of the risk, pain or suffering that goes with creating real art.

The Scrivnus Aspirus (Aspiring Writer) is to the Scrivnus Authenticas (Real Writer) as the Viceroy Butterfly is to the Monarch Butterfly—they look a lot alike but they ain’t the same thing, honey. Both are butterflies writers, but only one is the real deal.

 

The Scrivnus Aspirus is a phoney, and oddly enough, many a Scrivnus Authenticas can be fooled into an identity crisis if not careful. How can one separate the Aspirus from the Authenticas?

You will know them by their works.

The Authenticas works. She writes words. LOTS OF THEM. Many an Authenticas believes that if she isn’t producing good words, published words or award-winning words then she MUST be an Aspirus. Untrue. It is a myth. Words are part of the struggle from the cocoon. Good words, bad words all count.

See, the Aspirus doesn’t care for struggle. Struggle cuts into reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Thus, this creature will always be a fake longing to be real and sometimes even self-deluding that it is an Authenticas.

But again, we can spot an Authenticas by her struggle. So don’t eat the butt and don’t fall for the lies.

All Scrivnum Authenticum struggle. It is how they grow stronger so one day they can fly. If you aren’t struggling, then you might be an Aspirus. Struggling is proof you are real. We aren’t born knowing three-act structure or how to layer complex characters or how to infuse theme and symbol into a work spanning 60-100,000 words.

All of that is learned through struggle.

It’s like lifting weights. No one gets muscles curling her grandmother’s one pound pink weights. If your writing has gotten easy, that might be a clue you need to stretch your wings a little more.

Maybe friends and family have you convinced you aren’t a real writer because you aren’t yet published and you haven’t won contests, do not listen. Only a trained eye can tell the difference between a Viceroy Aspirus and an Monarch Authenticas. So if you are suffering and hurting and feeling like your cerebral cortex is doing Ashtanga yoga as you pound out words–good, bad and UGLY–day after day?

Welcome to being an artist. Fly, little Authenticum, FLY!!!!

So are you a Scrivnus Authenticas who has been fooled into believing you are really an Scrivnus Aspirus? How did you realize you had been lied to? What tips do you have for little Scrivnum Authenticum?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 March 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 . 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.

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.

NO!

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.“?

Again….no.

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!

Happy writing!