Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Surviving as a Writer

In my writing posts, I've been talking about blocks and creativity. Before I move on to cover other topics (any suggestions or questions?), I thought I'd address some other emotional or psychological aspects of the writing life. I don't have solutions for all of them, but I may have suggestions or advice.

1) Perfectionism/fear of failure -- This is a big reason why many people dream of writing but never actually start. As long as the idea exists only in your head, it's pure and perfect. The moment you start trying to actually write it as a story, it becomes flawed. The thing is, that idea in your head really isn't perfect. Writing it down only exposes the flaws. It's easy to have an idea that consists of a concept and a few scenes. Having a plot and every scene needed to get from point A to point B is a lot harder. You can fix something that you've started writing. You can scrap it entirely and start over if it's not what you wanted it to be. But you can't sell an idea that's only in your head. Perfectionism and fear can also keep you from ever feeling like your work is good enough to submit. Making it the best it can be and going through multiple revisions is good, but when you get to the point you're editing your edits, you may end up editing the life out of it when you should be letting it go out into the world to find a good home.

2) Fear of rejection or criticism -- This is another potentially career-limiting issue. If you're going to be any kind of professional writer, you're going to face rejection or criticism at some point, whether it's from editors or agents or from readers and reviewers. Getting back an edited or copyedited manuscript does feel kind of like getting back a graded test or paper in school, but the point is to make your work better. The nice thing about an edited manuscript is that, unlike most tests in school, the whole point is to get a do-over and correct your mistakes. You're not being given a final grade. Fear of rejection is probably the worst possible reason to self-publish your work. I've seen way too many meltdowns happen that way -- an author decides to self-publish rather than face rejections from editors or agents, then sees negative reader feedback and completely flips out that someone didn't appreciate their genius. You've got to develop a thick skin to survive in this business. Fragile egos will go insane. Learn to spot valid criticism you can use to make your work better and disregard the clueless attacks.

3) Jealousy -- unless you get rave reviews, win all the awards, are a huge bestseller, and get big film deals with everything you write, you're probably going to face professional jealousy at some point in your career. This business is so public that it's way too easy to compare yourself to others. You can see Amazon rankings and bestseller lists, read reviews, read publishing news about contracts and deals, see bookstore placement, see who's getting invited to conventions and book festivals, see which books are getting advertising. You watch people who joined the business after you did leapfrog ahead of you, and it hurts when you feel like you've worked hard but don't have the success that others seem to be getting easily. The truth is, while a lot of stuff is public, there's also a lot you don't know is going on. Something that looks like success may not be as great as you think. There are authors who are winning awards, being invited as guests of honor, and even showing up on bestseller lists who are doing crowdfunding campaigns to pay their rent, while authors you may never have heard of are making millions. So, since your judgment of what's going on with others may not be accurate, there's no point in comparing your career to anyone else's. To stay sane, focus on what you can control, which is the amount and quality of your own work. Sometimes the cure for jealousy is to take a step back and stop giving yourself information for comparison. Unless you're searching for a new agent or publisher, you probably don't need to keep track of publishing deals, and knowing everyone's Amazon rankings doesn't do you much practical good. The other cure for jealousy is to lean in -- get to know the other authors you're comparing yourself to and make friends. It's harder to resent the success of people you care about, and when you get to know them, you learn all the stuff that might lie behind the success. Whatever you do, don't try to bring down the people you're jealous of with petty behavior like one-star reviews or public bashing. You're probably not going to change the minds of the people who made that author successful, and you'll only make yourself look bad.

If you are the person who gets all the good things and has it work out well for you, you may be the target of professional jealousy. You don't even have to be super-successful. You just have to have the career that someone else wants. Most of the time, you may not even be aware of it, though there have been times when people lashed out in destructive ways. I don't have a lot of experience with this, but I suppose the best thing you can do is ignore it. Being open about the good and bad of your career instead of only bragging about the good things might help.

4) Frustration -- This is the source of a lot of the professional jealousy, when the things you can't control seem to be conspiring against you -- your editor leaves and the replacement doesn't care about your book, your publicist drops the ball, you can't seem to get reviews, your book doesn't get shelved, the trend your book fits into tanks. Again, the only real solution is to focus on what you can control. It's up to you when or if to decide that it's not worth it. You can either keep on, try doing something different, or quit. Let your frustration motivate you, but don't let it poison you.

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