Friday, January 13, 2012

The Perils of Indecisiveness

I have been diligently chewing over an array of ideas for my next blog post, but I have been unable to commit to one. So we’re going to go with the theme “Inability to Commit.”

My inability to make a decision and stick with it is the only reason I haven’t gotten a tattoo. I exercise woman’s prerogative to change her mind more diligently than I should, and there isn’t an element of life in existence that I can’t over-think. I can’t even park the car at Target without calculating exit strategies and traffic patterns and cart return techniques. It’s a little scary.

I was one of those “cradle novelists” – people so driven to write that they begin creating stories before they’ve even learned their alphabet. So why did it take me all these years to finally pursue that drive to create?

Even when it is, figuratively speaking, “true love” and you know to the bottom of your soul that it is all that you really want, it is an incredibly difficult path to choose. Teachers, parents, friends, strangers on the bus… they will all tell you, “Hey, that’s great that you want to be a novelist. But it’s really hard to get published, let alone make a living off of it. You need to figure out what you’re going to do to pay the bills.” They’re not wrong, exactly, but this advice comes with a very pernicious subliminal message: writing is a hobby to do in your spare time, not a career.

And so begins the gradual erosion of confidence. The thinking that you cannot choose to be a professional writer leads to the conviction that you lack sufficient skill to be one of the hallowed few to actually become successful authors. This then leads you to the sneaking suspicion that you are actually a talentless hack.

Next thing you know, you’re working as a paralegal, proofreading patent applications for toilet seats.

Scary, huh?

If someone had said to me all those years ago, “Hey, maybe you should just give it a shot before you’ve got kids and a mortgage and all that,” would I have had the courage to try? I have no way of knowing. Nor do I even necessarily believe that it would have been the best choice to make. Even successful authors discourage would-be writers from trying to live off their writing alone.

What my experiences did prove to me is that if you cannot make a choice – if you float through life just taking the path of least resistance – you will never achieve your true goals. At some point, you have to stand up and say “no” to the people in your life – the family, friends, and coworkers who push you into things you don’t really want for yourself. You have to stand in your truth, which means committing to yourself.

It’s a little sad that committing to yourself is harder than committing to another person. I was 100% more terrified of taking the plunge and really trying to succeed as an author than I was of walking down the aisle and pledging to spend the rest of my life with this really cute boy I met at college. And the commitment is key.

Whether you have a day job or not, you absolutely MUST commit yourself to your writing if you wish to succeed. You cannot finish a novel, edit it thoroughly, find an agent and publisher, or self-publish without that commitment. This is not a hobby like knitting – you can’t set your project aside until you have a long weekend or a vacation. This is a career that can coexist with other careers, but it is a career nonetheless. You wouldn’t call your boss and say, “Hey, I’m not going to work for a couple months because I’ve just got too much other stuff going on.” To become an author, you have to treat your writing with the same level of dedication and respect that you would give to an office job. If your work ethic would get you fired from a traditional job, then you won’t succeed at writing either.

Set hours for yourself – create deadlines. Commit to your writing if you want to actually succeed.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The How-To How-To

As an indie author, I read a lot of articles that give tips for writers on how to get published or even just how to write a book from start to finish. I also talk to other authors, and we share helpful hints and suggestions with each other. There is no definitive checklist for how to successfully manage the writing, promotion, and minutiae of indie publication, so swapping notes and sharing experiences with each other is a huge benefit to the entire community.


It is also difficult to know with any certainty exactly how much weight to place on these gems of wisdom. Do I take the advice of this blogger with a pinch of salt, or do I rely on it and model my own efforts after it? Am I doing this wrong because I failed to follow the steps laid out in this article? How crucial are these things?

One question pretty much every writer hates is, “Where do you get your ideas?” This may truly be the only subject upon which authors, indie or otherwise, can agree.  When it comes to any other aspect of the writing profession, I have read articles that contradict each other, I have talked to authors who have conflicting opinions about the role of social media in promoting books, and I have read books that try to create a step-by-step instruction manual for writers to follow that inevitably disagree with each other.

So if you take all this advice and squoosh it all together, what do you end up with? I have taken all the grapes of wisdom I’ve encountered and distilled them here:

1)      It’s okay to write at your own pace. If you compare your creative process to anyone else’s, you are guaranteed to feel inferior at some point. If you have taken a year to write your novel and another writer took one month, does it necessarily follow that you are a talentless hack? No – it just means that you spent more time crafting your story and characters. Writers are notorious for talking about how long the first draft took – you rarely hear about the fifty-eight revisions that followed. Every time I hear an author talking about how he or she wrote a book in a week while taking care of five children, learning to play the accordion, and curing cancer, I feel like an underachiever. I never actually stop and read these books to see if they’re any good – I just immediately question my own talent. It’s a very human response, but it’s counterproductive and irrational. Don’t fall into that trap.

2)      Social media is a necessary evil. Writers want to write. Unfortunately, to succeed in this modern world, you will have to embrace at least some social media. This is how you promote your book; this is the way to reach the largest potential audience. Suck it up, sweetheart – it must be done. Bare minimum for the unwilling? Facebook fan page, Twitter account, and a blog. Even better? LinkedIn profile, Goodreads author page, and a nice website of your very own are all excellent ideas. Yes, it’s going to take a big chunk of your free time. No, a note from your mother won’t get you excused.

3)      Your greatest asset is other writers. Facebook. Blogs. Goodreads. Twitter. LinkedIn. Novel Publicity. Writing circles. Go forth and find your people. Don’t be shy. Talk to them. Ask your questions. Promote their books. Participate in blog hops. Remember that the authors who participate in these forums are looking for the same support that you are. Your comrades will provide you with endless wisdom, support, and sympathy. They’ll share stories of success and failure. They’ll let you know about scams, crooked dealings, and other pitfalls. They’ll direct you to online and print resources to answer your more detailed questions. They’ll show you that there are an infinite number of paths leading to publication and success as an author. Most importantly, they will understand your challenges, your fears, and your hopes in a way no one else can. That kind of community and understanding more than justifies the time investment.

The only advice I would add to this amalgam of all the other advice I’ve heard is that you need to respect your writing. As I mentioned above, the creative process is different for everyone, but you will achieve nothing if you do not believe in yourself. Take yourself seriously. Take your writing seriously. Don’t look to other people to validate the time you spend writing your novel – you must find that validation within yourself. Once you say to yourself “I am an author” and start acting like one, you are a thousand miles closer to achieving your dream.