Thursday, August 28, 2014

7 Highly Effective Ways to Be Your Own Worst Enemy


Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. His supernatural suspense novel, Something Stirs, is available at a bookstore near you. In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Find Thomas on Twitter and Facebook.

Writing is part craft and part business. To become a professional writer, whether you’re writing ad copy or the next great American novel, the process is the same. Study the market, produce the work, edit the work, send it off. Repeat the process. And while it sounds simple on the surface, we often find multiple ways to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into the system.

How?

Here are 7 excellent ways to derail a writing career.

1. Be overly concerned about being creative. One of the biggest problems with being “creative” is the danger that you use it as a license to do things your way instead of the way they should be done. We are all creative. We create things all the time; grocery lists, notes to friends, e-mails, reports for work. Many times, however, creativity is simply Latin for EGO. “Creative” people often think that rules for other writers do not apply to creative writers. The standards for writing (format, word count, etc.) are there for a reason. The person who invented the flush toilet was being creative, but he didn’t try to make it a piece of living room furniture.

2. Spend as much time as possible waiting for inspiration. Sometimes you will write in a flash of white-hot inspiration, but that is often the exception and not the rule. Deadlines do not care how inspired you are. The professional writer sometimes drags himself/herself kicking and screaming to the blank screen and typing every word is an act of sheer willpower. The fact is, on most days writing is simply what you do because you are a writer. As Stephen King says in his book, On Writing, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

There is no muse that whispers sweet nothings in your ear. There is only the desire to do the thing you claim to love doing. The truth is, inspiration tends to visit those who are busy writing.

3. Develop the I am so much more talented than those other writers attitude. Some writers feel they have arrived, and cannot for the life of themselves figure out why other folks are selling and they aren’t. To compensate, they sometimes see their work as better than it is (sometimes on purpose). Often a writer who insists on doing things their way instead of abiding by the rules, paying their dues, etc. climb up on their pedestals and proclaim to anyone who will listen, “They are all hacks but me.” But be careful. Publishing is a small universe. And like Santa, editors keep track of who is naughty and who is nice.


4. Learn the I just don't have any ideas mantra. Let’s be brutally honest here: Ideas are easy to come up with unless your head fell off.  You have ideas every day. It's just that a lot of story/article/book/play ideas seem average or even awful at first because they require a little work to make them "sing" and we want them to come into the world fully formed. However, it is in the process of writing and rewriting that the little gem shines through. Not having any ideas usually means the ideas you have just haven’t set off all the bells and whistles in your head yet.

Often when we say "I don't have any ideas" it means we haven't allowed our minds to wander or we have tried to force an idea to happen in the midst of committee meetings, taking the kids to soccer practice, and organizing the PTA meeting. We forget to play the what if game. For example: What if I found a human head in the dryer at the laundromat? What if I found an elf sitting on the rim of the sugar bowl? What if I picked up an instrument in a music shop and was suddenly able to play like a prodigy?

5. Remind yourself and others you don’t have enough time to write. This one should actually be at the top of the list, but no matter where it falls, it is probably not true. You may not have enough desire to write (and that’s OK), but when you look at your daily routine, how much of your time is spent doing other things? Things like watching TV, going home for lunch, texting, lurking on Facebook, Tweeting what you had for breakfast, vacuuming because it’s Thursday and not because the carpet needs it? Try getting up 15-30 minutes earlier or going to bed 15-30 minutes later. Don’t use “I don’t have long stretches of time to work” as an excuse. Writing 15 minutes a day is writing. You can knock out an essay in a week at that rate. Mystery and Appalachian story writer, Sharyn McCrumb is a case in point:

“Until 1988, I had little children in diapers, I had fifteen hours of graduate work every quarter and term papers on Chaucer, and I had a full-time job. Besides that, I was writing a book a year.”

Granted, there are those who really don’t enough time in the day to write. Some people care for elderly parents, special needs children, or work three jobs to make ends meet. THEY have an excuse. But most of us don’t fall in that category.

6. Don’t learn to accept constructive criticism. Sometimes what we write is pretty good. Other times it’s not. And it is easy to be so invested in what you want to say that you miss what you’ve actually said. Chances are your mama, daddy, brother, sister, husband, wife, children, pastor, and best friend will all tell you what a good job you have done on your story, Stumpy the Tree Lizard and the Lost Treasure of Swampy Bottom (whether they actually read it all or not). And once you’ve had your ego stroked, it’s time for a real critique. Join a critique group (one that will tell you the truth), find a writing partner, or hire an English teacher at the local high school, college, or community college to read Stumpy’s adventure. Then take an honest look at their comments and do what needs to be done. (Remember…even Dean Koontz, Frank Peretti, Jonathan Maberry, and James Patterson have editors).

7. Develop the Nobody will publish my writing attitude. If you know that for a fact, then don’t do it. BUT (and that’s a Kardashian-sized but), you have to consider there are tens of thousands of magazines and thousands of publishers out there, and the writer who comes across as a professional and has the perseverance to keep trying has an automatic advantage over the competition. Just because you haven’t sold (or sold enough) YET, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Most writers have had the thought that no one will publish their work. The successful ones ignored the thought and got back to work.

2 comments:

Ane Mulligan said...

Fun post, Thomas, but filled with some good reminders. I've quit waiting for inspiration. I write inspired or not. What I write may not be great, but within it, I find my inspiration. Then I can change what I've done and make it good.

Allen Arnold said...

Thanks for this post, Thomas. To me, the one missing element was how God is involved in the creative process. For a secular writer, the equation may be limited to "part craft and part business." But for the Christian writer, the biggest part of the equation is creating with God. Otherwise, in the end we will have simply written a well-crafted work that has no eternal spark...no matter how successful. I appreciated your post - but simply wanted to highlight this vital part of the process.