Before you read on, please note that I am and have been guilty of these unhealthy habits. Letâ€™s just dive in and get the pain over with:
1. Write to get published
2. Spend more time talking about writing than actually writing
3. Believe excuses as to why you never have time to write
4. Need the approval of others whether it is a contest judge, a “get-published-quick” seminar or a critique partner
5. Say â€œif I finish a bookâ€ instead of â€œwhen I finish the bookâ€
6. Canâ€™t keep your behind in the chair, or worse, play online Mah-jong for “inspiration”
7. Give up too early
Write to get published
I know what youâ€™re thinking. But trust me, I know what Iâ€™m talking about. Early in my career I was chasing my own tail by trying to write to sell. Bad idea. I should have been writing to uncover my voice. This realization happened after I had finished a book that I intended to sell as a category romance. Did it sell? Hell no. Did I want it to? Well, not really because it just didnâ€™t feel right. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with category; it just wasnâ€™t me. Thatâ€™s when I realized that writers don’t get published because they created a story that fits the new trend everyone is buying. They are chosen because of their voice, their unique way of looking at and making sense of the world.
So how do you know when youâ€™ve uncovered your voice? Two things. First, the story is true when it is so honest that someone could get hurt, or threaten to disown you.
Second, the writing is like typing an email to a friend … but with more drama and a liberal use of SpellChecker. I know the characters are real when it feels like they’re talking through me. By the way, that doesn’t happen all the time and it often happens when I’m doing other things like showering or feeding my son. However, in revisions it is much easier to tap into what I imagine is an underground river of words. Which is why I race as quickly as possible through the first draft so I can get to the good stuff.
Spend more time talking about writing than actually writing
Thatâ€™s self explanatory so letâ€™s move on.
Believe excuses as to why you never have time to write
I donâ€™t buy this excuse. Sorry if I offend, but Iâ€™ve had the 12-hour job and I still wrote during my lunch hour and on weekends. For the past six months, Iâ€™ve been a stay-at-home-working mom. I write two to four hours a night (depending on how close I am to my deadline) and eight hours on the weekend. Before you plan to slash my tires at the next meeting Iâ€™ll admit that there are nights when Iâ€™m incapable of spelling my name, much less writing. But I cop to it and Iâ€™m getting better at outlining as well as carry a handheld tape recorder to capture ideas on the fly.
It all boils down to commitment.
Need the approval of others whether it is a contest judge, a “get-published-quick” seminar or a critique partner
This should be called the deadliest habit and this is why I firmly believe that all new writers should not jump into critique groups. Itâ€™s a tough line to walk because you have to hone your instincts and know when your voice clicks. On the other hand, we grow from constructive criticism. Experience has taught me if someoneâ€™s bringing you down, if they make you feel like theyâ€™re shoving a sock down your throat, walk away. I was a lone ranger for many years before I found my critique group just for that reason. By the time I found my critique group, I had three books under my belt.
If I still havenâ€™t convinced you, let me put it this way: how many best selling authors have said that there was someone who told them theyâ€™d never make it? Just about every single one of them.
Say â€œif I finish a bookâ€ instead of â€œwhen I finish the bookâ€
Buddhists train for years, decades sometimes, on mastering the art of meditation, or quieting the mind. First they learn to breathe by counting each inhale and exhale. When you get that down, they learn to treat their thoughts like clouds in the sky and when they start thinking, they learn how to acknowledge the thought but pull away from it. A true master can go into a complete state of non-thinking and slow the breath down to an almost comatose state.
My point is that you take those principles and revise what you say to yourself. When you hear yourself saying, â€œit just isnâ€™t good enoughâ€, or â€œI canâ€™t get it to workâ€, or â€œthat agent wonâ€™t listen to meâ€; acknowledge that you just said that and then turn around with a positive rebuttal: â€œit will be good enough if I work on itâ€, â€œI will get it to work by getting to know my character betterâ€ or â€œsheâ€™ll listen to me if I practice.â€
Canâ€™t keep your behind in the chair, or worse, play online Mah-jong for “inspiration”
Discipline protects the talent. My very first mentor, Ben Masselink, said those words to me the last time I saw him. The book wonâ€™t get done unless you write it. Thereâ€™s just no getting around it.
Give up too early
If you feel like you can’t type one more word, or that your work will never be good enough, think of what Wonder Woman would do. Do you think she’d give up while fighting for our rights in her satin tights? I was rejected 15 times before Hot Tamara sold. And guess what? I got the 16th the day after and the final 17th two weeks after the deal was reported in Publisherâ€™s Marketplace (fools, all of them â€¦ ha ha ha!)
Oh sorry, did that come out?
If I had listened to those 15 rejections, that book would be in my closet and who knows where Iâ€™d be. (Oh thatâ€™s a scary thought, so letâ€™s move on.)
Allow me to leave you with the Seven Healthy Habits of Happy Writers:
1. Writes to uncover voice
2. Makes time to write, rather than wait for the right time
3. Knows an excuse when she hears one
4. Listens to her instincts
5. Erases failure from her vocabulary
6. Exercises discipline to protect her talen
7. Has the courage to overcome and learn from rejection
We certainly have a motivational theme on these blogs lately — speaking directly to ME! Thanks for your blog, Mary!!
Great article, Mary.
My favorite is #3 from the second list. 😉
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