Monday, September 4, 2017

Things that leap from the shadows

My husband and I have made a few trips “down island” lately, most recently yesterday afternoon. Driving back up island just after sunset, we settled in for a couple hours of extreme vigilance. See, there are a lot of deer on the island, and that early-evening, waning-light time of day seems to draw them to the roadsides, where they graze on the dry grass and leap out at random to cross the highway.

We may not have quite this many... ;)
My hubby hit a deer a couple years ago, on this same drive (the deer lived, but the car had over $2000 damage and was in the shop for a week), and he and I have both had close calls at other times. So, we’re cautious, doing whatever we can to prevent an incident that, at best, would result in minor damage to the deer and our car, and at worst, would be…well, much worse. We reduce our speed, avoid that hard-to-see time of day when possible, use the high-beam lights, and constantly scan for deer.

This morning I’m thinking about vigilance—not for dangers of the wildlife-encounter sort, but for dangers that can leap from the shadows along our publishing journeys and completely derail our writing. But what dangers are there, and how can we guard against them?

  1. Comparison. Comparison is a joy-killer, a confidence-killer, a creativity-killer, an all-round nasty villain. We have got to remember that we are on our own journey, that someone else's path is not our path. When we're tempted to compare timelines, numbers of rejections, size of advance, sales numbers, or any other "measure", just...don't. And on those days when that stuff keeps landing in front of our face, let's turn comparison on its head, and instead of feeling bitter or jealous or defeated, let's choose the “rising tide lifts all boats” mindset. Another person’s success does not take the place of our own…it may even pave the path and open the door. Those celebrity deals and blockbuster sales? They allow the publisher to afford to offer deals to debut authors, to take a financial risk on unknown writers. And those I’m-happy-for-her-but-she’s-got-what-I-want situations when another writer finds success? Let them motivate us to improve our craft or finish our work, and let them remind us that it is possible, that good things do happen to struggling writers. And then cheer and be thankful to witness their success, letting it buoy us up along the way.
  2. Ill-conceived goals. It's always discouraging when we fail to achieve a goal, but when our goals are "ill conceived" in the first place, we're really putting ourselves in harm's way, setting ourselves up for a major crash. Ill-conceived goals are ones that are based on things largely out of our control. We cling to them, but we may be confusing goals with dreams. We can dream of a six-figure deal, or signing with a great agent, or winning an award, but beyond writing the very best book we can and sending it out into the world, this stuff of dreams is mostly out of our hands; but the writing, the revising, the seeking feedback and improving our craft, the sending it out, and sending it out again…that’s in our control. So let's base our goals on those things: finish a draft by x date, write x number of words per day or week, research and query half-a-dozen agents on our next day off from the day-job, brainstorm ten new story ideas, participate in NaNoWriMo this year, finish and polish our WIP in time for the next Pitch Wars, save enough money to attend a nearby conference. These goals may not sound as fabulous as the dreams, but we can only hope to someday reach those dreams if we put in the hard work to achieve those building-block goals.
  3. Negative self-talk. We often tell ourselves things we would never dream of telling a friend or critique partner: your writing will never be good enough; you’ll never get a book deal; you may as well give up now. And even after we’re published, imposter syndrome has us continuing to send such messages: you’re a fraud; your success is a fluke; you’ll never be able to write another book. Those messages can sap our creative energy in no time. I’m not suggesting we should be cocky writer-brats, but we do need to believe in ourselves and in the value of our work. If our story matters to us, it will matter to someone else. Somebody out there needs the stories only we can tell. So tell them. Tell them the very best way we know how, in the way that is uniquely ours, and send them out into the world. The world needs what we have to offer.
  4. Looking backward. All writers—even those “overnight bestsellers”—have been rejected, disappointed, discouraged. We’re allowed to feel those things. They’re hard, and they hurt. But when we dwell on them, wallowing for far too long, we’re robbing ourselves of joy and stomping on our creative spirit. Who can write when we feel that lousy? I say, limit that shit. Allow ourselves to feel the sting for an hour, or a day if we must, but then move on. Learn what we can from the experience, then leave it behind.  Onward!

There are other dangers--distraction, procrastination, being closed to learning, and other things that can derail our writing--but this post is long enough already! I'd love to hear your perspective and any tips you have to share. Tell me, in your experience, what is most likely to derail your writing? What helps you avoid that danger?

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