Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Are You Made of Win?

Question of the day: Although part of me gets inspired from reading all the "stories of success" of various authors, I can't help but feel totally defeated and discouraged at the thought of just how MANY people there are out there scrambling towards the same goal, where there's really only standing room for a few of us in the genre particularly, but in the market as a whole. How do you stay confident and inspired? Or more importanly, motivated?

Yes, well, this is the conundrum of being an aspiring writer. Not only that there are so many people out there trying to do the same thing, but also not knowing if a) you're good enough to rise to the top and b) whether or not being good enough really matters. Because let's face it: there are plenty of good authors out there whose work will never see the light of day. Not all of them, probably not even a ton of them, as I do believe that most truly talented writers get a break at some point, but yeah, not everyone, which is what makes this whole venture truly damn scary.

I've often said on this blog, and I can never repeat it often enough, that it takes a certain temperament to endure this career, and I stand by that. Years, YEARS can go by without success, and the rejection can diminish even the most confident among us. The only way that you will endure is to surround your ego and your confidence with steel armor, armor that might get occasionally nicked in the face of defeat but is basically impenetrable. I think you likely either have this disposition or you don't. But I also believe that you can at least learn to shrug it off, to get knocked down but stand up and face it all over again.

I was probably born overconfident. This has not always worked to my benefit (trust me - ending relationships was never my strong suit, as I always believed I could find a way to work things out), but in this career, yes, it has been. I simply never doubted that I could succeed. Which I know sounds ridiculous, but that is truly how my brain functions. I remember once, many years ago, when I was still finding my freelancing sea legs, my husband gently suggested that if I didn't start to get more work, I should perhaps start looking for a JOB job. I scoffed, literally scoffed at him, because I couldn't believe that he didn't KNOW, as I did, that I'd get 'er done. To paraphrase Captain Kirk: I don't believe in no-win situations.

And surely, when defeaning silences amassed from freelance editors or when my first agent and I agreed to part ways (UGH!), this way of thinking buffered me from what might have been an impulse to spin on my heels and bolt the other direction. Look, this is a tough, tough, tough business. Other than acting, I can't think of one that might be as difficult. So you either have to resolve that you're going to do your best and stick with it, or you get out. Because if you take rejection to heart and let it diminish you, your confidence will suffer, your writing will weaken, you'll present yourself as less of a package than you are.

And what should you do if you're not born with natural armor? I'd remind you to not take any of this personally. Ever. Rejection of your idea or your novel often has nothing to do with you. Agents, for example, are looking for whatever fits their specific criteria; magazine editors aren't dwelling on whether or not they think your query was poorly written. They have a product to push and sell, and they're looking at whether or not you add (or don't) to their business. This is a business. Period. Don't ever forget that. Another tip? While you're waiting to get published, keep writing. In my opinion, writing is the best way that you are going to get better. My first manuscript wasn't published and looking back, it didn't deserve to be. My second one was better, and resulted in my debut novel. My third was even better (IMO), and it's a New York Times Best Seller. There's no shame in putting something aside and recognizing that it was a learning experience, the end.

I hope this post doesn't come off as making me sound like I'm some narcissistic ego-maniac. :) I'm actually not! LOL. But, just to give you some perspective as to why I promise that I'm not, when I was a kid, whenever I had some sort of competitive activity, my dad used to sit me down and say, "What's your last name?" I'd roll my eyes about a dozen times, and finally, after much prodding, would say, "Winn." (Get the play on words?) Looking back on it now, I'm grateful that he did this. It wasn't that he turned me into a competitive freak, it's that he let me know that I always held that win inside of myself, that I was always capable of coming out on top. Even if your last name is Brown, Smith or Weinberg, the same theory can hold true for you...and I think it's a critical one for success as a writer.

Wow, long post. Anyone want to chime in on how you keep your confidence afloat?


Amie Stuart said...

Susan Elizabeth Phillips said in a speech many years back to, "Protect the work." That's my advice. Sometimes it means ignoring your CP's advice, but sometimes it means PROTECTING YOU!!!

As much as I love and am grateful for the online writing community (it's how I found my CP's AND my agent!), sometimes too much information is BAD BAD BAD! You have to know when to walk away and stick those fingers in your ears and go, "LALALALA I"M NOT LISTENING!" --whether it's not following a feed from a conference on twitter (sorry bad grammar), or not reading PubMarketplace everyday or not scanning the USA today list to see what's on top. You have to protect your psyche. Not to the extent you live in a cave but you have to find that line that works for you.

SpikeTheLobster said...

This will sounds awful, but "lower your expectations" works for me. That's not to say that, one day, I wouldn't like to see my name on every single book on a 'Best Sellers' stand - quite the opposite.

What I mean is that far too many people I 'speak' with online EXPECT their book to be a raging success. They EXPECT to get published, earn millions and be a household name.

Lowering that expectation to being good enough to get another freelance gig from the same client or to have some positive, constructive criticism from peers helps me retain my fragile sanity.

Step by step, stubbornly pushing forward, then one day we'll be where we want to be. There's no need to run - you'll just wear yourself out.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Hits me at a time when I am trying to keep the faith, trying to deflect all the bad juju.

Either you quit or you don't. You believe in yourself, or you don't. There really is no point in wallowing in the unfairness and unpredictability of it all--although I have to admit, this added market stress on top of all the other why-this-might-not-happen for me thing---THAT lately seems to have the potential to break my last straw. But I simply won't let it.

What blows my mind is that I've gotten this far--revisions x one million, agent, more revisions, submission, more revisions... and STILL I might not do it. I don't use the word fail--because damn, have I gotten better at writing and telling a story. And I have to keep reminding myself of that--it is about WRITING. It is not about publication--although this is the ultimate validation. It is not about seeing other people's books and stewing about how much better you are. You can't make it about that--because it will eat you up and kill you.

Luck. Timing. Talent. Luck. Fate. Timing. Luck. Luck. Luck. Luck.

I do believe, stupid as it may be, that if I keep at it I will succeed in publication--maybe not this book, but the next. Most of the time I am certain of this.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Allison. Ditto for the comments.

Lisa Katzenberger said...

My confidence about my writing skills wavers like crazy, often in sync with rejection or requests for partials. But, what I can’t shake is the very certain notion that I will want to kick myself in the teeth if I ever give up on this writing thing.

chow and chatter said...

great post never never never give up as Churchill said!

Unknown said...

I agree with Lisa. I'm not going to my grave wishing I had tried to write a book. I'm going there knowing that I persued my dream whether it worked out or not.

Amie Stuart said...

>>and STILL I might not do it

Hang in there Anon!!! Personally I think it's tougher to be )( close than to get form rejections *sigh*

suzanneelizabeths.com said...

Allison, do you think you would have remained determined and kept writing if it had taken you much longer than it did? For instance, if it had taken you four books written and tucked into the bottom of a drawer at home before you found an agent and got published?

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks for all of these awesome comments, everyone. So great to hear other perspectives and tips.

Suzanne - thanks also for your recent blog comments! I meant to come back here yesterday and thank you. To answer this question, you know, yeah, I do. Breaking into freelancing, for example, didn't come easy for me. Yes, I got something right away, but then it took me a looooooong time to land something else big. And ditto the novel stuff. My first book wasn't published, my agent and I parted ways, etc - I think it would have been pretty easy to be discouraged, but I just kept going.

LarramieG said...

Having been here from the very beginning of this blog, I've known that Winn meant more than your last name!

Richelle Morgan said...

I've been reading your blog for several months, but this is the first time I've been moved to comment!

Years ago, when I was feeling down about an overly critical boss, a colleague told me, "You can't control the outcome, only the effort you put in."

That's how I've approached my copywriting career, and it's how I've approached my fiction as well. Keeps the ego from getting too bruised -- and keeps me focused on honing my skills.

Patry Francis said...

I'm like you, Allison. A born optimist, maybe. Thanks for a terrific post.

Anonymous said...

Amie, what is a CP?

Joyce C said...

This is such an inspiring post. I've been working so hard on my novel, but still can't find a literary agent who believes in it. In the meantime, I've completed my second novel, and am moving on to my third one now. I really believe that's the way to keep yourself afloat. We love to write, don't we? If not, why are we doing it? So, if you haven't hit the big time, keep doing what you love.

Great post, Allison. Thanks for motivating us. You're made of WINN ;)

Amie Stuart said...

Anon...CP = Critique Partner. I found one on the eharlequin boards, one via my epublisher (she's my editor and my friend and we write for the same print publisher) and one because I judged a manuscript of hers in a contest years ago, tripped across her on the 'net and we got to talking. I really loved her writing and she was looking for a new CP.

suzanneelizabeths.com said...

Allison, thanks for the follow up. You probably know it took Debbie Macomber something like 7 or 9 books in the drawer before she ever got published. Great post!

Ladyhihi said...

As much as I love and am grateful for the online writing community (it's how I found my CP's AND my agent!), sometimes too much information is BAD BAD BAD! You have to know when to walk away and stick those fingers in your ears and go, "LALALALA I"M NOT LISTENING!" --whether it's not following a feed from a conference on twitter (sorry bad grammar), or not reading PubMarketplace everyday or not scanning the USA today list to see what's on top. You have to protect your psyche. Not to the extent you live in a cave but you have to find that line that works for you.

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