Thursday, June 30, 2011

What's Wrong? My Writing isn't Working

You're disgusted, frustrated, tired of people telling you that writing isn't a real job. Recently, I had family visit for almost a week, and one running joke was that I didn't hold a job. They labeled me as enjoying my hobby. A hobby that paid.

Were they friggin' kidding me?

Don't get me wrong. They know to give me a wide berth when I'm into Chapter 14 or chatting or creating a blog. When I'm on deadline, they don't dare speak. But they stopped me in my tracks when they defined my career as "a hobby that paid." But I don't let them sway me from believing that my career is real, solid, and the light of my life.

But if you've struggled and plans haven't gelled as you imagined they would, you can doubt your ability to be a writer. 

When writers email me, ready to quit, believing that fate doesn't want them to write, I can lump them into one of several categories:

1. Want it all now.
The headlines show us self-published writers selling a million copies, 26-year-old girls making seven figure deals, and entrepreneurial sorts who promise they know the secret about making a serious living as a writer. Quit looking at these headlines. You can't go from nobody to somebody in the course of a few months, a year, or even one book. It takes time, multiple sales, and daily diligence. So if you've lost your job and need an income, deciding to write is not the answer.

2. Afraid to leap.
If you fear submitting, pitching, tackling $1/word magazines, going to conferences, contacting agents, attempting traditional publishing, opening a blog or exposing yourself to rejection and red-penned critique groups, then why are you in this business? When people ask me how to overcome any of the above, I tell them only they can decide writing is important enough to overcome those hurdles.

3. Not willing to invest.
I understand some people have little disposable income. However, tell a publisher or agent that, and it's instant rejection. Being an entrepreneur carries no shortcuts or special accommodations for being under-educated, young, older, disabled, retired, short of money, or a single parent. You write or you don't. You promote yourself or you don't. You make your mark online or you don't. No grants, no easy paths, no special programs. That's one of the attractions of the arts. You bust your butt as hard as you like, and succeed accordingly. Whether it's time or money, pump personal investment into your craft - without expecting some sort of subsidy or rebate.

4. Comparing too much.
Do your thing. If you haven't mastered writing, don't jump on the ebook self-publishing bandwagon because the rest of the sheep are doing so. Publish only when the quality and time is right - regardless of what others are doing. What first other people's career might not fit yours. Besides, you don't want to succeed in someone else's shadow. Do your thing, at your speed, using your unique talent. You don't want to be the next JK Rowling. You want to be the best you.

5. No plan. 
Writing isn't just writing and submitting. It's research, benchmarks and goals as well. Every business has a plan. Production, marketing, income, sales - all of these apply to you as well. What are your goals? When I ask people their goals, most say to write and get published. How? When? Where? Who? No answers. Making money makes you a business. Act accordingly.

Failure and success in this business are 99% in your hands. Call me mean or overly optimistic, but frankly I love working in a career where I have so much control. When writers blame karma, fate or chance for their success, they're telling me they haven't given it their all, or are afraid to kick butt and try harder.

15 comments:

Sarah Pearson said...

Some interesting points here, most of which I agree with. However, the one about the disposable income confused me. When you say that publishers and agents will reject me if I admit I have little disposable income, is that because they would think I couldn't afford to pay for marketing?

Carol J. Alexander said...

Maybe next time your family comes to visit you can help your hot water heater to break or the electricity to go off if things get tense. They won't stay without the comforts of home and you could get back to your real job.

BECKY said...

Oh, Hope...I know all of this...and I proclaim it, too...but I need to follow my own (and your!) advice much closer! Thanks for another kick in the butt!

Hope Clark said...

Sarah
Those that invest in writers (i.e., agents, editors, publishers), have to know that they are able to and willing to self-promote to the nth degree. To say right up front that your resources are limited can make someone move on to another writer equally as good. I say don't give anyone ammunition to turn you down.

Caitlin said...

Some great points!

And if my family said that, even though it would undoubtedly enrage me, I would just smile. Don't they wish they could have it "so easy". Haha.

Glen Strathy said...

I agree with most of what you say, but...

"That's one of the attractions of the arts. You bust your butt as hard as you like, and succeed accordingly. Whether it's time or money, pump personal investment into your craft - without expecting some sort of subsidy or rebate."

I don't think that's what attracts most people to the arts. Cage fighting, investment banking, gambling, yes. But the arts? Most artists would rather be cooperative than competitive. They would be content with a modest income so long as they can practice their art. Subsidies, rebates - yes, please! And while some people are more creative under the threat of failure, most are more creative when they don't have to worry about paying for their next meal. (Busting your butt can leave you so stressed out that your art suffers - not that laziness works either.)

Sure, in today's economy, financial security for artists is unrealistic, but realistic people usually don't become artists.

DrewR said...

every artist aspires for financial gain, glory, achievement, prizes etc, even if those prizes are centered on peaceful cooperation through the art.

That does not make the artist unrealistic or a dreamer, simple a person with a craft and a goal. Not every cage fighter's goal of winning the championship is an achieved goal, but it is a goal none the less

Anonymous said...

Have just decided I'm gonna write. Not at the point where a lot of these things are affecting me yet, I'm still dealing with issues of discipline, motivation, inspiration..etc.

However I'm thankful to see these warnings ahead of time. They're relevant..

Much thanks!

Anonymous said...

Just starting to write too. Many thanks to Hope for giving a head's up! Though loving the comments by Glen Starthy ;) Very true, you can't force in dealing with arts just because you have to finish a piece. Well, you can. But i'm pretty sure it's not the way we thought it would've come out to be.'s up! Though loving the comments by Glen Starthy ;) Very true, you can't force in dealing with arts just because you have to finish a piece. Well, you can. But i'm pretty sure it's not the way we thought it would've come out to be.

M said...

The headlines show us self-published writers selling a million copies, 26-year-old girls making seven figure deals...

So it's no biggie when 26-year-old boys make seven figure deals - just when girls do?

Not being overly sensitive here. Am just a little tired of this "men are superior writers" culture that seeps into everyone's subconscious. The age is the point (though those writers have often spent their entire lives learning how to write, often longer than "adult" writers who start in their thirties). There's no need to add gender to it.

Hope Clark said...

M
Gender wasn't even introduced into the discussion. Eragon's author, a young man at 16, received just as much attention. Just didn't want to say 26-year-old person. There is no gender issue.

M said...

It was an off-the-cuff remark, I wholly acknowledge and respect that. But simply by specifying girls when twenty-six year olds would have worked just as well, you introduced gender into the discussion. It could easily be construed as a nod toward male writers being superior and having more 'innate' talent, while women who write don't deserve those sorts of advances.

In all fairness, Christopher Paolini (the author of Eragon, who is now twenty-seven) self-published, worked hard to sell his book by hand, and then was picked up by a traditional publisher. A high advance had nothing to do with the attention he received, nor is he a shining beacon of the level of talent many young authors display. Yet there are deals, mostly by young adult writers - Ally Condie, author of Matched, comes to mind - who do receive astounding attention for their seven-figure advances and are ripped apart for it. Yet when men receive them, it's considered deserving and par for the course. Why are women writers attacked? Because they tend to be writing YA fiction, one of two genres that has seen growth in this poor economy (and not just growth - astounding growth beyond anyone's expectations), yet it is still seen as 'less' than adult fiction? Because they're women and are thought to only write fluff?

These are very real issues facing the writing community at this time, and even the most innocent of remarks can fuel the flames and cement these gross assumptions into the minds of the reading public.

Just pointing it out so that in future blog posts, you and with luck other writers reading this can be conscious of that sort of prejudice. Words, as we all know, are powerful no matter how small they might be.

Hope Clark said...

Still, don't see the gender issue. Wasn't the point. Sorry.

Sarah Duncan said...

The reference is surely to Amanda Hocking who at 26 is a million selling self published novelist. She is female. Therefore the statement is one of fact, not some sort of obscure belittling of women.

Gender discrimination in writing exists, but it's madness to seek it out where it so plainly isn't - and provides ammunition for those who claim there isn't discrimination.

Good post BTW!

Hope Clark said...

Sarah

Thanks! You are absolutely right.

Hope