Monday, October 3, 2011

MONDAY MUSINGS: Insecure Writers And Lessons Learned

"...the inability to fight self-doubts is one of the biggest things that prevent a writer from becoming published.  And it’s probably one of the reasons published writers stop writing." Christie Craig, How To Ward Off A Gremlin

I think anyone who creates has insecurities. It’s the nature of the beast. Creative works come from within the artist and are highly subjective because it’s our interpretation of what we see or feel. This is true whether we be actor, musician, artist, or writer. We create from our inner landscape and present it to others for their enjoyment, perhaps education, and for sure entertainment.

When we put our work on display we’re putting a piece of our inner self out there. It’s hard to detach your feelings from this labor of love and yet we must if we’re also to be objective enough to recognize whether something we’ve created is good, mediocre, or just plain sucks.

I’ve written for sometime. I’ve always told and written stories. Most of them sit in the hell no drawer. They satisfied what I wanted to say or do at the time. When I started writing for publication it was a whole different playing field. I know I tell a good story. I also know I’m a good writer. However, those two things don’t always coalesce into a viable story as I discovered with my first critiques—which happened to be from a contest.

I didn’t belong to a writing group then—in fact I had no contact with any other writers, and while I read voraciously but still didn’t *get it* as far as what was good writing in today’s market and what wasn’t. I’d never analyzed it. I should have.

The first public eyes that saw my story were judges in a contest. Oh. My. God. This was a first chapters contest. Other writers entered—something like fifteen hundred—and there were rounds of voting from fellow writers and professional judges. I thought what I wrote was good or I wouldn’t have entered it. I edited the manuscript several times, cut thirty thousand words, and then had a friend who was an award winning journalist proof it.

And then I started reading other entries and the critiques/comments attached to those entries.

Holy shitake mushrooms. What an education. Brutal even.

I knew the first day my story wouldn’t place in the top five (I finished in the top twenty-five percent and didn’t make it to the round three). Not that my two chapters were bad—it wasn’t, but based on what I was reading I knew the manuscript wasn’t good enough and I didn’t have the social network to succeed even had it been.

I knew I had a lot to learn before I would be published. I’m not one to back away from a challenge—and believe me, it was a major challenge.

Lessons learned on my writing journey:

  • Writing is a business. You have to learn and apply the most current information. As with any business, you have to be constantly perfecting your basic skill set to get ahead.

  • You need objective critiques of your work and that excludes your mother who thinks anything you create is wonderful. You need constructive critiques from someone who knows the business and writing.

  • When receiving a critique, you need to be willing to listen and learn.
    The first one I received from a friend, who is also a traditionally published writer, I thought it was bleeding to death from all the red marks—but that’s a story I'll tell another time.

  • You really do need to associate with other writers. You need a good support system in place. After the above-mentioned contest, I—who has never been much of a joiner—became part of a wonderful group (my Writing Wombats). I get support, current info, and a good kick in the ass when I need it.

  • You need a social network and name recognition long before you query your first book.

  • You need tough Rhino skin and a strong will to succeed.

It hurts like hell when you fall off one of these horses. If you never get back on you'll never get hurt like that again but you'll never win the coveted prize, either. Only you can decide if the pain is worth the gain.

  • Believe in yourself. If this is what you want to do—don’t give up. If you get knocked down get back up and fight off the self-doubts.



Anonymous said...

I used to agonise over my work like this. After being part of a writing group and entering my work into contests, I decided to bring it back to my own talent.

So glad I'm self publishing on my own as eBooks now. I don't have to worry about what "professionals" think about my work, I just have to write good stories for teens :)

To your friends who don't write, you're the one who's the "professional" and expert writer. Seriously.

Shirley Wells said...

Excellent lessons learned. All writers need Rhino skin - and belief in themselves. There comes a time when it's good to be stubborn. :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Either that, Suz, or the weird one with the *little* hobby.

I think I've come, if not full circle, 3/4s around the circle in that I play to my strengths and my voice. Learning to believe in myself, apply what I've learned, and not compare myself to others. I compete with myself. If I'm good in this area then I can be better.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thanks, Shirley. I figured Rhino skin has to be damn tough stuff, lol!

I'm stubborn alright. One thing I'm particularly stubborn over is putting out a good product. It's not enough for me to just have a book with my name on it out there for sale. I can do that on Lulu and there are no filters no one to answer to.

I want it to be a good story, well edited as to story line/plot and punctuation, and that means if I ever self publish I need to invest in the have people who can do that. I want my name attached to something I can take pride in, if that makes sense.

~Sia McKye~ said...

My comment above is not in anyway a slam against self pubbing.

In today's market it's smart because money earned is a better percentage overall than some mid-list traditionally pubbed authors. Dan Brown and some of the major bestsellers, no. Yet even some of the bestsellers are putting out self published work. They have an advantage with name recognition and a proven track record.

My thoughts to Shirley were emphasizing the need for the highest quality product you can produce to attach your name to.

Tonya Kappes said...

I love all your point, Sia! I especially agree with BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!! This writing journey really is a lonely one and sometimes we let that self-doubt get to us. Recently I bought a notepad for my muse with a cute little piggy in a tiara on it: Be Your Fabulous Self!

Elle J Rossi said...

I really enjoyed this post, Sia. Writing can be a solitary endeavor which can lead to a very solitary existence. While Rhino Skin is definitely required, I'm so happy to have found several writing communities and friends!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If this is for the support group, you nailed it!
I know some fear the critiques from others, but once I receieved back the comments from mine, one look told me they were all fair and just. And right!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sia. Like you, my initiation into the world of writing contests was a rough one, but the feedback was invaluable. Once I had two contests under my belt and had gotten nearly a hundred comments on my chapters, I had a much better idea what my manuscript needed. In the time since, getting feedback from fellow writers and various publishing pros has helped me to improve my game and I'm much more confident in my writing as a result.

Kat Sheridan said...

Oh, I can totally relate. I enjoy writing but I do it for myself. I learned a lot from my lovely Writin' Wombats, but I don't think I have thick enough skin to face the real world. Just hang in there, and keep writing!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alex, it was. Remember, I can't use my Wednesdays or Fridays for this in the normal course of events, but I will do Mondays or Tuesdays of the first week of each month. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

James, absolutely. I learned so much from the contest feedback and not just the comments from other writers but looking at the other stories and those comments. I got a crash course on writing terminology--I was clueless on most of it. I laugh now to remember how I struggled to absorb everything I could and then go back and look at my own writing from that lens.

Like you, the feedback from various pros and my fellow writers have given me much confidence in my own writing.

Now, if I could just stay well enough to think clearly to write. Been bit of a problem the past few months.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, I've done a lot of that sort of writing. Experimenting with different genres and styles. I enjoy it. You were a big help in kicking my head back up to my shoulders long enough to try that and practice. And NOT to give up. Trust me, I got the message and I'm not.

You may think you don't have the skin, Kat, but by god, you certainly have the talent!

Shelley Munro said...

Good post, Sia, and excellent advice. My doubt demon used to hang around so much I gave him a name.

Perseverance is a handy thing to have and the rhino skin is very useful too. Writers need this even after they're published.

Talli Roland said...

Yes! Loved this Sia. And what wonderful lessons you've learned. I think one of the most important ones for me is that publishing is a business.

Jo said...

Look there goes a million kilowat dam. Or keep at it is what the song says.

I find it incredible when I hear of a published author having trouble publishing another book. But keeping at it is all you can ever do

Laila Knight said...

It really is so important to have critique partners. I'd never get out of my tunnel vision state without them. It's not so much that we know we're writing a great story, that story has to be understood and enjoyed by others. The best thing I ever did as a writer is let other writers read my work. Great post! :)

VA said...

Aargh! So true.