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Empower Yourself - Power to the Writer

As a writer you'll run into all kinds of obstacles, especially when you're still in the beginning of your career. And unless you're very lucky and self-secure, you'll put some of those obstacles in your own way in the form of doubts.

Some of that doubt will come from the outside. People will ask all kinds of questions about your writing, and not all of it will be nice to contemplate:

  • They'll ask you when you'll sell your book. Or why it's taking so long to write.
  • They'll ask you if your book is anything like Stephen King (or Twilight or Harry Potter or Dan Brown – whichever writer or book brand is strongest in their mind)
  • They'll ask you when you can expect to make a living from your writing. Then they'll ask you why you don't work a real job
  • They'll tell you that having an imagination is dangerous, but they might still imagine that you'll be as rich as that Harry Potter writer
  • They'll ask you why you write short fiction 'because nobody reads that'

It's a writer's first duty not to knock these people out with a baseball bat.

Even from helpful sources on the web you'll get a lot of advice that is most likely true, but also discouraging.

  • You probably can't make enough money from writing to sustain a high standard of living
  • You may end up wasting your time on a hobby instead of building a career that pays the bills
  • You'll have to work two jobs instead of one
  • It takes 10+ years to break through
  • No matter how good your book is, people will buy Stephen King's books instead

It's testimony to the resilience and foolishness of writers that we don't go bonkers when faced with that kind of information. But there are ways to handle both the aggravating questions and depressing advice.

The most important advice I can give you is to empower yourself

Empower yourself. I give this advice after writing for more than 10 years, and I find it works not just for writers but for humans in general. Give yourself the power to act, and you can do it. In my experience, empowering can be split into three steps:

1. Figure out what the real problem is.

2. Solve the problem, or work around it.

3. Do things your way.

Making conscious choices is of course easier said than done. The real problem holding back your life/writing may be sickness or financial ruin or any of all those dirty tricks life throws at you. In that case, the solution may be to drop writing for a while. In that case, make a conscious decision, and theoretically that should make the choice a little easier.

But in most cases, the problems you face are much easier to work with. 

By the Count of Your Words Shall You be Judged

Writing is a slow process, and there are writers who are constantly posting humongous word counts on their blogs or Twitter. On Monday, Writer X writes 2500 words, on Tuesday Writer Y says '3000 word', and by Wednesday Writer Z posts a record-breaking 4200 words and gets twenty woo-hoo replies.

Thursday you realize that you've written all of 3000 words in the past week. But all the others are speeding along, with higher word counts in a single day! You're behind! You must write more! Oh, the panic!

The real problem here? Failing to be yourself. Not all people are meant to churn out six novels a year. Some (hell, most) of us work slower than that, or with more deliberation. And likely, if you're inexperienced, you'll be less accustomed to the work load it actually is to guide 4000 words from brain to paper.

Writers X, Y, and Z are professionals. They've been doing this for years, and you shouldn't measure your success by their standards. If you took up microphone and guitar you wouldn't blame yourself for not filling arenas like U2, would you?

So do things your way, at your own speed. If you think you're slow, try figuring out what's slowing you down. Lack of writing time? Try making a schedule. A tendency to go back and edit during drafting? Make a conscious effort of writing without touching the delete key. Slow typing or lack of practice at storytelling? Write and you'll grow with the experience. No one is born with it, after all.

Those are problems you can solve. Tackling them may not make you into Stephen King, but then again, nothing will.

Writer's Block

You wake up one morning, and you're stuck. You've got no stories or scenes in your head, and you'd rather touch an ebola patient than a keyboard. The white screen and cursor are laughing behind your back. Congratulations, you've got writer's block!

What's the real reason? Are you tired because you wrote 4000 words yesterday and your creative well hasn't filled up yet? Did you work a 16-hour shift to get the time off for fiction today? Did you hit your neighbor's wife with your car last night? Well, no wonder you're drained.

Can you work your way around it? Take a nap or a walk before writing? Go to the hospital and apologize? If yes, good. If not, then decide to skip it today. It's your choice—no matter how much anyone tells you that You Must Write Every Day, and no matter that they're technically right. They aren't living your life, so they don't know about your special circumstances. But make that choise and make it consciously. It'll be your own.

Discouraging Thoughts

Did you see that review of John Scalzi's last book? "Adjective, adjective, adjective. And all of them positive." Oh, and someone just got nominated for a Hugo award, and it wasn't me.

You can get discouraged by a lot of thoughts:

  • I'll never be as famous as...
  • My book sucks
  • This story has been done before
  • It'll take me years to finish this
  • This novel has to be a success
  • My novel has to be perfect the first time
  • Other random thoughts of the day

Add your own if you like. The point is that these thoughts belong in the category of problems that you can work around.

You think your book sucks. Ok, that could be because it's a draft, and you don't have the full perspective of the story yet. Maybe you need feedback to tell you where it sucks so you can correct those parts. Maybe you just need to finish it because it's your first novel, and first novels always suck. Your next novel will be better, and as a writer you'll be writing new novels all the time anyway, right?

No, you'll never be as famous as J. K. Rowling. She's at the very farthest end of the bell curve. Chances are you'll never be as brilliant as Einstein or Edison either. But you can write your book nonetheless.

"This novel has to be a success or people will think I suck." Screw that thought. You can never control what people think of you. In fact, people will get all kinds of ideas about you because of what you publish, and they may think much worse of you than if they think you're just a hobby writer. If they don't accept that you write fiction, well screw them. Or stick to discussing cars and barbeque with them instead of writing, and you'll get along just fine.  

And so on and so forth. You can turn most any thought around, and you can always tell yourself: I choose this for myself, because this is my life. I write.

So yes, you can. Give yourself the power to write – the power to be yourself – and you'll be happier for it.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
kara_gnome
May. 1st, 2012 12:39 pm (UTC)
An odd one is that once you've published a few things, feeling that you aren't allowed to write crap, truly bizarre, but there you go.

Great lists, all of them :)
jakobdrud
May. 1st, 2012 01:01 pm (UTC)
Great example. Of course we can't write crap! Because once we've made that first strike, it's unthinkable that we'll ever miss the pins again :-)
bogwitch64
May. 2nd, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
All I have to say is


jakobdrud
May. 2nd, 2012 11:49 am (UTC)
I'm not at all surprised to hear you say that. The way you handle the hardships life throws at you is a great inspiration, so thank you for sharing it.
bogwitch64
May. 2nd, 2012 01:01 pm (UTC)
:) Thanks. You actually managed to make the sparklequeen blush.
acwise
May. 4th, 2012 12:03 am (UTC)
Wise and true things! Of course, I'm bad at internalizing that kind of advice, but I still recognize it as valuable.
jakobdrud
May. 4th, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
In part, this post was a reminder to myself. Taking your own medicine can be quite hard :-)
livejournal
May. 4th, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
Interesting posts about writing – w/e May 4th 2012
User jongibbs referenced to your post from Interesting posts about writing – w/e May 4th 2012 saying: [...] (Rachelle Gardner) Empower Yourself - Power to the Writer [...]
glynisj
May. 4th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
Great motivation. In fact, the best I've read in a long time.
jakobdrud
May. 4th, 2012 07:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks :-) Positive motivation can sometimes be in short supply on the web, so I'm glad you could use this.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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