Month: January 2011 Page 1 of 2

Snow in Colorado Springs

This morning smelled wet, with frost on the rooftops.  I was hoping for snow.  It’s falling now.  The snow is fine; it falls like a thick mist, but heavier and whiter.  The further away you look, the paler everything gets.  Snow on the car.  Snow on the fallen leaves I haven’t cleaned up yet.  Snow on toys left outside for months.  Snow on a garden hose.  Snow on weeds.  Snow on the playhouse.  Snow on the rocks filling the old swimming pool.  Snow on the neighbor’s stack of green plastic deck chairs.  Snow on the unfinished shed on the other side of our barn-red fence.  The edges of the asphalt shingles are whiter than their centers.  Snow on the rabbit hutch but not on the rabbit.  Snow on the closed black grill.  The heater kicks on.  The flakes are getting bigger.  The wind gusts, and a drift falls off the neighbor’s green plastic playhouse roof like salt scattered through the air.

Here, maybe only here–snow as a harbinger of spring.

How to Fail, Part 3: Talent vs. Hard Work

Smart.  Talented.  Special.  Gifted.  Bright.

Stupid.  Unskilled.  Ordinary.  Average.  Dull.

If you’re not one, you must be the other, right?

No:  there’s a third set of descriptions that’s better than both of the ones above, and it goes like this:

Hard worker.  Dedicated.  Pays attention.  Asks questions.  Practices.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I am going to nag you about getting more writing done eventually, but right now I’m going to talk to you about why you’re going to succeed as a writer even if you don’t think you’re that good at it.  It’s a really easy thing to start thinking, “I’m not talented enough to succeed as a writer,” especially when you’re around a bunch of people who are more successful than you.

I have two studies that will help give some insight into how false it is to think like that.

Study #1:

In 1998, psychologists Carol Dweck and Elaine Elliott1 performed an experiment on 400 different fifth-graders in New York City schools.  They took the kids out of class and had them perform a really easy nonverbal IQ test–a puzzle.  They told half the kids that they were really intelligent; they told the other half of the kids that they had really worked hard on the test.

Then the students were given a choice of the next puzzle to solve.  One test would be harder, but they would learn something from it; the other test would be just as easy.

The majority of kids who were praised for being smart chose the easy test.

But over 90% of the kids who were praised for being hard workers chose the harder test.

There was a trick to the second test:  it was purposely designed to be so hard that all the kids failed it.

Then there was a third test, a doable test.  The kids who were praised for their hard work earlier did 30% better than they did on the super-easy first test.  The kids who were praised for their intelligence did 20% worse.

The psychologists came to the conclusion that you should praise children for the things they can control–like hard work.

What else, as writers, can we take from that?  A few things:

  • If you think (or have been told) you’re talented, you’re more likely to fail after your first setback.
  • If you think you’re talented, you’re less likely to try something challenging or new.
  • If you think you’re a hard worker, you’re more likely to succeed after your first setback than you are when you first start out.
  • If you think you’re a hard worker, you’re more likely to try something challenging or new.

People who think of themselves as hard workers succeed more, doing harder things.  People who think they have some kind of magical inherent talent fail more, doing easier things.

Looking at things from the point of view of being a talented or an untalented writer is useless.  Whether you decide you’re talented or untalented, you’re more likely to fail.  Looking at things from the point of view of being a hard worker is useful; you’re more likely to get better after a setback.

Okay, great.  So how do you change your point of view?  Especially if you believe you’re on the untalented end of the spectrum?

Like many writers, I’m an introvert with problems with self-confidence.  I’m an arrogant perfectionist who both secretly suspects that I defacate diamonds2 and that I am a idiot hack with bad back problems due to constantly having my head up my ass.  I don’t get to magically escape the ideas that I’m both talented an untalented.  I believe them; it’s not like I can just wipe those things out by saying so.  I hate it when people say, “Oh, you should just stop doing or believing stupid things.”  That’s not what I’m trying to say.  You’re never going to get rid of that talent/no talent point of view.

You’re just going to damp it down; you’re not going to let it drive you crazy.

How?  You’re going to teach yourself how to see yourself as a hard worker, whether you think you’re talented, not talented, or both, by doing hard work.

Part of you is going to doubt that hard work is going to do you any good.  That’s okay.  That part of you is a precious thing–it’s your internal editor, and it’s part of what will make you get better instead of staying at your current level.  More about that later.

Let me promise you:  you won’t just be brainwashing yourself; doing the work actually will make you better.

Which brings me to study #2.

K. Anders Ericsson is a psychologist at Florida State University and an expert on being and becoming an expert.  In the early 1990s, he and his colleagues published studies3 showing that, no matter what the field, people who were national and international experts in their fields spent at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (or at least ten years) to get to that point.

These were people who started out, like you, with some aptitude for their field.  And then they worked.

Let’s turn hours into wordcount–if you’re writing at a rapid, non-nitpicky pace, 1000 words an hour is reasonable (talk to a multiple survivor of NaNoWriMo if you doubt this).  That’s about ten million words that you need to write before you become a national- or international-level writer.  Fussing with the same thousand words for ten thousand hours probably doesn’t count; it’s ten million new words that you need to accomplish.

Sound like a lot of words?

Stephen King, in On Writing, said he writes 2000 words a day, taking off his birthday and Christmas.  That’s 726,000 words a year.  We know he started writing by 1959, when he and his brother self-published a mimeographed paper.  His first novel, Carrie, was published in 1973.  New American Library bought the paperback rights from Doubleday for $400,000, of which King got half.

Fourteen years.  At 2000 words a day, that’s just over 10 million words.

Even so, he later said about Carrie:  “I’m not saying that Carrie is shit and I’m not repudiating it. She made me a star, but it was a young book by a young writer. In retrospect it reminds me of a cookie baked by a first grader — tasty enough, but kind of lumpy and burned on the bottom.”

A lot of people have called him a no-talent hack, but as we saw in Part 2, he’s one of the top ten writers in the world, making $34 million dollars in one year.

In some ways, this is one of the most discouraging things I could have written:  when I said hard work, I meant it, and it’s a hard thing to have to say.  This is not going to encourage the kind of people who say, “I have an idea for a book” or “I’ve been working on my novel for years.”  I’ve been that kind of person, and it’s depressing.

However, I can provide a little additional encouragement:  before Stephen King published Carrie, he had smaller successes.  He self-published some things.  He wrote novels that didn’t sell.  He sold some short stories.  It wasn’t years of absolutely no success and then bam! here’s your $200,000 check.  He had success before that 10-million-word mark.

So, when you can and as much as you can, stop worrying about whether you’re good enough to be a writer.  It’s enough to be able to say, “I love writing, and I’m willing to do the work.”

Next Time:  You Can’t Control Success

1Elliott, E.S., and Dweck, C.S. “Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement,” in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 5-12.
2Thanks, Ian.  I may have to change those metaphors for the conference, but I’m using them now.
3Ericsson, K. Anders, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” in Psychological Review, 1993, vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406, is one of those articles.

Irregular Creatures

I suggested a review-swap with Chuck Wendig between Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse and his book Irregular Creatures, and, to my surprise, he agreed.

A note:  Chuck self-published Irregular Creatures as an e-book (even going so far as to commission the cover art from the excellent Amy Hauser).  I am really impressed with the way he handled the production; it looks super-sweet, and I only caught one typo.  A few days ago, he sent out updates for the book to fix a typo; this also impressed me.

Irregular Creatures is a collection of nine short stories.  I had been expecting a collection full of grim noir, but this was not the case.  This was a collection of deceptively simple fantastic and weird stories; a few of them made me jealous with the offhand way he seemed to succeed with them.  A couple of them fell a little flat but were not without merit–obscure b-side stories to supplement the hitmakers among them.

Overall, I would have to say that the stories were more Gaimanesque than anything else, if a bit less dark than, say, Smoke and Mirrors.   Chuck tends to use ordinary settings as a springboard for the fantastical in this collection, as if to give us myths to allow us to see what’s really happening in those settings.

Here were my favorites:

Dog-Man and Cat-Bird. A tale of a man in the middle of abandoning himself, unaware that the changes he’s seeing around him are coming from his cowardice more than anything else.  Finally, a muse that doesn’t need to be raped to inspire…

This Guy.  A time-travelling zombie tale.  Just so.

The Auction.  In which a boy learns you can buy a thing, you can sell a thing; you can steal a thing, you can take it for granted; you can raise hell for the hell of it, you can raise hell to sneak in a bit of justice.  A kind of goblin’s market populated by the strangest creatures of all:  us.

Do-Overs and Take-Backs.  This was the most chancy of the stories, I think, and I’m not sure whether he pulled it off.  The things that happen offstage give me the willies – for example, what happened to the real son?  Is the horror of it that it doesn’t matter?  But you don’t get any explanations from the Rag Man, as it were.  Now that I think of it, the story makes a good metaphor for writers and writing.  I’m not going into more detail than that; you’ll just have to read it.

I recommend Irregular Creatures if you’re a lover of tales–ghost stories, campfire tales, things whispered under the covers by flashlight at a grown-up slumber party, if you will–or have a fondness for Neil Gaiman’s short stories.  You’ll be grossed out; you’ll be horrified; you’ll roll your eyes at the bad jokes; you’ll find hope.

Thunderstorm Rachael

I snuggled next to Rachael as she fell asleep last night.   Falling asleep, she has the same rhythms as a thunderstorm in the distance.  Overall, the weather is calm, but series of lightning bolts twitch across the sky, something running all the way across the clouds, sometimes flashing off in a tight group.  She twitches here, she twitches there, there’s a twitch that runs from her feet all the way across her fingers, her knee twitches over and over again.  The storm fades; she breathes deeply, asleep in my armpit.

Over time, the storm has muted.  It used to be full of loud chatter and flailing limbs.  She’s changed to please us, right or wrong, so we’ll spend more time next to her as she falls asleep.  She hates to sleep alone, in the dark and quiet, still.

I doze off and wake up when Lee goes to bed, stumbling in after him.  The blankets are cold.  I dream of saving my daughters from wolves and bears.  If only life were that easy.

How to Fail, Part 2: Not Failing Enough

When do we fail as writers?

Logically, we fail when we don’t fail, that is, when we don’t try.  It’s like the lottery:  you can’t win if you don’t play.

The odds of winning the Powerball Grand Prize are 1 in 195,249,054.

The odds of winning the $3 ticket are 1 in 61.74.  There are a number of other options, with more money = lower odds.

Okay, I’m going to give you a thought experiment.

Here are the wealthiest writers in the world, according to an October 2010 Forbes article.  This is what they earned in one year.

  • James Patterson ($70 million)
  • Stephanie Meyer ($40 million)
  • Stephen King ($34 million)
  • Danielle Steele ($32 million)
  • Ken Follett (British) ($20 million)
  • Dean Koontz ($18 million)
  • Janet Evanovich ($16 million)
  • John Grisham ($15 million)
  • Nickolas Sparks ($14 million)
  • J.K. Rowling (British) ($10 million)

Sounds kind of like winning the lottery, doesn’t it?  At least the amounts do.

Again, you can’t win if you don’t play.

Eight of those writers (if I’m figuring this right) are from the U.S., which has a population of about 308 million.

Your odds of being a top-ten world earner, as a fiction writer, are about 1 in 38,500,000.  That’s right, you’re about 5 times as likely to get on the top-ten wealthiest fiction writers in the world list as you are to win the grand prize in Powerball.  And that’s not counting the lesser prizes, like being able to write for a living (whether you’re writing fiction or not), publishing a story in a professional market, getting paid for something you wrote, or just getting published.*

That is not to say that these writers achieved what they did solely based on luck.  Unlike playing the lottery, you can increase your odds of winning–from the $3 prizes to the multi-million jackpots, by becoming a better writer.

I know that some people are already talking smack about some of the writers on that list.  I have; some of them just don’t write what I want to read.  At all.  By a long shot.  But people must be reading their stuff for a reason, so I’m just going to suck it up, be a pro, and stop talking smack about them, at least in public.  Please do the same.  You’re writers.  When you hit it big, you aren’t going to want people to say, “Well, X makes a lot of money, but the writing is pure crap,” even if it is crap.  Granted, you’ll be laughing on your way to the bank, but it’ll still hurt your feelings.

Even if you don’t agree with the taste of the day that makes them top earners, you have to admit they have at least these traits:

  • They write.  They don’t make excuses.  They put their butts in the chair and write.
  • They submit.  They got their work out there, often after stacks and stacks of rejections.
  • They do it all over again.  They deal with criticism, bad reviews, mockery, days when they don’t get to write because they have to do paperwork, days when their private lives take over, days when they just want to have a meltdown.  And they don’t give up.

Here is how you’re going to have more success as a writer:

You’re going to play the lottery, and you’re going to do what you can to increase your chances.

You’re not going to send out one short story, get one rejection, and quit.  That is not how serious lottery players play.

You are going to play the lottery a lot.

What happens if you don’t win the multi-million lottery jackpot?  Do you fail?  Hell, no.  Nobody picks up a lottery ticket and expects to win the Grand Prize.  Especially if you’re only picking up one ticket.

No, what happens is that you buy a strip of tickets, expecting to toss most of them in the trash but hoping for something better.  You certainly don’t have a mental breakdown if you don’t win on every freakin’ ticket.

Writing is like that.  You write a bunch of stories and send them out to a bunch of markets and expect a bunch of rejections.  You hope for something better; you don’t have a mental breakdown if you don’t get acceptances every time.  You shouldn’t, anyway.  When you get a rejection, it’s not failing, it’s playing the game.

And the great thing about writing is that it isn’t based on pure chance.  You can do things that will improve your odds, and, unlike with Powerball, it isn’t considered cheating.

Next time:  Talent vs. Hard Work

*A thought: if the $3 prize on Powerball is about 1 in sixty, then maybe you shouldn’t be surprised if you have to get sixty rejections to get the equivalent publication credit, at least when you’re first starting out. (You could let that discourage you, or you could start submitting and get through those sixty rejections as fast as you can. And it does get better, the more experienced you get.)

Game Night

Yesterday was another good day.  We started out with having Fry over to play magic.  None of the three of us have played magic for years, and none of us played it very seriously.  This belies, however, the thoroughness with which Fry learns and assimilates rules for any given circumstance.  If we lived closer to Las Vegas he would probably be banned from one casino by now.  Not more than one–he would learn exactly how far he could go without getting banned and stop at that point.  I wonder whether he’s ever played poker, but he seems the type to be more comfortable with 21.

Lee and I both built decks.  Fry brought two of his decks, a zombie deck and an elf deck.  He said he’d tried to bring over nice decks that wouldn’t wipe out people right away.  Whenever I hear people talk about playing to have fun, I think about the game Shent from Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, but it wasn’t quite like that, if you know what I mean.

At any rate, he kept winning until I played a prebuilt blue and white deck against him, one that Lee had picked up on Saturday.  It was close; I got lucky.  I said, “I think the next step is learning how to heterodyne cards.”  I was amused by being able to find an excuse to say “heterodyne” in a conversation; of course, Lee and Fry both knew what it meant.

Lee made bbq ribs.  I had taken a nap and slept through the point where Fry got to the house, but I dreamed of ramen noodles the whole time, because the house started to smell like ribs.  What ramen noodles and pork ribs have in common, I’m not sure, but I kept thinking, “You shouldn’t eat too much ramen.  It’s not good for you.”  Fortunately, when I woke up, it smelled like ribs again.

For some reason, in Colorado Springs, either you’re making smoked ribs or you’re nothing.  You’re shit.  You get incredulous looks of horror and embarrassment.  It’s only smoked ribs that are edible.  Lee bakes them in the oven and finishes them on the grill, and I like them better than smoked ribs.  They still have some juice to them, some fat.  They’re delicious.

Joe Woods called, a real coincidence after not seeing him for over a year.  We invited him to come over, which he eventually did, bringing his girlfriend Barbara with him.

Joe’s an old roommate, and we know him well.  He doesn’t like to come over that much, though, because–well, we were all pretty immature when we lived together, and while there wasn’t exactly bad blood between us when we moved to separate residences, he’s a bit skittish about it still.  But I like him and I’m glad when he’s around.  He’s lost a lot of weight.  I kept looking at his hands.  He had lost so much weight that his hands were different.  You could see the tendons moving around, the muscles.  Luckily, he was playing magic–as soon as he got there, I abandoned the deck I was playing to him, another pre-built that I was just not enjoying playing–so I didn’t look too odd, staring at his hands.  He took off his sweater and his hair went all nuts.  Lee told him he looked like John Belushi; he did, and then he smoothed his hair back down.

Barbara came across, at first, like a pretty airhead.  Rationally, I knew she wasn’t–I knew Joe.  He’s changed, both in growing up and just changing, the way people do over time, but he’s not dumb.  If he thinks you’re dumb, he’ll talk down to you, and he wasn’t talking down to her, so I knew Barbara wasn’t the person my first impression was giving, which was pleasant enough, kind of normal, okay.  I talked her into playing magic with Fry to show her the ropes–she originally didn’t want to play, but then she saw Fry play, and he seemed to know more than anyone else at the table, so she agreed to play the next round, using his deck and advice.  She’d played in high school, but not since then.

There’s something about games that lets people get out of their shells, I think.  Over the course of the evening, I could see why Joe liked her, maybe even a little of why she liked Joe.  She is definitely the velvet glove over iron fist type, cautious in tactics but bolder in strategy as she got a feel for it.  Joe is a very lucky man, and I’m sure he knows it.

I talked them into playing Jungle Speed, and it was fun.  Joe won both times, which didn’t surprise me.  It’s a good people-watching game.

Ray spent the whole day alone.  I talked to her, and she said she was bored, but she didn’t hang out with us.  I made her sleep with me in the guest room last night; we read Yotsuba&! and laughed a lot.  She slept like a rock.  Today is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and she’s off from school; the plan is to spoil her rotten today.

But last night, good scotch was drunk and games were played; I had orange liqueur on the theory that I’m a grownup, dammit, and I can drink something oversweet if I want.  It was delicious.

Tales from a Booksigning

I had a booksigning for Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse yesterday at the north Colorado Springs Borders (Chapel Hills), and it went well.  I didn’t sell all the books this time, but that was because there were 100 of them.

It was pleasant.  I talked to a lot of people.

I talked to a girl whose father seems to see her as frustrating and unintelligible and rebellious – I don’t know, maybe he can’t resist teasing her even when she’s not there.  She was polite and soft-spoken, and we talked about comic books, among other things.  She’s been reading Captain Mar-vell from the Marvel universe lately and recommended it.

I talked to a former boss about her daughter, who is at Whitworth University in Spokane, and the humans vs. zombies game they play up there.  Someone’s nominated to be patient zero; if patient zero touches you, then you’re a zombie, etc.  The only way to stop it is by throwing a balled-up sock at the zombie, which is then frozen for 15 minutes.  I laughed and laughed, the way she told it.  Earlier, the same woman had bought a copy of CYD for her other daughter, who is a zombie fan, and had to come back to pick up a copy for this daughter, who had decided that zombies were now fun.  She was also sending this daughter running insoles, although for a different reason.   She bought me a Zen calendar (they were on sale; who could resist!) so we could continue to exchange the idiotic saying that come up from time to time.  Today’s is, “When you’ve got it, there’s no place for it but a poem.”–Wu Pen.  Apparently, Wu Pen originally said that at a poetry reading wearing a beret and interjected the words “cat” “man” and “got it?” in the quote, which has been cleaned up for the calendar.

I talked to a guy who works with my husband and his son, who looked to be in fourth grade or so.  He used to want to be a writer, but now wants to be a soldier.  His father said that you could do both, and I confirmed this.  I started describing Nymphos of Rocky Flats to them and realized that it was probably not appropriate for most fourth-graders to read but laughed and told them anyway.  When I’d gone to the bookstore earlier in the week, two of the sellers had been describing zombie porn up in the horror section, and I’d smiled and nodded until I realized they were talking about Mario Acevedo’s Undead Kama Sutra and other books, and then I’d had a good, loud belly laugh and said that no, they weren’t porn.  Also, the fourth grader wanted to know how to get past writer’s block.  I told him as best I knew.  He smiled and nodded (but in a way that made him look like he had ideas), and I felt like I had done good in the world.  I love talking to kids about writing.  I love it.

Someone recommended I watch Zombie Stripper, but now I can’t remember who it was, which is frustrating.

A group of friends from separate sources all came in at once.  One of them is kind of shy, and I was worried that I would drive him off, but he outlasted the loudness of the others.  Italian women = loudness all around, even when they’re making fun of a couple of butt-pale German women.  The guy who made sure I got hold of unpasturized apple cider when I wanted to make hard cider teased me for not getting mine bottled yet; I made fun of him for not even starting yet.  Neener.

I now have a stalker.  That’s okay; I know her.  As long as I don’t threaten her shoe collection or talk smack about any of her hockey players, I’m safe.

Two local guys came in; they’d just been to a motorcycle shop and a gun store, and those places were busy, too.  I had this feeling of deja vu the whole time I was talking to them, but they didn’t know me, so I must not have known them from anywhere, either.  They were like something out of a Guy Ritchie movie, Colorado Springs style, very witty and quick on the conversation.  I want to steal them for a book; too bad I didn’t meet them before I wrote CYD, because they would have been perfect for it.

Some friends brought their baby; I tried to touch him, and he started crying.  Ah, if you know me and little kids, you know that my heart broke a little at that moment.  Soon enough, though, as soon as we established that lady no touchee, he was flirting with me.  He flirted with a little girl in another stroller, who flirted back.  Best baby pick up line ever:  Da da goo ah!

I talked to a friend and met his teenaged daughter.  They were picking on each other, in a good way, barbs that were more like two brothers punching each other in the shoulder to see what they can get away with than anything else.  He described me as “the weird one,” and she said, “Not compared to my friends,” or similar.  I had to laugh.  Later I told her that I’d tried very hard to be normal in high school and that it hadn’t worked out, and I was glad.  She also bought a Cassandra Clare book, The Clockwork Angel, which I haven’t read.  I was jealous.

There was a shy teenaged boy who wanted to grab the book off the table and run before I could sign it.  I teased him until he let me sign it, then made him hold still for another two minutes while I showed him the secret code and the picture of the duck-headed zombie man.  Then I let him go.  He almost ran to get away.

I talked to some friends that I’d forgotten to invite to the next cooking party and told them to bring their granddaughter for a sleepover.  Then I talked to their granddaughter, who is in third grade, about musicals, scary movies, and Green Day.  She tried to convince me that I needed to watch The Ring, but I still maintain that I like books better than movies.

I didn’t keep track of how many books I sold, and there were some people who brought in books that they’d bought over the net earlier but wanted signed.  Anyway, I signed the remaining 81 books (out of the 100 that they ordered), bought a blank notebook and a copy of Dan Simmons’ Drood, which I have wanted for quite some time, and went home.  I looked at my mail, which included a short story rejection.

We went out to eat at Three Margaritas, which is where the comfort food for our household lives.  I talked to Lee about going to Scotland; we haven’t changed our minds.  It won’t be this year, though, unless there’s some financial miracle.  I checked my email and saw that the short story “maybe” has turned into a “we want to buy this.”

A good day.

Good Enough

I have what is probably a fairly typical writer’s relationship with what is “good enough,” which is to say, “It’s not good enough.”

Whatever it is.

In some ways, this is a good thing, and I don’t want to lose it entirely; right now, it’s that nudge in my brain that’s saying, “Okay, you now write this well; it’s time to make further progress.  What are you going to do next?”

Without dissatisfaction, there is no progress.

However, while dissatisfaction can make a potent tool, it @#$%^& sucks as a master.  I’m not going to go into detail here, because wow, that would take either a lifetime of therapy or a book series.

Anyway, last night, while on my quest to improve my writing, I was reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and took a break to freewrite, as recommended.  My pen basically took over the page.  One of the things that came out of it was that I don’t think I’m good enough to deserve to travel.  I remember listening to people’s stories about travelling around the world since I was a kid and thinking, “That’ll never happen to me.  Why should it?”

Well, that can’t possibly be productive.

Every time I travel–even if I’m moving houses–I love it.  The fact is, I don’t need to deserve to travel in order to do it.  Plenty of slaptards go gallivanting about just because they can.  And finally, I am a freelance writer now, and I can travel for business purposes.  Yes, it would probably be better for me if I just broke down and took a vacation, but frankly the idea gives me the heebie jeebies.  Also, I get bored, I don’t have the money, and it still thrills me to be able to write legitimate things off as a business expense..

–Before you laugh at me or tell me how easy it is to travel, have a good look at your own hangups and how easy it is to get around them.  This is part of mine, and if it were easy, I would have done it years ago.  Basically, if I don’t get to hurt myself by telling myself what a loser I am for feeling like I don’t deserve to travel, then I won’t give anyone else permission to do it, either.

So here are the next steps:

  • Get passports for everybody in my family set up.
  • Start saving money for a trip to Scotland (an actual vacation that we’ve been discussing for years), as a priority.
  • Commit to going to GenCon this year and finding a way to sell books there or otherwise make it a business trip.
  • Commit to taking a trip for a writer’s workshop or other writer-training thingy.

Additional suggestions are welcome, although I may have a brief meltdown in which I go, “I can’t do THAT” for a minute.

How to Fail, Part 1: Why is failing so hard?

I don’t know…I have visions of people breaking down in tears…”How could you say something so harsh?!?”

What’s a normal response to failure?

Upset, despair, grief, horror, shame…?

What’s an abnormal response to failure?

Celebration!  Amazement!  Breaking out the champagne!

And so we try to avoid failure and gravitate toward success, because failure feels bad, and success feels good.

But you can’t succeed without failing.

Rationally, we all know that 1) nobody’s perfect and 2) if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  You are practically guaranteed not to succeed at your first try or, if you do, have no idea how to succeed on your second.

Writers tend to have a huge problem with this.  I had a huge problem with this, so I decided to fix that.  I looked at my reactions to failure and said, “My hatred of getting rejection letters goes waaaay beyond the rational.”  I’ve gotten over it, mostly.  I still have days where I’ve had one too rejection too many, or I’m stuck on a story, and I just want to give up.  But I’m not frozen for weeks.  My fear of failure doesn’t stop me from sending out another submission or getting up the next morning and trying to write again.

I do see writers frozen by that fear.  They might not sound like they’re afraid.  They have all kinds of explanations for why they’re not really afraid, they’re something else.  They’re too busy.  They’re not good enough.  They just have a liiiiiiiiiittle bit more editing to do…it’s only been seven years since their first draft after all, and everyone knows that you shouldn’t rush your writing.

I’ve used all those excuses and more.  (Although that book was only four years old before I started sending it out.)

Failing is hard.  It feels bad, and we don’t like it.

We like to win, we like to succeed, we like to be admired, we like to be…right.

We like to be right so much that some of us would rather DIE than be wrong.  We can’t usually tell that we’re wrong until after the fact. And when we do find out that we’re wrong, the horrible reality of failure comes crashing down on us, and we’re paralyzed.

However, we can easily tell when someone else is wrong.  We see the huge resistance they have to failing, and we can see that if they’d just take a minute and really think about what they were doing, they’d probably succeed.

But when you’re inside that situation, you can’t see that.  And so you blame everyone else.  As a writer, you don’t succeed because nobody appreciates you.  Because the market is bad.  Because the economy is bad.  Because people like to read stupid books, not your magnum opus.  Because stupid TV stars are getting all the book contracts.  Because there are forces against you.

We’re writers.  We don’t just fail, we create a story that explains our failures in terms that we, as writers, can understand.  Like this:

The Tale of Cinderwriter

Once upon a time, there was a wonderful writer whose stepsisters made them work at a soul-killing office job all day, leaving the writer no time to write, and whenever the writer tried to get published, the evil stepsisters would steal all the writer’s letters and send back cruel rejection notes!  It was a terrible situation; however, the writer knew that someday, their True Audience would come and rescue them from poverty and despair…*

As writers, I think we want to believe that our arc as writers starts out low and gets gradually higher and higher, until we meet our final foe and vanquish it utterly, after which we live happily ever after.  You know, a regular plot arc.  Isn’t that how real life works?

No.

It’s so very, very hard to fail because, on top of everything else, real life doesn’t fit the damned story.  When you get rejected, your plot arc doesn’t go up, and it’s not like you can go out and stab the editor to defeat them.

You don’t start out as a beautiful, perfect writer that nobody appreciates but should.  You don’t start out as being oppressed by your evil stepsisters, evil agents, or evil publishers.  You start out as…sorry…as not a success.  That is, as a failure.

That’s okay.  Pretty much everyone who has the determination to write can get published, somehow, somewhere.  You may not succeed to the extent you want to succeed, but as long as you don’t give up–and that includes making excuses for why you’re not succeeding or refusing to change what you’re doing now–you will find some measure of success.

Next time:  We’re not failing too much; we’re not failing enough.

*That was kind of fun. I might do some more of those. Suggestions? How about Die Hard Writer?

How to Fail: Outline

All, I got invited to talk at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference in April!  I completely bounced off the walls when I found out; I think it’s one of those things that I subconsciously marked at “a sign of success” but didn’t know it.

When I’m making more $$$ as a freelancer, I’d like to sponsor a scholarship for teenaged horror/sf/fantasy writers, but that ain’t happening this year, yo.

Anyway, I’m going to start working through what I want to say in great length on my blog, so I can say it better (and shorter) at the conference.

Topic:  How to Fail (and Keep on Writing).

I figure I know something about failing and not giving up.

Here’s the blurb:

Are you a writer who’s afraid of rejection? Do you have a drawer full of stories that you don’t think are fit to see the light of day? Learn how to submit your work, survive rejection, and increase your chances of success.

And here’s the outline:

  • Intro: Why is failing so hard? The writer/plot model.
  • We’re not failing too much, we’re not failing enough.
  • Talent vs. hard work.
  • Getting published doesn’t mean freedom from failure.
  • You can’t control success, but you can control failure.
  • Writing a failure goal for the year (x rejections).
  • How to fail SMARTER by being a pro.
    • Reading like a pro.
    • Writing like a pro.
    • Networking like a pro.
    • Formatting like a pro (no bunny slippers).
  • Closing: Even pros fail; fail like a pro.
  • Questions.

So, expect some noodling around on such a subject.

Meanwhile, I’m also reading Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz, but it’s tough. Reading about being wrong–just thinking about it–is very hard.

More to come.

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