Monday, September 24, 2007

Keeping the Faith

I've wanted to be a writer all my life. And for most of that time, I've been optimistic that I could do it: that it was, in fact, the thing I was born to do. Sure, I read a few things about how difficult it is to make a living from writing. But I sort of waltzed through life, telling people I was going to be Stephen King when I grew up, and not really thinking about what it takes to get there.

But now that I'm an adult and I have the rest of my life to do this, the reality of the publishing world gets me down a lot. When I allow my mind to wander down the path of shrinking markets, blind luck slush-pile transcendence, fickle publishing houses that drop your marketing campaign, and the idea of actually trying to sell my books face-to-face to indifferent bookstore patrons, I start to get depressed. More than depressed, really. I start looking around for something high to jump off.

And when I write, I suffer from Perfectionitis. I think I have to write the Best Book Ever. And about a hundred pages in, I invariably become convinced that what I'm writing is something that should never, ever see the light of day. So I start to look at that "delete" key long and hard. I can't tell how many novels I've abandoned because I've been convinced that they stink.

So when you're in the midst of writing your first novel, how can you keep the faith in yourself and in your future? Most of it, I've found, is mind tricks: surround yourself with positive reinforcement, and filter out the negative. Here are some things that work for me:

Listen to your fans and ignore your critics. When you're done with your novel, you need a critical eye to look it over and give it to you straight. But when you're in the process of writing a book, that's the last thing you need. Instead, look for supportive people who love your writing and will tell you how much you rock. Having a strong fan base will keep you writing through the times when you're sure you're writing the most horrendous book in the world.

And even more important--if someone doesn't like your first chapter, don't show it to them again until the book is done. They may have constructive criticism, or they may just hate your genre. Whatever the case, you don't need negative feedback right now--even if it's helpful. And if someone just isn't a fan of your genre--do not show them your manuscript. End of story.

Set easy goals. You can do two hundred words a day, right? That's about half a page. Too much? How about a paragraph? A sentence? Pick a goal that sounds too easy to take seriously, and then take it seriously. Aiming for ten pages a day might sound grand and ambitious when you make the goal, but on days when you Just Don't Feel Like It, you'll give up--guaranteed. Then you'll get so frustrated at your inability to meet your own goals that you'll give up entirely. Instead, set an easy goal--the easier the better. Then you'll be more likely to stick to it.

Give yourself permission to write a bad book. My biggest downfall is I hate everything I write. No matter how brilliant I think it is to start with, I eventually start to think I'm writing the worst book in the world. Then I delete everything I've done and start again. Instead, whenever that irrational little demon is jumping up and down on your shoulder and screeching that you'll never win the Nebula with that one, say something like this "You're right. This book sucks. And that's fine, because I'm going to finish it anyway. THEN I can fix it."

Do you have anything better to do? This is my secret weapon. Whenever I look around and panic about whether or not I'll ever have an actual career--assuming I'll ever finish an actual book--I remember that, hey, I have nothing more important to do with my time than follow my dreams. I could just give up, but then I'd just be sitting around and wasting time. So I might as well try; it's not like I have anything to lose by trying.

It isn't easy to keep the faith. But it is possible. Let yourself write a bad book, give yourself easy, achievable goals--and try not to let the critics in. And besides--do you have anything better to do than try?

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