Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Craving for Validation Can Really Screw Things Up

Writers–especially new writers–crave validation the way a cat craves catnip. I’ve seen the craving result in a few writers doing some incredibly destructive things from a business perspective. I myself did quite a few stupid things business-wise due to the validation crapola in my head until I learned from much more experienced writers that the crapola was there and that I needed to get rid of it.

Validation is NOT asking “Is this piece of writing any good?”  Validation is all about saying stuff like:

When thus-and-so happens, then will I be a REAL writer.

It’s the part about “then I will be a real writer” that messes writers up in the head. Badly.

Several wise old pros told me, “a real writer is someone who writes, day in and day out,” and I used to be inexperienced and stupid enough to scoff at that saying.  Surely there had to be more to being a “real” writer.

I don’t scoff anymore, because I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a core seed of truth to what those writers said.

A writer writes.

A painter paints.

A singer sings.

A coder codes.

Whenever someone quits doing the action (code, sing, write, etc.) that is the core of their dream, everything grinds to halt in a matter of time. Writers who stop writing will eventually become the topic of “What ever happened to so and so?” among readers.

Also, validation is NOT about setting goals.  It’s fine to have goals.

What I’m talking about here is having a mindset where a writer is totally dependent on a particular thing happening to feel like a “real” writer. This dependency results in neediness that can be manipulated by scammers, and a frantic urgency that results in bad business decisions that can postpone (or even wreck) the ability to make a living as a writer.

For quite a number of writers, “thus-and-so” is “published with a NYC publishing house.” The problem is the “When I am published by a NYC publishing house, then I will be real writer” mindset leads to a neediness that makes it hard for a writer to do the negotiating that needs to be done to get a decent contract.

Here’s something to think about.  These NYC publishing contracts are between a writer and a corporation.  We aren’t talking about two individuals working out a joint partnership here. Those people you meet from the corporation can be really really nice, but at the end of the day it’s the corporation the writer signs with. Editors and CEOs can be fired.

The craving for validation from corporations based in NYC can be used against a writer in contract negotiations. It’s just the nature of business–the writer’s book is a profit-and-loss statement for the corporation. If a writer wants to play doormat, that’s the writer’s problem as far as the corporate entity is concerned. Sometimes an editor will warn a writer if the writer acts too much like a pathetic wuss in negotiations, but for the most part the writer is on his or her own.

The other nasty part of this “NYC publishing house” requirement for being a “real” writer is that all the great middle-sized publishing companies get ignored because one is chasing after a narrow definition of being “real.”  There are some terrific small and middle-sized publishing houses out there, ones that are going to be big publishing houses 15 years from now.

Lastly, the whole mindset of  “when thus-and-so happens, then I’ll be a real writer” also makes it harder to keep morale up. Several old pros have pointed out to me that writing is disheartening enough as it is due to the rejection process; there’s no need to pile more anguish on by setting absurd goals for what is “real” as a writer.

A real writer writes, day in and day out.

Everything else is just a goal to aim for.

The Pricelessness of Time, and a Couple of Great Links

There are only 24 hours in a day. That’s it. Even those people who have a natural need for only 4-5 hours a sleep a night (or even none) can’t get around this time limitation.

Several swift deaths that have happened to people I cared about over the past three years have brought home to me just how priceless the time we are given is.  Once Death shows up for you, it’s over.  That’s it. We all like to assume we’re going to live into our eighties or later, but there’s no guarantee. And people love to assume that they’ll have lots of time to put their lives in order and do those things they always dreamed about.

Death can kill you in seconds. A stroke can strike you down where you stand and there won’t be time to say, “Goodbye,” or write a couple of poems before it is too late.

Never assume you can wait until retirement to do the things you dream about. People die before they reach retirement all the time. If your dream is to go to Paris before you die, start planning out tiny steps tonight that you take to work towards making that dream a reality sooner rather than later.

I think about time a lot, since I’m in the “squeeze” years. There’s work to do, a family to raise, a house with never-ending repairs to deal with, and writing to do. Several of my hobbies had to be put aside when I started to pursue writing in a serious way–there were only so many hours in a day.

Several months ago, I decided to turn off comments on my blog, because it was either do that or stop blogging all together. I didn’t know what impact it would have, but one of the surprising results was that now my blog thoughts sometimes dig deeper into things.  The time I used have to waste wading through spam in the queue instead gets spent thinking and writing the post instead.  There is only so much time each week I can devote to a blog, and I was actually surprised at how much a help it was time-wise to have comments off.

Zoe Winters did a post not too long ago about why she turned off comments on her blog, and brings up her reasons why a writer may want to do so.  Every writer is different–one writer’s healing potion is another writer’s poison. So each of us will have to experiment to see what works best.

In other news, I stumbled across a wonderful short essay by James Lee Burke on writing, “Seeking a Vision of Truth,” that can give consolation to writers in difficult times. I hadn’t known that his novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie received 110 rejections during nine years of submission.  I’ve provided the link to get to it on his website.

Also, musician Jonathan Coulton has done a long thoughtful essay on how he became a success as an indie musician. I think what he has to say also applies to becoming a success as a fiction writer (whether traditional, indie, or a traditional/indie combo).

So, I leave you all with the question, “When Death comes for you, is there anything you’re going to regret having not done? And if the answer is ‘Yes,’ what small steps can you take here and now to change that?”

The Health Hazards of Too Much Sitting

A few days ago I saw an e-brochure on the health problems created by too much sitting each day, and immediately thought about all the people I know who are now full-time writers or programmers. Writing and programming are jobs that often involve 8-10 hours a day of sitting in a chair in front of a computer, especially if the work is done in a home office.

I do a lot of sitting myself these days.

One thing I’ve noticed is that after spending a year sitting for 6-8 hours/day rather than 1-2 hours/day, I experience more physical discomfort now while sitting that makes it hard to concentrate on writing. My hip joints ache a lot more than they used to.

I’m not a health professional, so what I’m about to say is speculation on what I’ve seen. Almost without exception, all of those I know who do long hours of sitting are having to deal with a variety of health problems that have flared up after a few years–weight gain, diabetes from the weight gain, high cholesterol from the weight gain, hip or back or joint pain, leg cramps, depression, etc. The only writers and programmers I know who are not having blatant health problems from 40+ hours/week of sitting are the ones who are biking or running for an hour on a daily basis AND are taking frequent breaks to stretch and move around.

Fiction writers who have a full-time job as a technical writer during the day–and then come home at night to write–end up with a double-whammy of too much sitting. After sitting all day, it’s hard to have to sit some more in order to write a story. A number of fiction writers I know much prefer to work as a waiter or waitress, or some other job that involves movement, than to take on technical writing to help pay the bills when money is short. I’m beginning to see why that could be appealing since I had never considered the physical impact of sitting too much.

Some writers use a voice dictation device to record the words for a story while they go for a walk or use a treadmill. This could be a useful way to get both needed exercise and writing done if one has a day job that demands that one sit all day. It does require the ability to tell the story verbally instead of typing or writing it down.

Another approach to get away from sitting all the time that I’ve heard about is having a treadmill desk installed to use. I was pointed to a piece on treadmill desks that was done on Good Morning America a few years ago. The treadmill speed is set very low so that the user doesn’t get breathless or sweaty. But the mileage walked does add up as the hours pass.

Word of mouth has it that typing is relatively easy to do with a treadmill desk, but that writing by hand is much more difficult. So either a keyboard or a voice dictation device is going to be needed for getting writing done.

I am seriously looking into getting a treadmill desk to use, at least to do desk work that requires less concentration like email and research. If I do so, I’ll post what I learn about them as far as how easy or difficult it is to do writing work.

Definitely there are health hazards beyond just carpal tunnel syndrome to watch out for when doing long hours of sitting at a desk. Be careful out there.

Terrific posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and David Byrne

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a terrific post this week on the business changes happening at light speed right now, “Writing Like It’s 1999.” Publishing contracts are changing FAST and it’s important to be aware of what is going on if you want to make a living in this industry.

Also, I found out from a comment by LP King on her post, that David Byrne did a great article back in 2007 on changes in the music industry entitled “Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists–and Megastars”. Considering that the music industry technology shift happened about eight years before it started in publishing, this is a terrific article to help get a feel for what might happen or be possible for writers. I made a cup of tea during a work break and read it in one sitting. Great stuff to ponder.

Some Days the Writing Business Feels Like an Endless Bad Sequel to JAWS

I’ve been lucky to have gotten to meet so many writers (both old pro, published,  and beginning) over the last nine years. I know writers in many different fields: history, memoirs, journalism, children’s books, Young Adult, mysteries, romance, science fiction, horror, fantasy, literary, westerns, etc.  And I’ve been to variety of conferences, such as Romance Writers of America, over the years just to hang out and listen to writers talk.

I started writing nine years ago simply as a way to take my mind off the difficulties going on in my life. It was something that gave me joy. And I thought about seriously pursuing publication, but I shrank back from it for a variety of reasons. Today I want to talk about one of those reasons, because it’s something that all writers end up having to deal with.

There are a hell of a lot of sharks in the publishing waters, and I’ve seen quite a number of writers end up as shark chow.

Many years ago I started to hear conversations like the following dramatization:

THE NEW WRITER AND THE OLD SUCCESSFUL PRO

New Writer: Hey, Old Successful Pro, can I ask you some advice?  I just got my first ever offer to be published in fiction. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s an all rights contract for a flat fee.  Should I sign or not?

Old Successful Pro: Is it media work for someone else’s universe, like STAR WARS ?

New Writer: No.

Old Successful Pro: Don’t sign.

New Writer: But I’ll be published!

Old Successful Pro: It’s a bad deal.  Don’t sign.  If it’s a success, you’ll see none of the money. Royalties, sequels, film rights, translation rights…you’re closing a lot of doors to money by signing that contract.

New Writer: I don’t care!  I want the validation. You’re just bitter because you’re not as successful as J. K. Rowling.

… Five years later …

New Writer: Arrgh, they’ve made nearly a quarter a million on my story, and I get none of the money.  It’s not fair! They screwed me over.

FINIS

What I find most disturbing about the above scenario is that if you switch out “all rights” for other issues, like “so-and-so, terrible literary agent” the same story plays out. New writer asks about the terrible agent, gets warned about the incompetence, and goes with the agent anyways.

It’s like watching an endless bad sequel to JAWS, where the same loop gets repeated over and over and over and over…

New Writer: Is it safe to go into the ocean today?

Old Successful Pro: Don’t go in the water!  Sharks!

New Writer: I want to swim to that floating platform!  There’s a rubber ducky on it I want. I gotta have that duck or my life will have no meaning.

Old Successful Pro:  Don’t do it! They’ll eat you.

New Writer: I must have that duck.  I’m swimming over. I can swim fast enough to avoid the sharks.

Old Successful Pro: (low to self) Dumb fool.

New Writer:  Aiiieeeeeee.

A few minutes later.

New Writer #2: I’m going swimming, I want that rubber ducky.  Is it safe to go swimming today?

Old Successful Pro:  Don’t go in the water! Sharks!

and on and on and on and on and….

THE END

Seriously folks, this is no fun to watch from the sidelines.  The craving for validation (i.e. the rubber ducky) is so strong in so many new writers that I’ve watched too many jump into the shark-infested waters even though the old successful pros are yelling for everyone to get out of the water.

The “lucky” new writers finally stumble back out onto the beach with only a leg or arm chomped off. The unlucky ones I’ve watched disappear in the bloody churn of sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Writer beware, indeed.