Six weeks of quietness.
In actuality, it’s been a lot longer than that. I’d say right around the time of the web site update, I was doing a lot of thinking and self-evaluating. Harsh self-evaluation. The kind that can make or break dreams. At one point, I was so frustrated about the whole use my real name or use a pen name debate that I reached out to a private Facebook group that I’m a part of. Have the thread in a fourteen page Word document. Real name was almost unanimous, so that’s settled.
I’ve been mentoring a young author who is still going through the growing pains of having wonderful ideas, but being uncertain about how to organize them. I keep reminding him of step one in Goins’ five draft method—just get it down and out. This relationship lead to finding isaiah Hankel‘s website. Specifically the Be A Leader, Not A Cornball – 10 Self-Help Mistakes To Avoid post. Although four years old according to its comments, the wisdom contained within the piece is still very relevant. Especially for an artist struggling with the vision they have in their head and the reality that surrounds them.
Being a Cornball Writer
Hankel’s article made me realize that for as grand my plans are, I’ve been approaching them as a cornball. Let others influence what I thought and did in many different ways and for many reasons, including because I thought they had more experience or success than me. Thing is, they are my stories. No one can write them but me. That means, I can’t rely on anyone else but me. Sure, I might fall down and go splat, but as long as I have focus with my vision, something’s bound to happen. I didn’t regain my focus until reading the article.
Out of the ten points Hankel presented, half of them hit home. Three definitely apply to my former approach to my books.
Asking for opinions (or seeking validation in other people’s eyes)
In this technology driven age, validation can come in many forms, from Twitter follows and Facebook likes to book sales. As authors we worry about our numbers and grabbing other’s people attention, so hopefully we can impress them enough that they will buy our books. Why do you think there are so many sexy bodies on covers? Sex sells.
We seek advice from experts and try to apply it only to mess ourselves up with the contradictions.
Hankel recommends externalizing goals and “the overall vision you have for your life.” At the same time he cautions when someone does they shouldn’t expect other people to validate them nor should they constantly ask for other people’s opinions. According to the article, “Too many opinions have a way of turning a hard purpose into a soft and shifty wish.”
Oh boy do I know that one well. Everything about my books and marketing took a tailspin because I went seeking out too many opinions. I was trying to please everyone else and not myself. Each of us has our lives, our own perspectives, and our own stories. Try and do it someone else’s way and the uniqueness disappears. The story becomes another formula.
Relying too much on other people
Writers have to rely on other people to do things they can’t do. Editors, graphic designers, web developers, and marketing gurus all have writers as clients because writers need to concentrate on what they do best, writing. Hankel spouts off the old adage of If want something done right, do it yourself, but adds, “If you want someone to do something for you, give them a real reason to do it. Pay them or appeal to their self-interest in some other way.”
To me, it’s about paying and appealing to self-interest. I’ve found that if people are doing things just for the money there is an innate sense of that in the end result. When they enjoy what they do, with or without considering for the money they might make, their passion shows. As a writer, I need that passion to match my own, so whatever professionals I rely on can help me translate my vision in a meaningful way.
Hankel goes on to say “Create order. Control everything you can or get someone else to control it for you. Ignore everything you can’t control but realize that you can control more than you think.” Control is why I remain an indie. I can pick and choose who works with me. It is also something I need to be more aware of and assert more often. That gets back to how much I need and want to rely on other’s expertise and judging the value and passion of that expertise. In other words, qualifying and accepting people for my writing projects based on the practical versus emotional. Practical, they can do this for me and here are their qualifications and passions that back this sentiment up. Emotional, they can do this and do it well so they must be treated like royalty even when there might be some nagging mismatch.
Caring what others think of you (and comparing yourself to others)
Hankel uses the example from The Foutainhead where one character, Ellsworth Toohey, spends years trying to destroy the reputation of another character named Howard Roark. They finally meet face to face and Toohey asks if Roark thinks of him. Roark doesn’t. Not having read the book I take it as Roark may or may not have felt the effects of Toohey’s actions, but in the end, it didn’t matter who was putting obstacles in his way, he was more focused on overcoming them.
Facebook, and other social media outlets, are like Toohey for modern-day writers. My feeds are writing and reading centric with a little technology thrown in for good means. The bigger and better marketers make it seem like they have the world at their fingertips and who am I for even trying to compete them. They don’t intentionally come off that way, but given a bad day, or even a worse case of self-doubt, it can seem like that.
I have done what I can with the resources I’ve had. Could I have done better? In a lot of ways, yes. Does make me less of a writer than others who have had more success? No. They’ve just played the system better than I have. Made better connections, built more momentum… Half a dozen other things I haven’t mastered. If I mimic Roark, it’s a so what, do better, and don’t care. If I’m being my perfectionist emotional self, it’s damn I’m no good and I might as well just forget about it.
I choose to do better. And yes, I still care, but not in the self-pitying kind of way. I have to care, that’s who I am. A passionate, sensitive person. If I lose touch with my emotions than I’m in serious trouble. Still I can toughen up to protect myself and move forward without letting excess baggage drag me down.
Feeling like everyone is judging me because I’m not meeting their standards is a dangerous trap that I’ve falling into way too many times. My expectations are a lot tougher in some respects, and weaker in others. Still they need to be the priority. Failing myself and other people is not acceptable, but I’m the one who has to live with myself.
Biggest first step I can take in this direction is giving myself a chance to think and act before reacting. In other words, being mindful, even when doing so proves to be an almost impossible challenge. Hankel has a solution for that too, it’s called putting things into the void. I’ll delve into that more in a different post.
With my focus, came a new sense of purpose. Instead of beating myself up for maybe not making a release in 2018, I decided to challenge myself and aim for three.
Stars of Heros is going to have a book zero. I’m already being unconventional in other ways, so why not do that as well? Actually, it’s a necessity. Book 0 is the last of the three original books that started the series. As it was, I had it buried as a flashback scheduled for way later. Almost to the point that it didn’t make sense. I brought Alabaster forward, with a planned release date of sometime mid-summer (around July) as both a single and part of a box-set trilogy. Then in the winter, I’m planning on publishing Hope Amongst Ashes, formerly A Dream To Share. (Too many dreams in my titles…).
Right now, I’m doing what I need to do to keep myself focused and motivated, writing and website work. Social media on occasion, and blogging rarely. I don’t need the emotional distraction, including worrying about numbers, of social media while I go balls to the wall with what feeds my soul and pocketbook. For someone who hasn’t managed more than one book every two years for her first two, three in one year is going to be a lot.
Oh, did I say three? Yep, third one is scheduled for Spring (March). Can’t say much more about it now,