Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creative Mistakes: Five Ways Authors Box Themselves In

As an author, you’re a creative type. That goes without saying. But in your approach to your craft, your publishing, and your promotion, are you actually as creative as you might be?

Writing is a scary business, any way you cut it. In Write Your Best Book, the companion volume to What Every Author Should Know, I compare it to the position my son played on his high school hockey team. There’s nothing quite like being the mother of a goalie. He’s got his team out there, helping, but when pucks whiz toward the goal, it’s all up to him. And believe me, those pucks fly from every direction. The goalie has to watch every angle. He has to be quick. Fluid. Psychologically unshakable.

I don’t mean to suggest that the position of author should be a defensive one, although sadly, that’s how it ends up for some. What I learned from being a hockey mom (and please, no comparisons with thatother hockey mom) was that goalies shore up the uncertainty of their position with practices that don’t make a whole lot of sense, like never washing their jerseys during the season (my son claimed this was essential for his success) and talking to the goal posts, as top goalie Patrick Roy did in every game.

The equivalent for authors are these creative mistakes, all of which confine us in unhelpful ways:

·         A focus on the wrong kind of being: To write is to make yourself vulnerable. You will fail, time and again. Your work won’t be as good at first as it will become if you stick with it. Writers who fail to accept these truths typically end up spending more of their energy on “being” a writer instead of doing the hard work of a writer. The “being” that benefits writers is the “being” of everyday existence, the conscious effort of experiencing life as it happens, of staying actively engaged as opposed to striving to present ourselves as writers (or as anything else).
·         Risk aversion: In any uncertain enterprise, the natural tendency is to shy from risk. For survival, risk aversion is a healthy impulse. But in both the entrepreneurial and creative pursuits of a writer, risks are inherent. To avoid them means doing what everyone else does—and getting generic results.
·         Relying on formulas: Good writers balance reader expectations, which are sometimes taught as formulas, with the unique insights and approaches that are only achieved when we allow ourselves to think beyond formula. The same applies to promotion—do what everyone else does, and you’ll get lost in the crowd.
·         Believing you’ve got nothing left to learn: A writer’s education is never finished. Seek out the best—in the books you read, in the examples you follow, in the discussions of craft and business in which you engage. Be an active learner of both aspects of being a writer: your craft and the publishing end.
·         Seeking rewards too soon: The readers, the accolades, the sales—these will come. Focus first on your process, on doing your best creative work. Don’t rush a book because this person or that person has theirs out already. Don’t succumb to discouragement because your rankings aren’t what you’d like. Take your time. Persistence, diligence, completing your work, having the courage to publish—these matter, but check your motivation. If it’s all about rewards, your work will suffer, and you’ll likely be disappointed. Repeat after me: you have nothing to prove.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored fifteen books. Her most recent are What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion, and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A version of this post also ran at www.49writers.blogspot.com.