I might as well quit and other demented notions

Writers often harbor seemingly reasonable beliefs that are actually rather deranged. We see conspiracies, cling to unrealistic expectations, succumb to pointless envy and other maladies. Here are some checks to patently unhelpful thinking. Remember, you do not have to believe everything your brain tells you!

(This post, slightly edited, was first published in December ’09. I’ve had some requests to reprint… oh dear, you’re falling back to those demented notions?)

1. If the right people would help me, I could break in. Actually, publishers and agents are constantly trolling for great stories. Don’t engage in conspiracy thinking; the  industry is not against you. There is no secret handshake. It’s all in the story.

2. Two years wasted; I can’t sell that novel. Patient has bizarre thought patterns. Subject actually believes people sell every novel they write! Maybe you can’t sell that novel, but you might well sell the next one, and having written one beforehand is great practice.

3. I might as well self-publish. If you are a beginning author, publishing through vanity presses or amazon is a prescription, usually, for low sales. With e-books this is changing, but we’re not there yet. (Three quarters of all books sold are paper.) Cultivate patience. See my post, Publishing Jitters.

4. I have no talent, or I would have sold by now (won an award by now, gotten a big advance by now . . .) *Therapist is laughing.* Patient actually thinks it’s about talent! It’s about determination and growing. Why do we torment ourselves with the talent bugaboo? Writing is a craft, not an art. You can learn to write a knock-out story.

5. I can’t believe that writer’s sales. Crap sells, I guess. So did you think the business was about fine writing? Nope, it’s about entertainment, and I’m as sorry about this as you are. I, too, love really fine writing. But consider: What that story lacks in style it makes up for in story appeal, possibly entertaining hundreds of thousands of people. Best to let go of envy and glean some insights from so-and-so’s wildly popular story.

6. He just broke in and he’s outselling me. Subject is succumbing to envy again. (Note to self: do not succumb to envy!) Also, let’s not imagine a trend where none exists. The writing life has ups and downs. There may be trends, but usually they’re too chaotic to see. Furthermore, it’s not helpful to see the world of publishing as fair and logical: if he is selling better than I it must mean he has more talent, or the industry hates me, or I killed my pet in a previous life. My friend, none of these things is likely true. Ups and downs! Put this on wall in big letters. Ups and downs.

7. Two bad reviews in a row. They really hate me. Don’t read tea leaves. Two bad reviews in a row actually only means two stinkers in a row. If all reviewers hated the  book and it sold badly, it still just means they didn’t like the book, which says nothing about you. The next one could do just fine.

8. I might as well quit. Patient is threatening her own brain with a bizarre and punishing notion. You don’t really want to quit. Yes, the marketplace can be spectacularly unfair.  So can politics, your love life, and golf. And since you really won’t quit, stop catastrophizing and get on with the next story.

Big hug. See you at the next session.

10 Responses

  1. I am curious, Kay, if this reprint was prompted by the post by Sarah Hoyt this morning on her blog?

  2. Tiyana says:

    Heh, I was literally LOLing along with the therapist on #4. Having not yet gone through the query and publishing processes, though, this may be a sign that I read too many author blogs! lol

  3. Kay says:

    No, Paul, it really wasn’t – what is the name of her blog?

  4. Kay says:

    Well, that therapist has been disciplined; but it Was funny!

  5. Sarah says:

    Hi Kay,

    Actually what that post is about in its own muddled way is that I was TAUGHT there was a time to quit “for the good of all” as it were, and until recently didn’t ever question it. I’d set myself “markers” for when my career had had it and it was time to leave. But now those markers don’t work and besides, the one time I “quit” I stayed quit two weeks…

  6. Kay says:

    Thanks, Sarah. I took a look at your post. Great subject; I hadn’t heard that writers’ lives have a “natural life” and then it’s over. I’ve seen careers dwindle, as you describe–and that’s painful to watch. But it’s not a rule! Thanks for the great post.

  7. Seth says:

    Kay,
    Just wanted to reach out to you to let you know your writing has reignited my love of reading. I was about to get on a plane with a tablet that I had planned to watch a movie on, and a friend had told me Amazon has free books to download for Kindle or its respective app. I stumbled upon The Bright and was instantly drawn into the worlds you have created. It has been iver 10 years since I have read a fiction book (or sadly enough, any book). I’m about halfway through, and fully intend to purchase the rest of the series.

    Best,
    Seth

  8. Kay says:

    Seth, thank you. I just read your comment to my husband. Also, I always try to remind new readers that it’s a quartet, not a trilogy–not that you won’t figure out, but some reviewers didn’t!

  9. Jase says:

    That phrase, “Writing is a craft,” is one that I’ve been encountering in the last few years or so, and must be a more recent way of thinking.

    It helps me remind myself that while people do differ constitutionally in their ability to write well, the process of writing isn’t entirely bound to some mysterious innate characteristic, and is subject to the brute force of honing on the grindstone.

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