Friday, January 4, 2013

Nine New Year’s Not-Resolutions for Writers

by Melanie Thorne


I don’t like to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s too formal—a pledge, a declaration of something you’ll do more of or stop doing altogether, and I always fail. While there are no real consequences for failing this personal oath, I still feel guilty for not living up to the impossible standard I’ve set myself on this sort of arbitrary “new start” each year. Writers already have enough tools to beat ourselves up; we don’t need New Year’s resolutions as an extra dose of feel-bad-about-yourself.

So screw it. This year I’ve decided to make not-resolutions. Not decrees or vows, but rather, goals and hopes for the new year ahead, gentle guidelines that I will do my best to meet but not beat myself up over when I don’t. Who actually keeps 100% of their New Year’s resolutions anyway? Oh? You do? Shut up, I hate you. I mean, good for you. For the rest of us, let’s make 2013 about doing the things we can do, not the things we think we should—in life, and in our writing careers—and also about easing up on ripping out our own throats every time we feel we’ve fallen short.

1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers  

I had a conversation with a writer friend recently about nemesis books. You know, the book that is like yours, but maybe, you think or have been told, isn’t quite as good, or at least isn’t that much better than yours, and yet that other book has sold more copies, or been on more lists, or received more critical acclaim, more praise from big-name authors, more media attention, more reviews from important publications, or more of whatever it is you had hoped for your own novel that this other book got and you didn’t. I could write a whole post on this topic but my point here is that I think all of us have our own go-to comparison book that makes that evil parasite of jealousy squirm in our brains.

But here’s the thing: almost every single author out there wishes their book had gotten more ________, and no two books get the same amount of ________ because no two books are exactly the same. Isn’t that part of why we love to read? We can’t compare our books to others tit-for-tat because we will drive ourselves crazy. How do you measure subjectivity? In reality, the act of comparison is much less about the success of the “nemesis” book(s) and more about our own insecurities setting traps to make us feel worse about the success of our own book.

So this is my number one goal for 2013: stop comparing my book and my career as an author to other books and their authors. My book is mine and no matter how much more attention or praise or sales another book got, it does not in any way diminish the praise and attention and sales my book—and yours—received.

And really, the truth is, every single one of us has something someone else is jealous of. Why not enjoy what we have?

Which brings me to #2:

2. Enjoy Your Successes

My book was published last year. MY BOOK was PUBLISHED last year. I got money for it. From a NY publishing house. My book is in bookstores. Thousands of people have read it. Holy f---ing crap! Isn’t that the dream?

All year people kept saying, “You must be so excited!” And I was. I was, and yet...I was so worried about everything that it was hard to enjoy it as much as I’d wanted. Waiting for the trade reviews before the release was agony, and then when Hand Me Down was out in the public each new review that appeared online made my heart stop for a second. I stewed over the bad reviews for longer than I’ll admit here and I didn’t let all the praise sink in as deeply. I felt like there was so much to be done and so much to stress over that I didn’t stop to savor each glowing review, each heartfelt email from readers, each time I saw my book in a bookstore as much as I now wish I had.

This year, I want to slow down and enjoy each little hilltop of success, appreciate the view from each new peak before moving forward, and you should, too. Celebrate your accomplishments! I’m not sure why this is so hard for so many of us writers, but if you’re like me and find this difficult, I hope this year we can make progress.

3. Write More

I’m leaving this vague because this will mean different things for each writer. Maybe you need to set a word count goal each day. Maybe it means sitting down for five hours while your kids are at school. Maybe you want to revise a shitty first draft you have sitting on your hard drive. Figure out what it means for you, what specific goal you want to reach or specific habit you want to nurture, and make it happen.

For me, it means parking my butt in a chair and forcing myself to sit in front of the computer for at least three eight-hour days each week until I have a finished draft of my second novel. I need to set a schedule, block out that time, and stick to it. Write crap, write lots and lots of crap at first, yes, that’s fine, but write more.

4. Leave the House More, Too 

This may seem contradictory to the last goal, but it isn’t. I find that when I go out in the world—lunch with friends, grocery shopping, a walk in my neighborhood—I notice things that later make it into my writing. The color of the sky, an overheard conversation, the muffled sound of a bad band practicing in their garage=material stored for later. Writers are observers. We take the world into our heads and reproduce pieces of it on the page. If you’re not out in the world, how can you possibly write about it?

5. Limit Your Social Media Time 

An author friend of mine spends a half hour on Twitter in the morning and another half hour in the evening and that’s it. She has more self-discipline that I do, but I’m going to try this year, even during the paperback release of Hand Me Down, to limit my social media time.

But what about promoting? What about interactions with other writers? What if I miss something?!

Promoting via social media is an important part of being an author, but how long does it take to write a post, respond to Tweets, catch up on your feeds? For me, a hell of lot less time than I actually spend online. Do I really need to click through fifty vacation photos of someone I hardly know? Do I really need to read every single article about the business or craft of writing that shows up on Twitter?

No. No, I don’t.

So my goal is to set a limit for how long I can be online. Writing can be lonely, and interacting with my writer friends scattered across the country is an important part of my day, but I can do this in intervals. I might miss something, sure, but is it even possible to not miss things on Twitter? We can’t feasibly soak in all available information.

So I think the key will be only reading the articles that speak to me; engage in the conversations that are fun or beneficial. I’m not going to force myself to read an article that bores me or doesn’t resonate. Maybe it will later, and when I read it at the right time, it will have a much greater impact. Don’t feel obligated and don’t let the clickable distractions suck you in and hold you hostage. Time limits and increased self-discipline. I will beat you, social media!

6. Find a Community

If you don’t yet have a network of writing friends—find one. If you can’t find one you like, create one. The important part is to have a group of writer friends to commiserate with, complain to, celebrate with. You need to be able to share the good and bad news that “civilians” just don’t get with people who will. Plus, talking shop with people who live for stories and words that way we do is food for our solitary writer souls.

Since I’m lucky enough to belong to this great group of debut authors here on Book Pregnant, my hope for the year is to find a real-life, in-person community as well.

7. Separate Yourself and Self-Worth from Your Book 

You are not your book. I know it often feels like you are, but say it with me: I am not my book. I’ve noticed a lot of authors—myself included—refer to our books as ourselves. As in, “I got reviewed,” when, really, it was the book that got reviewed. You’ve poured your heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears and time and energy into this project, and it feels like an actual piece of you is out in the world, but it is still not the entirety of you.

You have life goals and you have career goals and your book is probably a place those desires overlap, but that doesn’t mean that the success or failure of your whole life is equal to the level of success that this, your first (of many) book, achieves. There is no failure here—if your book is being published, you’ve already sailed past the exit for failure, and regardless of how far this book takes you, you have a family and friends and hobbies, a life, outside your writing. Your book is only one part of you; one aspect of your life. Don’t let it become your definition.

8. Remember Why You Do This

Why did you start writing? Did you have story burning inside of you that just had to be told? Did you fall in love with language? Were stories your escape, your friends, your window into lives beyond yourself? All of those are true for me, and I bet you have several reasons you started writing, too. Rediscover those. Remind yourself why writing is important; why you push through the never-ending obstacles. Know what you’re fighting for, and you can win.

And, finally:

9. Give Yourself a Break

Writing is hard.


Melanie Thorne is the author of Hand Me Down, a debut novel in the tradition of Dorothy Allison and Janet Fitch that tells the unforgettable story of a girl who has never been loved best of all and her fight to protect her sister, and was recently named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2012. Melanie earned her MA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, where she was awarded the Alva Englund Fellowship and the Maurice Prize in fiction. She lives in Northern California. Connect with her at www.melaniethorne.com, on Facebook and Twitter.

18 comments:

  1. Wonderful list! I am going to try to stick to them, too Melanie - especially the blocks of time to write. So important! I've added a goal to write every day, too - even if it's only for an hour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Erin! I think those goals are important, as long as we aren't too hard on ourselves if we don't meet them. Good luck!

      Delete
  2. Just what I needed today. Thanks, Melanie. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Julie! Isn't it great when the thing you need to hear comes at just the right time?

      Delete
  3. Great advice! I'm going to take it! This is Anne Barnhill!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am definitely saving this post! Thank you, Melanie.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for this list. I will pay special attention to numbers 1 and 2. I am grateful that I already enjoy a wonderful community of writers, to which Barbara Calypole White (just above me)belongs. Have a satisfying 2013!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Bernie! Glad this post resonated. Aren't those communitites great!? We love Barabara. I hope your 2013 is satisfying, too!

      Delete
  6. I think you have the best idea I've heard of in a long time. I will apply it to me and hopefully I will be a success when I start sending out my manuscript.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Shelby! Glad you found it helpful. Good luck with your ms!

      Delete