How To Drive Yourself Crazy, Writer Style!

It seems obvious to talk about insanity on a writer's blog. Sure, there are plenty of ways to drive yourself completely 'round the bend, heck, there are plenty of substances that'll help you get there all the quicker, but for the entrepreneurial self-starter, I don't think there's any more thorough way to go completely out of your gourd than to enter the world of publishing as a newbie writer.

There are many aspects of this business that can do the trick. Simply getting to the words "The End" is crazy-making enough, but there's the daunting brevity of the dreaded synopsis, the blurb, the hook, the labyrinthine Catch-22 of acquiring agents and editors to separate yourself from the slush, the research and back-reading, the daily updates, the tectonic shifts in the market or changing houses, the different submission guidelines, or the endless *waiting* between the stamp and the returned SASE or hitting "Send" and then "Refresh". Yes, you too can join the legions of artistic minds bashing themselves against a wall with only the blank page for comfort.*

However, there are a few common pitfalls for the would-be writer that are easy to recognize and perhaps even easier to avoid if you know what they are and accept that there is nothing that you can do about them so it's best to save your noggin for other, more meaningful pursuits (like writing):

1) Worry about things that haven't happened yet. There are certain things you cannot avoid: Death & Taxes. Everything else is gravy. Getting your synapses in a twist about whether or not this opus you're working on will be housed in "Contemporary Fantasy" or "Magic Realism" or whether the big chain stores will misfile it under "Teen Sasquatches" and thereby narrowly miss your target audience is really not up to you, it'll be up to marketing, which happens after edits, copyedits, cover art, etc. and long after that pesky detail of getting it sold under contract. Instead of losing sleep compiling your actor wishlist for the movie adaptation, you might be better off writing, re-writing, and revising what's here and now.

2) Worry about things that are completely outside of your control. See #1 but include all the aspects of marketing, especially things like title, cover art, and market receptivity. It is completely beyond anyone's ken why a dozen manuscripts featuring a masked, caped raccoon with a soulful secret all hit the market at the same time. Me, I blame sugared cereal, but in any case, you can't do anything about when a story comes to you versus when it decided to wave "Hi" to anyone else along the way. Same could be said for a bunch of titles all coming out with the word "Blood" in them or when all the covers feature an anti-gravity mermaid at sunset. The business follows its own shifts and swells and while their decisions look, to the poor clueless artist, like something out of a roulette wheel, take some comfort that it makes sense to somebody and those hours you might be creating mock-up covers in Photoshop might be better spent writing the damn book.

3) Worry about the future of publishing. Okay, to be completely blunt, we're all worried about this. But, again, there's not much we can do about it other than a) buy more books in a way that supports the mode you wish to keep going, be it indepedent bookstore, a local chain, or e-book, b) pay for it, c) tell others to do the same, & d) keep writing good books. I like to think at the end of the day, there will still be people who like to read and still be people who like to write and therefore, books and book publishing will continue to exist. Thousands of years of human history can't be too wrong! Instead of sweating ink over it, be proactive, take charge (or, better yet, charge card) and put your money where your mouth is. If you can't afford your TBR pile, go to the library. Requests there are counted, too, and show demand for books that get noticed.

4) Worry while watching the clock and/or calendar. This is the fast-ticket on the Crazy Train. In the age of electronic, push-button satisfaction, the world of publishing feels abominably slow. How long does it take to read a query letter, anyway? It's fifty pages for heaven's sake! I read that in a heartbeat. The guidelines said "4-6 weeks"--I've checked it three times! Can't anyone be bothered to send a quick email saying, "I'm sorry, life's come up and I'll get this back to you in another two weeks"? That's just polite! And while I certainly sympathize and empathize and just about any other "-ize" you could imagine, the truth is that the person on the other end of this Waiting Game is just a person--another person like you--who may be waiting for their own reasons or, more likely than not, swamped with about a zillion other peoples' work who are worried about the same thing and some of those people are already clients and thus, take precedence. Sorry, it's true. There are only so many words that can be read, so many emails that can be sent, so many fires that can be put out and they're all happening behind the curtain so we on this side of the line aren't privy to it and thus find ourselves like the stereotypical 1950's teenager waiting by the rotary phone, willing it to ring. It's a horribly powerless feeling and we all hate it, but patience (or, better yet, ignorance) is a virtue or at least a balm. Hit "Send" or drop that envelope in the mail and--here's the tough part--go write something else! Not the next book in the series, mind you, because that way lies More Ultraviolet Madness, but a new project: a book, short story, poem, fanfiction, article, something outside your genre, but write something else to keep your mind from becoming tapioca and weeping into your Hang In There kitty poster.

5) Worry about someone else's success/failure as if it has any relationship to your own. This seems to be a big pitfall for those who manage to get on this side of the dotted line, but honestly, I think a "win" in publishing is a "win-win" for everyone because when a book gets a lot of press, goes overseas, is made into a movie, more people get excited about books! This benefits everyone. It's really phenomenal when the gal next to me gets to squee about her latest book deal or a great advance or selling film rights and I get to popcorn with her and jump up and down and cheer. It's a smile on my face! Sure, I want that for me, too, and it's another jolt of inspiration to remind me "I Can Do It!" Here's the difference between this and the Sugar article: I don't want another person's success, I want my own, and when I believe in myself and my writing, I feel that as very, very real. Remember: you can always improve and you are the best person to champion your writing to an agent, an editor, a critique partner, a reviewer, a stranger. That's all you. Thank goodness for fellow writers warning us of the pitfalls, the realities, the hard lessons that they learned and can share with us, too, and that's why we follow them online (hopefully not in person...that's stalker-y) but they also are the biggest support network you'll ever find south of the keyboard. Ask! Thank! Cheer! There's lots of success to go around. Together, we can *all* win at this game.

So here's the deal: you can only control that which you can control, i.e. your writing. It is completely up to you to focus on that one thing instead of all the other shiny objects that lure you into thinking that there's something else you can obsess over that will give you the Keys to the Kingdom, as it were. Don't. It's false gold. A will-o-the-wisp. A trick to make you think that you are powerless in the face of adversity, but if (as I am lead to believe by many reliable sources) it all comes down to good writing, good writing is all up to you. Take a class. Improve your craft. Read, read, read, read, read. Get critiqued. Critique others' writing. Write a new project just as soon as you take a breath after the words "The End". Push your envelope. Get inspired. Listen to a lecture or a vlog or interview. Find your sparks. Mine your gold. Listen for the ping. You are in control of your writing.

Take comfort in that. Avoid the long-sleeved jacket with the buckles in the back. The worry is just noise.

Go write now.

* Actually, thank goodness for writers' communities such as Verla Kay, Absolute Write, & not to mention those folks on Blogger and LJ and a myriad of specialized niche groups. And with all the helpful blogs and interviews put out from agents, editors, publishing houses, literary agencies, TED talks, etc., it's easier to feel clueful and supported by folks in the know now more than ever! If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out the list of links I've collected as my faves to Pay It Forward.


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