Indie Authors: Do you have True Grit?

Research has shown that those who succeed have the quality of what we would call grit – ability the shake off the negative and keep going – perseverance in the face of failure.

Do you, indie author, have it?

When you receive a bad review … do you have true grit?

When you haven’t made a sale in days … do you have true grit?

When you can’t see the path ahead that would allow you to write full time … do you have true grit?

When you stare at a blank page for an hour … do you have true grit?

When your family patronizes you with another smile concerning your writing … do you have true grit?

When every single literary agent in the world think they could get leprosy from you via email … do you have it?

When you write something that you know just isn’t very good … ?

When you simply have NO time for promotion and your wonderful new book is languishing in a marketing black-hole … do ___ ____ it?

When doubts creep in and you start to question whether you have the right stuff to make it as a writer or not, ____ you _____ true _____?

Do you have true grit?

It’s a choice. Sometimes it’s painful, hopeless, and seemingly pointless.

But you’ll never make it if you don’t keep going.

And if you love to write, what choice do you really have?


Writing: Can I do it again?

This seems to be a re-occurring theme for me, and I suppose for many writers: Can I do it again?

The ‘it’ is write. Can I repeat the magic? Do I have another story in me? Will the clever hooks and twists and turns be so evident in my next writing as in my last writing? Will I be satisfied with what I am about to write? Will I put in the required time and thinking necessary to make it good and worthwhile?

Can I do it again?

Self-doubt is never far removed from any writer who is being honest with themselves. For me it cyclically comes in the back of my mind when a new writing season is upon me because, I guess, my writing is quite cyclical.

I mainly have two main writing seasons each year: summer and Christmas vacation. I usually have two months each summer where I have some significant time concentrating on my writing – usually able to spend at least a couple hours a day on it. Around Christmas I have 3-4 weeks of the same. In between those times I do write, just not consistently because of the many other demands upon my time.

I’m finally closing in on my cherished summer writing season, and, like I usually do, I can’t wait to get started, so I always start writing things here and there, jotting down ideas, and, essentially, gearing up for the big writing marathon around the corner. This week I’ve been working on some short dramatic sketches which I’ve had on tap for quite sometime. My summer writing always consists of writing about 8-10 dramatic sketches and a novel. It’s quite a lot. I’m way ahead of the game this year. My next novel is already about 40,000 words finished so I should be able to polish it off nicely this summer. The sketches typically come to me easily, but just this week as I was writing one I started having those thoughts again: Can I do this again?

I’ve been real happy with the results of my dramatic sketches the last couple of years. I’ve gotten a lot better at it and even had the privilege of winning a couple awards. But I still wondered if I could repeat the quality of what I had previously done.

The one sketch I’m working on now is giving me some trouble. I like the idea, but the ending is not easily flushing itself out yet which has been a little frustrating. But I just need to remember my procedures and trust my instincts which have led me to write 30 dramatic sketches in the past. And what are those procedures?

1) Put in the time.

2) Think.

3) Don’t be satisfied with the first thing that comes into my mind.

4) Add details and texture to the story – even when its short (especially if its short)

5) Read it again. Think.

6) Think some more.

7) Don’t be finished until you have to.

Then move on.

Write What’s on Your Heart

Writing is the most heart-revealing exercise I’ve ever been involved with.

The writing process bares the soul, and makes the writer ponder deep and hard about the hidden caverns which need exploring but which the writer may be too squeamish to approach.

I truly believe what my college literature professor said that a reader should not and cannot judge a writer by what he or she writes. Unless the writing is meant to be autobiographical, then one cannot assume that the point of view of a character or the voice of a poem is indeed one and the same as the writer’s.

While that may be true, I do also believe that the writing process in itself reveals the writer’s heart. And while the final result may not be autobiographical, the writing itself can not completely wriggle itself free from the desires, struggles, and feelings of the writer.

Last weekend I posted how I felt that my brain had been hi-jacked by an idea for a play that I couldn’t shake. The thoughts kept gnawing at me to the point where I could not concentrate on the story I had been working on. So I set aside novel number four and just started writing what was on my heart.

This particular topic was difficult for me to write for a variety of reasons. I didn’t really want to write this play, but again, I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t particularly like where the play was going, but again, I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t like the one character; I didn’t like the dialogue I felt was necessary for that character; I didn’t want to continue, but I keep writing every day over that weekend.

A week later, the play is out of my mind, sitting there ruminating on the pages. But I am free from it, for now.

This whole process taught me an important lesson: writers should just write what is on their hearts. For one, it can be a cathartic experience just getting your thoughts explode and explore on paper. Sometimes simple expression is all that is needed, regardless of whether the writing will or will not end up as a published work.

Secondly, writing what’s on your heart forces you to be honest with yourself. It requires a lifting of judgment or prejudice and allows freedom of expression. What’s great about writing is that there is no rule that says what you write has to be shared with anyone. Perhaps no one will ever see this play, but I’m glad I wrote it.

Lastly, the heart is often times the genesis of the process of creative discovery. I am always more passionate about topics which are close to me. The other day someone told me that I should write a YA novel. I basically responded ‘no’ and that I have no desire to do so. It’s not that I have anything against YA, it’s just that nothing has ever been impressed on my heart that would fit into that category. Why would I want to force the issue just because it’s a popular genre? I don’t think I’ll ever be that kind of writer. Above all I have to be true to myself. I think the best writer’s always are.

And as far as I know, truth is always not too far from the heart.

So if you ever get stuck and don’t know what to write next, look internally. There’s something there ready to come out.

Like my unexpected play.

I’m sorry literary agents, but I care more about what readers think.

I saw an ad for writers. It said something like this: “For $89, you can get a critique of the first 500 words of your novel by Miss So and So Smarty-Pants Literary Agent. She’ll help you avoid the 20 mistakes you must avoid at all cost if you ever want to get published.”

I’m sorry. You are not getting my $89.

I’m sorry, but I really don’t care what you think. I care about what readers think.

I’m sorry. I don’t really have anything against literary agents. If you are one, good for you. I’m sure you are a nice person, it just never seems that way when our paths have crossed.

This is how literary agents sound to me, even when trying to be nice:

  • Why did you send me this piece of crap?
  • Yes, I asked for queries, but why did you send me this?
  • This email you sent is taking up a lot of my precious time.
  • Why would I want to find a good book by a new author?
  • I don’t care about anything except selling books.
  • I’m too busy and important to talk to writers.

Again, maybe it’s just me. I’m sure there are a lot of great literary agents out there, they just haven’t found me yet.

But I have found a lot of great readers out there who have said some very nice things about my writing. I am very humbled and grateful. I first write for myself. Second, I write for you, readers.

Sorry, literary agent, you didn’t make my list.

Grit & Motivation & Volition

I read a summary of an article today discussing the essence of student achievement. A Penn University PHD student did research to determine what makes a student successful – is it God-given talent (IQ) or is it motivation?

Interestingly enough, the results were, perhaps, counter-intuitive. It was not IQ which predicted academic success but nor was it merely motivation. The researcher discovered that it was a combination of motivation and volition.

It’s easy to be motivated at the beginning of something, but how many times do we start our New Year’s Resolution just to give it up when a cherry pie crash-lands in our face? It’s the volition, the doing, the stick-to-it-ness that makes the difference. Those students who are highly motivated and continue ‘to do’ are the ones who achieve success according to her study. This, I suppose, is where grit comes in. Having grit ensures that you won’t give it, even if it doesn’t look like you are moving forward. Having grit ensures that roadblocks are temporary and that the motivation won’t wane to stop the ‘doing.’ Remember, it wasn’t intelligence or IQ which was the predictor of success. It was barreling through it when ‘the going gets tough.’

This PHD student, unfortunately, was not conducting her study on Indie authors, so I’m not sure how well this translates into my field. But I’ve decided that I’m going to be one of those ‘doers’.

I don’t have Milton’s vocabulary or Shakespeare’s wit. I don’t have Dickens’ long sentences or Hemingway’s brevity of moment (I just made that up). There are writers who are far more intelligent than I, but I do have a desire to succeed as a writer. I don’t have the desire to write a novel as an accomplishment. I have the desire to write 20 novels as a passion. I’ve completed three in two years. I have two more waiting for me on the back-burners. I am not about to let a bad review get in my way. Review rejections are a mere blip on my radar. I’m striving to be the very best writer I can become.

And I’ll eat grit for breakfast everyday if I have to. Even hold the milk, if you like. Bring it on. This writer is not going anywhere.

Observations on Revising

One strange observation I have had as I am doing a second read-through revision on my third novel is that all of my writing is not created equally.

It appears that sometimes I have the muse hanging directly over me, spoon-feeding me the words to say, while other times I feel like I’m just trying to pass my 12th grade grammar class.

Uneven, might be the right word.

So this means one thing: all writing sessions are not the same.

Some days the words flow flawlessly off the keys, coherent, relevant, interesting, and insightful. The grammar is impeccable and the word choice dead-on.

Then with other writing samples I scratch my head trying to figure out what in the world I was thinking when I wrote that. Wrong words, misspellings, missing words, repetition of words, unimaginative structures, blah, blah, blah …

What makes the difference?

Perhaps on some days I’m just more cognitively aware of things?

Perhaps on some days a certain part of the story is more interesting and I’m more engaged?

Perhaps on some days everything just ‘clicks’ for no particular reason?

It’s impossible to know.

I guess this is part of the ups-and-downs of being a writer. Some days it’s remarkably easy, and other days require massive revisions and re-writes.

But I’ve realized, the more that I can identify my own bad writing, the better it will ultimately make me. And that is exactly what I’m striving for. Not perfection – which is unattainable – but excellence.

Here’s to revision #3!

Impacting Readers: Every Writer Wants to be Validated

Writing for the love of it or writing to be loved. Which is it?

Writers seem to have this persona of being these isolated islands unto themselves, hiding ¬†away in their thoughts and not really caring what the world thinks about them. After all, it’s the art that they create with words that’s important, isn’t it?

Well, the “island” image of writers certainly is true in one respect or another. Writers tend to be a rare breed that create impulses out of isolation, and dialogue and stories out of imagination. I try to tuck myself away for a while everyday to get lost in my thoughts and ideas.

But no writer is an island. No writer is immune to public perception. No writer doesn’t care what people think and if they say as much then they aren’t being totally truthful.

Writers are sensitive beasts, caring greatly about what others think, but oftentimes pretending to be immune from criticism. Perhaps it’s a survival mechanism because writers really expose themselves in vulnerable ways.

(Readers often assume that what someone has written has flown out of their own personal thoughts, beliefs, or experiences. Sometimes it may, but it is not a safe assumption for readers to read into what writers have written. It could be completely from the imagination. But I’ll save this for another post.)

So what is it exactly that validates a writer? Is it the offer of that big book deal with a traditional publisher? Is it that glowing review from a book reviewer? Is it the simple praise from a reader who says they were moved by one’s writing?

Does writer validation have to come from outside of oneself? Can a writer validate his or her own writing? I remember when I held my first published book in my hand. It was self-published, and not reviewed by anyone outside of my own world. But I didn’t care at that point. I felt like I had accomplished something; something I had wanted to do for a long time; I did it and that seemed like validation enough at the time. But as my writing has progressed, self-gratification isn’t enough. There must be more to writing than that.

When I sit down to write everyday, I really don’t think about what others will say. I don’t wallow in the praise that I hope will one day be bestowed upon me. There could be nothing further from my mind. In those writing moments, it’s all about the story, the characters, the underlying themes. It’s about linking concepts and extracting ideas. Those are the exciting issues I think about as I write.

But once finished, and I turn it over to the readers or I send it to the bloggers or I query another agent, I want people to like it because, honestly, if I spend hundreds of hours on my own which ultimately has no impact on the readers who dare to pick up my writing, then what exactly am I accomplishing? Am I merely playing in my own fantasy world? What would the point of that be? Why not just play a video game? It would be less stressful on my mind!

But I do think there is something more.

Art. Music. Literature. They are meant to impact others. They are meant to bring about change, big or small, in clear or subtle ways. This, I believe, is where writers find their validation. How does one’s writing make people think? How does it move them? How do they identify with it? How do they lose themselves in the characters and settings?

This is what I strive for, and I won’t give up until I achieve it. Not for the glory or the praise, but to validate the time I spend alone writing. If it impacts one person, then it’s worth it.

Nothing as Bleak as a Writer’s Confidence

I just finished a short 1500 word dramatic sketch entitled “‘No’ in Spite of Itself”. Now I can’t seem to shake those mixed feelings I have about it.

For a while, I had my doubts how effective it was going to be. It’s about a man, standing on the edge of a cliff, having a conversation with his alter ego. A couple days ago, I did a complete read-through envisioning how the characters would be saying their lines and just playing it up in my mind as much as possible. When I finished the read-through, I was excited and thought that this could be an interesting little sketch. So I felt satisfied.

Today I looked at it again and cringed. I’m really not sure if it is going to work the way I envision it. Grrrrr …

Back and forth with myself, once again, like I do all the time.

I keep telling myself to learn to trust my instincts. They’ve been pretty successful for a number of years when putting on various dramas. I’ve had plenty of people look at me strangely when reading through one of my scripts for the first time. I assure them that everything will work out. Trust me. (and then quietly I hope beyond hope that I’m right – , usually, I am.)

Will it work out this time for this particular dramatic sketch? I have no idea. But all I can do is polish it up as best I can and then give it a shot.

Doubt? Yes.

But it won’t stop me from moving forward. A writer who is not moving forward is soon to become a former writer.

I won’t have any of that.