I know, it's a click-baity kind of title. But I found an old set of notes from a business seminar I attended and thought how utterly apt they were for this industry.
So here you go. Ten opportunities for regret, should you make the easy decision as a writer.
1. Choosing the pain of regret over the pain of discipline.
Want to write that book but can never seem to find the time? Want to finish writing that book, but you keep putting it aside and starting new ones? Lots of people want to write a book. A tiny percentage actually have the discipline to finish one, get painful feedback, learn, improve, and get it to publishable standard.
2. Choosing not to be brave.
As one of my characters (Kett, from the Kalima Chronicles) said: "Bravery doesn't mean being unafraid. Courage without thought is just recklessness. Brave people have just found something that matters more than fear."
Once you've written that story or that book, you'll have to be brave and get thoughtful critiques from people who know the craft. Your mum might love it, which is great. But to know if it's a good story - and to find out how to improve it - you have to put on your adulty pants and get some helpful critiquing. (NOTE: NOT Criticism, critique - there's a difference)
3. Choosing to say "I'll try" instead of "I WILL"
Don't get me wrong. It's important to set limits and guard your precious time so you're only undertaking projects that are important to you. It's ok to say No to things. But, if you're going to take something on, don't half-ass it. If you're going to be an author, learn the craft. No-one's perfect at writing - neither in their first book nor their 20th. But your 20th first draft should be a darned sight better than your first one if you're genuinely putting effort into learning the craft. So don't say 'I'll try to learn to write well.' Say 'I will learn to write well.' It's a slight shift in mind set, but you're a lot less likely to give up.
4. Choosing to try once or twice, instead of many times.
Rejections are inevitable - like death, and taxes, apparently. And almost as painful (well, maybe not quite). Many writers give up after a couple of rejections, unable to believe their work wasn't acceptable. We aren't trained for persistence. In the western world, especially, we coddle our kids by telling them they are exceptional and brilliant. It might be true, but it leads to a (false) belief that they should be perfect in the first attempt and are a failure if they're not. We'd be better off teaching persistence and the value of learning from mistakes. That gives resilience and the ability to get back up and try again. And again. And again.
5. Choosing comfort over discomfort.
Let's face it: a hot coffee, a couch, and Netflix is a lot more comfortable and relaxing at the end of a hard day, than facing a blank document awaiting your literary brilliance. But every time you choose the easy path over the harder one, you're treading water instead of making progress toward your dream of being a writer. By all means, take time off if you need it. Don't burn out. But do something more often than you do nothing.
6. Choosing not to apologise and grow
We all make mistakes. We all do the wrong thing - either to others or to ourselves. Don't wallow in self-hate over it. Acknowledge you did the wrong thing. Work out how you could do it differently next time. Talk it through with the person you hurt. Learn from it.
7. Choosing not to let go
Envy of other writers; bitterness over rejections; resentment for perceived or real slights. They're all pretty poisonous. If you can dial up the compassion - for both yourself and others - you may find a lot of these feelings fall away. If not, therapy does help. We all experience these emotions at some point, to varying degrees. But when they control your decisions and your thinking, you have a problem.
8. Choosing not to throw out your backup plans
Now, I'm the sort of person who likes to have backup plans because I always expect things to go wrong. So this is one I always struggle with. And sometimes it is necessary to have a backup. This advice is more about committing yourself to achieving your dream of being a writer. Given the crap financial incentives for being a writer these days, having a backup for daily income is a wise idea, not a bad one. Just don't let it shunt aside what you really love.
9. Choosing to be too proud/egotistical
Don't be so sensitive that you can't admit to fault. Laugh at yourself. Learn from your mistakes. Arrogant writers are often poor ones because they won't admit their writing needs improvement. Of course, it's also often a deep sense of insecurity and unworthiness (imposter syndrome), which is the other side of the arrogance coin. So some compassion for folks who come off as arrogant might be good, too. We're all struggling in different ways. We all want to be accepted.
10. Choosing not to care/Choosing to care too much
We all get emotionally attached to our stories, our characters, our dreams of being recognised. So rejection comes as a huge blow. And choosing to pretend we don't care is really just another face of caring too much. Feeling like a rejection of our work is a rejection of us as a person. People who choose not to care about something are deliberately cutting themselves off because they feel attacked. It's ok to care. It's ok to be upset when things don't go to plan. Just don't let it stop you trying again. If you cut yourself off from rejection, you also cut yourself off from the thrill of success and achievement.
That's my philosophical ranting for the day. Agree or disagree, it doesn't much bother me.
Have a good one.
One of the things I learned from doing Yoshinkan Aikido came from a class affectionately called a Hajime class. Hajime just means 'begin' in Japanese. And that's what it is - an hour, two, two and a half, three hours of beginning and never stopping. You do technique after technique as hard and as fast as you can. Over and over and over. No rests. No breaks.
The first time you do a class it's because you really don't know what to expect. You get prodded into it by sniggering classmates. It's an act of sheer willpower and spirit to get through to the end without collapsing or throwing up. (Many do throw up or collapse. Some come straight back onto the mat. Many quit.)
The second time you take a class because you DO know what's coming and you choose to do it anyway. That, to me, shows even greater spirit.
So, when I offered to help my writers group create a second anthology of short stories, it was the writing equivalent of a second Hajime class. I knew what I was getting in to: a year of stress, joy, frustration, excitement, exhaustion, and pride. There were times when I wanted to throw it all in. Helping 15 authors (from beginners to experienced writers) to develop stories to a polished, publishable level is not easy.
But it IS rewarding. Not only do I learn more each time about how stories work, I also learn more about how to help bring the best out in people. How to stretch them and find their strengths as writers. I'm sure the results aren't deathless prose or perfect - I'm not arrogant enough to think I know everything about writing stories - but they're pretty darned good.
What I like most of all is that I get to see the authors' glowing faces when they hold the book and see their name in print. There's nothing like knowing you've worked your arse off and produced something sixteen people are proud of. Nothing like knowing you've helped people you care about achieve their dream.
If you'd like to check out the result of all that hard work, you can pre-order here: ELEMENTAL
No, this isn't a blog about the fact that I'm weird - true though that is. This is a short story. Partly me experimenting (sorry) and partly just getting stuff out of my head about the baggage we all carry and how that holds us back. Well, me, anyway.
You carry fear and memory in suitcases. Some are heavier than others, but you cling to them all. They bind your hands and weigh down your heart. You stumble over them on every path to the future. Yet you refuse to let them go.
Even the earliest fears are there. A pink vinyl baby-bag, tucked into the linen cupboard of your thoughts, dusty beneath neatly-folded trivia.
You begin with trauma and it underpins your life. Remember? From warm, slumberous blackness you push forth into aching brilliance. You seek to return to the safe-dark of ignorance and parasitic security, for the world seems too big, too cold, to bewildering.
You can’t. There are too many cases to carry.
Recognise this tattered backpack, emblazoned with lovehearts in coloured pen and glitter? This one holds hallways echoing with the high-pitched chatter of small, unaware little people, the smell of paper and urine, the tolerant weariness in your teacher’s face. Tiny desks and uncooperative pencils. Sports-time sweat and lunchtime insecurity. The boy you want to impress in fifth grade, but who never sees you. The friend who forsakes you for someone more exciting. A thousand petty slights pile in until your backpack bulges with cherished false beliefs.
No, don’t let those go. You need those. They balance the broken pieces of your parents’ baggage you also carry, doled out like bitter, unbaked cookies, each time you go home to their unmet expectations.
But there’s another bag, isn’t there? What’s in the steel, sequinned purse encasing a slow-beating heart? Ah…It’s all sly, sweet glances and furtive kisses with hot, impatient breaths mingling. Bodies alive and sensitised, desperate and afraid, wanting. The potential for pain multiplies a hundredfold. Now we can be hurt in ways we don’t even understand yet. We’re exposed in body and soul. We’re sharing more than giggled secrets now; we’re sharing the sweetness of our Self. A Self not fully formed or understood; vulnerable to the knives of hateful words, thrown by a precise and angry tongue. Who would have thought the heart could ache so deeply for so long? Let’s snap a silver lock shut around that organ. We’re armoured now. Good.
So here we stand, holding our baby-bag, our backpack, our purse, our brokenness; longing for a life less ordinary, more magical. We haul our luggage along the comfortable path to and from work each day. We live for the weekend, for the relaxation, the precious time to suck up the energy needed to cope with next week’s stress. We watch the flickering screens at night, living vicariously through fictional figures, envying their imaginary lives.
Incremental world-wreckers in our cocoon, we hide the potential to save ourselves in complaints about others. We build walls with our baggage, seeking the safe-dark, keeping the world out.
Wishing, we ‘if only’ our life away.
If only I had time to write that story. If only I could quit work and live off my art. If only I could save the world, change the world, change myself…
But where do I start? Where I spend my time and money reveals my focus. I’m working eight hours and wasting the rest on nothings. Why? I’m afraid to commit myself to loving the world, pain and all. I’m so burdened I’ve stopped moving. These heavy bags have zipped away hurt and passion together.
But I am not my job. Not my pain. I am my creative soul. I am free. If I choose I can release these burdensome cases. I don’t need to quit work to be free. I don’t need to relive every trauma to be a loving adult. I can decide who I want to be, what I hold, what I release, and what I want to create. Then I just have to do it.
In fact, I will.
I leave my luggage to circle endlessly on the conveyor belt of others’ expectations and walk away. Now I have two hands free to embrace the world. My heart is weightless. The darkness is there but I push free of it and shed the cowl of fear hiding my future; face the light, brilliant and painful.
Life cannot be lived backwards
I live in Australia - which tells you I have a sense of humour. We're a self-deprecating people, we Aussies. My aim is to, one day, vanish in a blinding flash of enlightenment. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to learn as many