Monday, August 7, 2017

Five Writer’s Flaws You Absolutely Need to Have


How are your New Year’s Resolutions coming?

I think about mine often, feel bad for failing them, good for achieving them, enjoying seeing how I changed over the years based on what I want to be true for me and my life. It’s starting to get closer to my birthday, and though January is way behind us and October is still some months away, I start to think about how I can make next year better.

But what I find interesting, what I question, are the common things people think they should alter about themselves. As I hear people complain about their life, I sometimes find myself thinking, “But that’s what I like about you,” or, “But don’t you know the good of it?” As writers, we all know that balance is key, but I’ve found that some of the things that we wish would go away to be very vital to the process.

The need for praise.

For a short period of time, I once didn’t need praise. I wasn’t very productive.

In the months when I was fully confident in my writing, when I knew that I had at least some of the skills to write something to my own tastes, that, at least a book could eventually get where I wanted it to be, I stopped working. I stopped trying to improve.

And there were times in which I wasn’t happy with myself, but I didn’t take praise seriously either. In fact, it actually kind of hurt. It embarrassed me, forced me to question the sincerity. I refused to let my hopes get up. That made it very hard to convince myself writing was enjoyable when I damn well knew it wasn’t.

On the other hand, when you do let yourself enjoy the compliments, you can look forward to them. It can motivate you through the bad times. Getting praise is about getting a little thrill of happiness. Those small moments of validation are important to an otherwise unforgiving, painful, and slow process. You have to feel joy at your own accomplishments, feel good when someone likes your work.

More importantly, it is one option to gauge quality. If you never cared what anyone ever thought of your books, you wouldn’t know when to push yourself harder, or when you need to stop criticizing yourself and appreciate what you've made. It becomes very difficult to admit to yourself if your manuscript really is what you want it to be when you would really like it to be over with. A lot of writers claim they don’t care about praise in a fit of self-doubt, but I often find that if, instead of shaming themselves for wanting something they “shouldn’t,” and instead of avoiding self-analysis out of fear, they might realize that by asking why they’re not getting praise might be the very thing that improves their novel.

When it goes wrong:

But yes, seeking praise does not always encourage good writing. In fact, we all know it can do the exact opposite.

Problems arise when a writer wants everyone to like his book, and so constantly makes changes, turning it into an inconsistent, homogenized mess. Manuscripts like that tend to not be unified in thought, take the thrills out of its risks, or just read like the writer is pandering to a hypothetical (dumber) audience. People are excited by confidence, they trust it.

Plus, many times, what will garner verbal praise isn’t always what will garner meaningful reaction. Keep in mind that people’s compliments and criticisms aren’t always indicative of what they’re actually reading, or what honestly affected them. We can say we love Hemingway, but be tucked away with Fifty Shades.

Notable works were not immediately complimented because something genuinely new will get a response of trepidation (even rejection) before people trust it enough to invest their emotions.

There is nothing wrong with seeking praise, and it’s a good idea to at least reflect on why you’re not getting it, just so long as you don’t let it overcome what’s really important to you and who you really are.

Impatience.

So the big controversy stirring since the popularization of ebooks and self-publishing is writers who are pumping out books much faster than the traditional publishers. Why is it a point of contention? Well, there’s the honest factor that motivation strongly influences results, and so when an author is impatient, the book will read like the author is impatient. Some books are rushed in pace, aren’t very well edited, and just not brought to their full potential. There’s also the unfortunate factors of jealousy or a feeling of being handicapped by your trained patience or slower methods, and of course fear that the standards of protocol and production are changing, and it may very well become expectation that someone is ridiculously prolific and fast.

Both sides have their points. As I say, there are no right answers in writing because someone will tell you you’re wrong no matter what.

Yet I bring up impatience as an important flaw to have because it pushes writers to actually do their work.

For many authors, especially debut ones, especially for the first draft, there are no deadlines. You are on your own. It gets done when it gets done. But if you’re a procrastinator like me, this can be problematic. Waiting until the last minute doesn’t work if there is no last minute.

I have found impatience to be the greatest reason for me to get shit over with. “I want this book to be finished!” It often takes me much longer to do what I want than I think it will, and by giving myself a pressing and sometimes unrealistic deadline, I have the motivation to work on it, where as if I let myself off the hook, I’m more likely to leave it alone, even abandoning it.

In my experience, patient writers who give themselves a long, reasonable timeframe never complete it. I am, of course, speaking of specific individuals and assume there’s a lot of people who go against this generalization. Yet, I stand by my belief that impatient people tend to be far more productive, and those who don’t pressure themselves to get it done take much longer than they even scheduled themselves for.

Also, for writers like me, a manuscript is never good enough, never completely really, and sometimes the only thing forcing you to actually put it out there is being so goddamn sick of it that you’re wondering if Belgium is far enough.

When it goes wrong:

It’s not the impatience but the priority of it that cases mistakes.

When the author starts to cut corners, refuses to analyze results, and doesn’t allot themselves time to do it right, that’s when this flaw becomes a huge obstacle.

Impatience bleeds through a novel. Everyone can tell when something is truly written in haste. Impatience works when it forces you to sit your butt in the chair to get it done. It backfires if it encourages you to call it done before it’s ready.

Delusions of grandeur.

Every writer has dealt with some deluded asshole at some point. Probably me, if you’re reading this. It can be so frustrating to have someone, an unhappy someone at that, proverbially plugging his ears to every piece of advice simply because he believes he is too good for it.

However, I find that some sort belief in being “The Chosen One” is one of the most effective philosophies in not getting discouraged.

I’ve met people who genuinely recognized their insignificance in the world. They were logical about the statistical unlikelihood of being a successful artist and accepted it. If I was lucky, it just caused them to aim low. In most cases, it made them stop creating all together.

These are talented and intelligent people, mind you.

But like the seeking of praise, motivation requires hope for some sort of reward. It doesn’t have to be superficial—rewards can mean good memories, changing the world, etc.—it just has to be something that 1) means something to them, 2) outweighs the pain, and 3) could possibly happen.

To be clear, not all artists want fame and fortune. I know people I genuinely believe would hate that.

When I say “delusions of grandeur,” I am referencing a powerful belief in yourself, a belief that you can do something that will mean something despite a lack of irrefutable proof. That belief doesn’t come from logically analyzing the reality around you, just a strange sense of faith in your own abilities.

Ever wonder why most successful people seem batshit crazy? It’s because those who do something do it because they didn’t know they couldn’t. Reasonable, rational people aim for what they know they can get. Deluded people have no idea what they can get, and so aim for what they want.

When you aim higher, you get higher.

When it goes wrong:

Delusion becomes a problem when it either prevents the person from actually working, gives them unrealistic expectations, or entitles them to poor behavior.

In one severe case, I had a screenwriter who so strongly believed God would give him a career, he thought that someone would happen across him and ask for his script. He did, at least, write them, but he never submitted them anywhere, refused to even type copies of his handwritten screenplays, and when a friend did bring him an offer of 10,000 dollars for one, he said, “This script is worth 100,000 dollars.” (That’s the kind of money you’d make if a company like Paramount or Universal got into a bidding war over it, for comparison’s sake.)

Yes, there are a lot of times in which people are so deluded in their abilities they don’t bother to ever write anything, put themselves out there, market their books, or take any actual actions. They think their work is so fantastic—even the hypothetical kind—they once they do get around to writing it, it will immediately be picked up and become a bestseller. They are those who admit to slapping up a book online with no intention on telling anyone about it and expecting it to go somewhere. (Though, of course, they claim, “I don’t care if it sells or not.”)

Unrealistic expectations are different than just aiming high and having big dreams. When it starts to become a series of restrictions on those dreams, without any foundation in what typically happens, the Grand Writer sets himself up for failure and the overwhelming demoralization that comes with it. Instead of researching how to go about it, what to expect, and paying attention to what those around him are doing, he makes ridiculous demands or decisions believing he will be the exception. Fate or luck will put him in the right place at the right time. He doesn’t take the path right for him, he takes the easy one.

Being critical.

People say to read great books when to improve your writing. I say read a lot of crap. The classics are fantastic, but the reasons for their successes aren’t limited to just what is written. There is an important backstory to every well-known novel that factors into their popularity. Who they know, who they were being compared to, how much publicity had they received beforehand, when in their life they actually became successful, what politically and economically was going on around them… all of it factors into why their writing was noticed, why the style worked for the people when it did. Bad writing is fairly limited to the actual words on a page.

I’m the first to say that giving criticism can be empowering, that despite what many will tell you, it can be completely self-serving. But even if you get a high out of it, for most there’s still that horrible, bittersweet feeling. Even when you say nothing to the person in question, being critical can be exhausting, dirty, overwhelming, and infuriating. For this reason, I sometimes wish I couldn’t be so critical.

Yet it’s extremely important for everyone involved.

Now, I don’t believe in giving criticism to people I don’t know without their request. I think it’s extremely rude. Also, I do sometimes get off on it, so I’m extra careful to avoid it being that it's hard for me to gauge my intentions. But not actually stating criticism and not thinking it are two very different things. Even when you have no interest in being negative, when you have an honest reaction to something, it’s best to let yourself reflect on it.

Being critical of other authors is how we define our own personal philosophies and goals, how we determine the best and worst tactics for ourselves. Being critical of ourselves is how we learn to take control over our lives. Judging someone else’s decisions is the best way to make better decisions for ourselves in the future. I've learned the most about writing by reading books I didn't like and really analyzing what about them didn't work for me.

The other thing to remember is that being critical effectively is a learned skill. It takes time to train yourself to notice your feelings, dissect them, understand them, and then articulate them. When someone wants your opinion, which they will eventually, having practiced criticism for yourself will better enable you to give it to someone else.

When it goes wrong:

When you don’t know when to keep your mouth shut. Including when you’re talking to yourself.

Criticism has a time and place. Sometimes it’s a good idea to put your critical eye aside and let things be free to grow as they will. Being too critical can inhibit the creative process. It can also lose you friends, fans, or even just peers. Speaking it too much will come off as insecurity; thinking it too much will cause insecurity.

While critical thoughts is an important part of the process, so is knowing when to speak them and when to keep them to yourself.

Jealousy.

I can’t stand being jealous, especially if it’s a writer I wish the best for. Envy is a painful, exhausting, belittling feeling that does no one any good. 

Or does it?

While I would gladly give away my ability to be jealous, I have found two good things come from it. One, it is a great motivator.

A friend of mine got picked up by an agent… right after he had sent me some notes on my manuscript no less. Now, I really like him, want the world for him, think he’s a very talented writer, but this bothered me. Of course it did. I hated that it bothered me. Yet, on seeing that someone who I had been writing partners with manage to get an agent, it motivated me to buckle down and get to work. It reminded me that it was possible for me to do it, and my competitive side demanded that I rise to the occasion. And I did.

Jealousy is a great way to tell you what you want, that you can get it, and force you into action.

Jealousy also makes me a better person. Mostly because I demand it to. I realized as I was not completely happy for someone I very much should have been, I needed to do something about it. After that, I made it a point to always support an author who had good news—even if I hated them. I would do so subtly, an action of the same magnitude as my feeling. It ranges anywhere from a comment on a blog, a like on a Facebook page, buying their book, or even donating money to their project.

This enabled me to feel better about myself, brought us a little closer together, and even by just acting supportive, I felt supportive.

When it goes wrong:

It’s fairly obvious. Jealousy tends to make asses out of us all. It taints our view, warps our ability to be objective, causes us to be mean, and in the worst scenarios, brings out our insecurity. It goes wrong when we let it control our actions, when it festers inside us. It goes wrong when we treat others like dirt. ‘Nough said.



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