Just as blisters emerge from hiking, doubt can be a painful byproduct of the writing process. Even authors anyone would view as successful experience moments where they question their authority, ability and aptitude. Take for example, acclaimed mystery novelist Charles Finch. In his recent Writer’s Digest Guest Blog, he wrote that up until his fifth or sixth novel he still felt like an imposter. He compares a writer to a “…kind of crazy charlatan, trying to trade words out of your brain for money.”
It’s not only doubt about the value of our word-craft, it’s also the comparisons we place upon ourselves. We get caught in a cycle of worry that someone else writes tighter, more descriptive sentences than us or we see the pinnacle of one author’s success and think that we can never reach it. We want to toss the laptop or break all our pencils. Known or unknown, writers are not impervious to moments of failed faith. The question is, how do we keep hiking when blisters make us want to stop?
It was my dog who gave me the answers.
When I published my Elmira Pond Spotter post, “Winter Frog-Hopper,” it struck me how joyful my disabled dog is when she runs. While it is true that running is difficult for her due to a spinal injury, you can’t tell by the expression on her face. She loves to run. And she runs with joyful determination–not gloomy or angry or self-righteous–but joyful.
Taking cues from my dog, here are five ways to bust through doubt and write with joyful determination:
- Remember why you like to write. You didn’t start writing because you hated it. I remember that the writing fervor hit me in seventh-grade when I discovered the joy of telling stories that my teacher and classmates enjoyed. Storytelling is at the heart of why I like to write. What’s at the heart of yours?
- Do it your way. There is no wrong or right way to write, but keep in mind your own definition of success. If you want to publish, then you need to master grammar, book development and research what your target audience wants to read. If you want to journal your thoughts or paint canvas with words, don’t let someone rob your joy with expectations that are not yours.
- Adapt to your circumstances. Don’t wait for more time, better pay or a different laptop, make do with what you have. Do the best that you can with the time and resources available. Create your own space in the midst of everything else that is going on in your life and declare your joy in that space.
- Craft a writer’s statement. When I discovered the power of writing into my truth while on a retreat, I wrote a commitment to my writing. This can include honoring your sacred space as a writer, as well as listing specific goals such as a certain number of pages or words a day (a week or month). This is about you, not another writer or self-help guru. What resonates with you?
- Join the big dogs. That’s right, get out there and write with the best of them. Learn how your favorite authors made it to publication. Emulate their steps. Find a writer you admire and ask if he would be willing to mentor you. Get ideas from other bloggers. Be yourself. Write.
Take it from my dog, joyful determination will overcome the pain of doubt. Blisters heal the more we hike. Write what you love and love what you write.
Fridays are tagged for Recipes From the Ranch. However, after mulling over a reader’s comment on contests I decided to post my reflection as I believe it has value for all writers, especially those considering contests as a means to build a writing presence.
Entering into the traditional book publishing industry is a new river for me to navigate (as if I were Huck Finn). There’s so much advice out there in the form of industry news, author interviews, publisher insights and, of course, tons of writers like me who are forging dreams of publishable novels. Entering your writing into contests is one of those venues for getting noticed if you are seeking an agent or traditional publisher.
Sylvestermouse posted a comment on my post, “A Question of Contests.” Her discussion is based on her own experiences and realizations. She was wise and confident enough at a young age to recognize the slippery slope of contests. The danger is that the scrutiny of judges, which is only the opinions of a few, can devastate budding creativity. After reading her comment, I sighed relief. She made me realize the discontent that had come over me. Instead of enjoying the productivity of my fellow contestants, I became hypercritical–of my writing, their writing, comments, the whole thing. And that is not what inspires me as a writer.
Each story selected, mine included, was a submission deemed worthy of publication in a contest by an editor. In that sense, all stories accepted are equalized as “winners.” But once the competition began, anxiety churned my gut. I’d rather read what writers craft than develop a pretentious sense of what is best. Different writers have different voices; different readers resonate to different stories. Best is subjective.
That isn’t to say that contests aren’t for me, but I need to be more self-aware of how they can create inner turmoil for me and stay objective, but above all, kind. Writing is a business, but business professionals do not have to “win” to be successful at what they do. In fact, as professionals, we need to connect and learn from one another without creating barriers. When entering contests, keep a balanced perspective and acknowledge the accomplishment of being selected in the first place. You don’t have to wave the blue ribbon to have a solid portfolio piece.
In one form or another, contests will continue to be a part of the literary scene–you can even conclude that making the New York Best Seller’s List is a contest. For marketing and profitability, success will continue to have markers that seem like trophies. But for true success as a writer, I still say that finding your own voice and writing into your own truth is the greatest gift you can share with readers.
To any writers reading this, keep in mind that contests are a way to get noticed in the industry and a viable way to build credibility and a portfolio. However, it is merely one avenue. If you write, please continue to write beyond competition outcomes and develop your own special voice, discover your own inner truths and practice (practice, practice) your craft. Do not let a contest be the final judge on your work; do not succumb to discouragement or haughtiness. Be you. And write.
And if you are George R. R. Martin and by the very slim chance happen to be reading my blog…I’m waiting for the next installment of “Song of Fire and Ice.” Write, GRRM, write.