by Annette Lyon
Writing, whether it's your occupation, hobby, or passion, brings with it challenges that I believe are unique to the creative arts.
Among them is an intense connection to your work, almost as if your words are an extension of yourself, your heart, your very being.
That can pose a huge problem, but here are two of the most common ways:
1) You are too afraid to get feedback.
It's very hard to put your work out there for other people to see, then ask them for an opinion, especially since writing can be so subjective. It's like someone telling you your baby is ugly, and it's all your fault.
2) You refuse to accept feedback.
Yes, writing is subjective . . . to a point. But when alpha/beta readers, critique partners, and editors continue to return with similar feedback (this is confusing, show this, the pace is lagging, whatever), maybe there's really a problem.
Maybe you can really improve.
A truth for success in writing: being pig-headed gets you absolutely nowhere.
Those writers who seek help, who are open to suggestion and change, who recognize that maybe they aren't yet ready to put up a shelf for their incoming Pulitzer, who continually strive to improve: those are the writers who will eventually succeed.
I recently met a man who is an aspiring writer and actor. As we talked, it became clear that the main reason he hasn't found any success in either endeavor is that he refuses to seek or accept feedback.
With his writing, he simply will not let others so much as suggest he add a comma. No one is allowed to give criticism of any kind (editors and writing teachers are "full of themselves," you see). He has no industry connections at all, and therefore doesn't understand how the industry works. He doesn't take time for his craft. He simply expects success to land in his lap.
As we talked, he explained that he can't stand being told what to do. "I'm a bit stubborn," he admitted, as if that's an admirable quality.
Stubbornness can be a good thing; to some extent, it's what helped me get as far as I have in my career. I'm stubborn enough to not give up.
But that's not the kind of stubborn he was talking about. He refuses feedback, suggestions, change, and any hint that he maybe he'd get further by going about doing things differently.
Yet he asked my advice about how to improve, succeed, and find industry connections. I had a sneaking suspicion that he didn't really want to hear what I was going to say.
First I asked, "Have you been to any writing conferences?"
"Oh, no. I don't have time for conferences or any of that stuff."
Since we'd met all of ten minutes earlier, I might have been too bold in my response, but it slipped out anyway: "Then you don't have time to be a writer."
After a slightly awkward pause, he said, "Yeah, I hear that. But . . ."
And he kept going on about how he's such a great writer and doesn't want (or need) to be told what to do.
When he heard about how many books I've published, he asked if I could connect him with friends in the industry to get him published.
My first reaction (which I didn't verbalize), was to list all the work I've done to reach the point I'm at. We're talking about close to two decades of hard, consistent work. Work I'm still doing. Success doesn't just happen.
I tried to explain that no one can help him in the way he wants. Even if I handed him my editor's cell phone number, it would do him no good. I can make suggestions and recommendations to industry friends (and I have).
Every so often the recommendation leads to a contract. In one case, the writer I passed the information on about had been actively working, hard, for years. It was a good fit, and I could whole-heartedly recommend them to my editor. It worked out only because the writer's skill, work ethic, and professionalism were already in place. They likely would have made it eventually without my putting a finger into the situation.
But I've made other recommendations that haven't ended up in a contract. I can suggest all I want, but in the end, I have zero control over what an editor or publisher does. I've been recommended by others too, but that guarantees nothing.
As the conversation went on, it became quite clear that he didn't know some of the most basic things about writing or publishing, things he could have picked up and learned with a simple Google search (or heck, by reading the archives right here).
I left the conversation guessing that whatever dreams he has will never become a reality because he refuses to be teachable.
If you hope to be published and have success, you need outside feedback (good luck ever publishing a novel if you refuse to be edited; your publisher will drop you like a hot potato).
I don't care if you think you're the best gift to literature since Shakespeare; you need to improve and learn what that means for your work.
You need to reach out and make the connections. Don't isolate yourself in a tower and think you know best when others can support you and help you thrive.
Don't think you have all the answers. I can guarantee that whoever you are, you don't.
Learn the ins and outs and expectations of what a writer does, how publishing works, and what that means for you personally.
If you're serious about writing, you'll never be in a place to sit on your laurels.
Don't look down your nose at someone who is suggesting that maybe this part of your story might work better if you revised. They just might know what they're talking about. And remember: they're trying to help you, not pull you down.
Bottom line: Learn what it means to be a professional. And then behave like one.