A WRITER’S MOST PRECIOUS COMMODITY© 2012, Vicki Hinze WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
Demands are upon writers, just like everyone else. And in the shifting field our industry has become, the demands are growing more varied and, well, more demanding. Things that used to be considered optional are now deemed mandatory, and while the quality of the work remains paramount, there is something else that should be ranked even higher. That something is our time.
None of us can add one second to our day much less to our life. We start out on a level playing field with every other single person in the universe. That field, however, doesn’t stay level, and the reasons for that are many. Here are a few of them:
- Procrastination. We put off things until they become crises, large or small, that we can’t put off. That keeps us functioning in crisis-mode, and that makes us minimally productive. You’ve heard, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That might work on your car, but it’s not an effective way to run your life. Think about it. You see something that needs doing. You set it aside. You pick it up three or four times and then when it squeaks, you handle it. You’ve wasted all that interim time—the seeing, setting aside, picking up and setting aside again and again. Reclaim that time. When you see something, handle it. It’s done, off your desk and out of your mind. Now you’re free to press on to something else.
- Distraction. We start out to do one thing and another intrudes and claims our attention. We let it and deviate focus to the new thing. Typically this ends with a lot of time wasted and neither thing accomplished. Surely you’ve been writing along and this terrific idea for a new project flits through your mind. You stop writing the current project and follow the idea for the new project. You write on it. Now you have two partial projects but nothing finished. And odds are good that before you finish either of them, you’ll get another new idea and flit to it. Ideas are wonderful things, and writers get a million of them. When you do, you don’t want them to slip away. So stop long enough to jot down the idea and then put it in a folder, a box, a file, an idea notebook—somewhere you can retrieve it later—and then get back to the current work-in-progress. Finished projects are the objective. Not partials. Finish and then move on to a new idea and project.
- Poor management. Writers are creative sorts but when writing to sell they also have to be or become business sorts. That’s easier for some than others, but either way, it’s essential. When writers don’t work, they don’t eat. If they’ve acquired a staff, the staff doesn’t eat either. All the ancillary entities and people they support go without as well. So the writer not performing well impacts the writer but also others. Poor management of time, energy and resources is a huge challenge for writers because of the unpredictability that’s inherent in the profession. Change is forever upon us. Shifts in preferences and styles and of course in formats are upon us. We have to be flexible and serious stewards of our time, energy and resources to maximize potential for us and our work. We depend on it. So do others.
- Time. Often non-writers think writers have tons of free time. They see a book or two a year and figure we get to play for the other ten months a year. They aren’t aware of all the indirect jobs we do, or the other requirements that come along with those projects. And so we should, in their minds, be able to volunteer for any and everything that comes along. We’re working twelve to fourteen hour days, many of us six days a week, but only other writers realize it. While they get regularly scheduled vacations and days off, we don’t. So I’m sharing some of the best advice ever given me on protecting the writer’s time. You do what you can, but don’t be tempted to overdo. There are many worthy causes and many things we’d like to do, but we are one person and we must accept that. We can do what we can do and then we can’t do anymore. The best advice? “No is a complete sentence.” It doesn’t require an explanation, doesn’t demand discussion. Say it, stick with it. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in the position of being a volunteer and writing in the wee hours when you should be sleeping. Forfeiting sleep has many hazards. Think health. Think your life. Manage your time deliberately or it will manage you.
- Energy. You know yourself, your body, your demands. Respect them. If you attempt to function at the speed of light for long, you’re going to burn out. It’s that simple. You can be determined, devoted, disciplined, but if you aren’t respecting yourself, you can bet your body is going to let you know it. So do respect your energy level. Yes, you can build up your tolerance and do constructive things to increase your energy level, but stay balanced in doing it. No engine improperly maintained can provide peak performance. Your creativity is not an exception.
- c. Resources. Budget, budget, budget and then stick with your budget. Over the years, I’ve seen so many writers put themselves in a precarious financial position because they banked on money they did not yet have in their hand. Let me remind you that if you’ve sold to a traditional publisher, even the money in your hand isn’t really yours until such time as the work you’ve provided them is accepted. Don’t forget that. Don’t be tempted to overspend. Set your budget based on money you know is yours and then stick to it. Here’s an article on budgeting on an irregular income you might find helpful. If you deviate, do a cost benefit analysis—make your call based on facts and logic and not on emotion. If you elect to take a risk, make sure you’ve done all you can to minimize those risks and that you’re not putting you or your family’s well being in jeopardy. This sounds like common sense, I know. But when a creative venture you produced is on the line, it’s more tempting to throw Common Sense 101 out the window to go for the gold. A situation might arise when you want to go for the gold—just be aware that you’re doing it, and do what you can to offset blowback. True, you might hit gold. Or silver. But you also might sink like lead. Even projects with everything in the world going for them have tanked. Readers ultimately decide. In short, allocate and use your resources wisely.
- 4. Mind Games. We let doubt and fear of failure, and fear of success, trip us up. We’re cruising along on a project we love, someone reads it, finds fault with it, and we abandon it. Sometimes the project needs to be abandoned, but never should it be abandoned because we’ve given doubt, the fear of failure, or the fear of success free reign to wreak havoc in our writing. I’m often asked for my personal writing rules. I have one. Only one. But it’s a big one and it’s extremely powerful.
- a. My 1 Writing Rule. Never write a book you don’t love. You spend a lot of time writing a book. Your time is your life. Don’t waste it. That’s an insult to the value you place on your life. But there’s another reason not to write a book you don’t love. After about chapter three, having the discipline to stick with the book to the end takes more than enthusiasm. It takes love. Love means you believe in it. You want it finished. You need to finish it. It matters. Maybe not to another living soul, but to you. And you know what? You’re enough. You loving the project is enough to battle and win against doubt, against the fear of failure and against the fear of success. It’s enough to allow you to hear criticism, determine if it’s constructive or destructive—after all, even the best criticism is subject and not privy to the entire vision in your mind—and to determine the value of it. If that criticism proves its worth, take it. If not, ditch it. Love lets you do that because love demands your best for the work. So never, never write a book you don’t love. Change it until you do love it, or don’t waste your time. The lack shows in a million ways—to you and to anyone else who reads it.
- b. Doubt. Merciless, mean and violent, doubt can chew you up and spit you out—if you let it. It can convince you that something that is wonderful is trash. It can make you frigid, unable to write a word. It can make you shun something you believe in—and if you write with purpose that is seated in spiritual tenets, you can expect it to strike and strike and strike. It doesn’t let up. Think about it and it makes perfect sense. If you’re trying to do something “good” and you can be kept tied in knots, you won’t accomplish that good and no one else will be able to benefit from it. For writers who write with purpose, the battle of good and evil is a constant one. However, love trumps doubt every time. Doubt won’t fade away, but when it steps up to the plate, love knocks it out of the park. It comes back—it always comes back—but love is there to counter every time. It’s truly a powerful and empowering weapon, and always love wins.
- c. Fear of failure. You know the old I wish I had a nickel for every time… Well, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen a fear of failure—not failure, but just the fear of it—stop an author in his/her tracks, I’d be richer than Midas. So what’s so bad about failure, anyway? Why does it deserve to be feared so much? We try, we fail. Okay. We know what didn’t work. That’s one less thing to try. So we try something else and if we try enough, we’ll land on something that works. So here’s the thing. We try, we fail, we’re gaining wisdom. In my book, gaining wisdom is growth. So is failure really failure? Not in my world. Okay, so some projects I think should be screaming successes are moderately successful and some aren’t. But that isn’t failure. A year later, maybe ten years later, here comes that project again and this time it’s burning rubber coming out of the gate. My point is that few “failures” are permanent. Maybe it’s timing, packaging, world events. Maybe it’s the phase of the moon or something else entirely. I firmly believe that in its own time (in God’s perfect time) that project will find its feet and do just fine. Exactly what it’s supposed to do. (Did you catch that? Perks of writing books for a purpose that you love. You know that it will achieve its purpose in its time.) And that, dear writers, is success. So don’t fear failure. What looks like failure today can be stellar tomorrow. How do you define failure? Success? If I sold one copy and that one copy touched the life of one reader and proved constructive for that reader, then every second I spent writing that project is time well spent. Now the world might see that project as a failure. I don’t. Failure is relative. Don’t fear it.
- d. Fear of success. Over the years, I’ve watched author after author snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Some because it’s dawned on them that success brings new demands that take the writer out of their comfort zone. Some because they don’t feel confident or worthy of success. They fear that they can’t write a book someone is paying that much money for them to write. They’ve grown so accustomed to struggling that they aren’t sure they know how to live not struggling. It scares them. The thing is success varies from person to person. Many equate it to money, but that is so restrictive and not at all an accurate picture. Every one of us defines success in our own way. For some, that is money. For others, it’s purpose. For still others, it’s to prove to themselves that they can do what they said they’d do that everyone else in their lives said they couldn’t. You can’t measure yourself with anyone else’s ruler. Because even the best of others likely don’t know your definition of success. What matters most to you? What drives you to write? And if you’re successful, what about that scares you? Falling from the top? Being a one-book wonder that you spend the rest of your trying to pinacle again? Rather than fearing success, discover why you’re afraid of it. If you don’t feel worthy, figure out why. I can’t tell you right now, we are all worthy of success. Whatever the fear is, face it, deal with it, and put it to rest. Writing should be the time of your life—it is time from your life. Once there was a writer who feared speaking in front of people so much she sabotaged herself and her work so that she could avoid it. She was successful in doing so. And that was such a loss. She was a lovely writer who so much to say that others longed to hear. But she let her fear of success steal her success. She deserved better—and so do you. Deal with it, and put fear in its place, which isn’t messing up your head or your house or your work. And don’t allow anyone else to define success for you. You know your purpose and yourself. You define it. Then go get it.
When you get to the bottom line, a writer’s most precious commodity is time. Spent wisely, much can be accomplished. To spend it most wisely requires disicpline and that attention be paid to all aspects of the human being in the writer.
If the writer takes care of the physical but neglects the emotional and spiritual, s/he’s in for a very rough ride. It’s only when the writer tends to the whole of self that s/he respects that most precious commodity.