Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
By creative necessity, writers spend a lot of time alone. But writers who write to sell are far from isolated in the writing and selling endeavor.
We create, editors edit, copyeditors edit, sales and marketing define the market for our novels, and work with art departments and artists to define them. Scores of people make decisions regarding the packaging, distribution, publicity, sales, and promotion of our novels. We don’t see many of these people, in fact, we may never know their names.
But we share a deep connection: We all want the novel to be a success.
That common bond, or goal, brings blessings and responsibilities to each person in the process to do their best–including the writer.
So often we view ourselves only as the person who sits at the kitchen table with pen and pad, or at the computer keyboard, who dreams and then breathes life into that dream through the written word. We’re more. Far more. And it’s up to us to unearth all that is our destiny to be, and then to become it.
How do we go about it? There are many different ways, but the most effective one I’ve found begins with a personal philosophy. This writer’s philosophy. I hope that by sharing it, you’ll find something of value that helps you to stretch and grow, to define or enhance your own personal philosophy, to unearth your destiny so that you shine.
• Know your mission.
We’ve all heard it. If you don’t know where you’re going how can you get there? The truth is, you can’t. So define where you want to go, and why. Let your agent, your editor, your family and friends know your mission.
My mission for 1997 read: Through my thoughts, words, and deeds, I will strive to help others; to listen and share the constructive, for goodness’ sake.
Translated, that means I’ll write novels that, to me, hold some value–share some experience of a challenge and a constructive way of overcoming it. To listen and hear what others are saying to me. For goodness’ sake translates to not thinking of what I stand to gain in situations. Doing for the sake of doing good. No more, and no less.
Those I work closely with know my goals. They’re not wondering what I want, or wishing they could read my mind. They know because I’ve told them. And they then are in a position to help me realize those goals. By hearing their goals, telling them mine, we then can structure our collective efforts on attaining combined success.
The work feeds the body but selflessness feeds the hungry soul. Because I know my mission, I’m not floundering, wondering what I should be doing. I’ve defined my mission.
• Never fear failure.
My father used to say, “If you’re not failing, you’re not growing. And standing still, you’re falling behind. Just taking up space.”
It isn’t anyone’s destiny to just take up space or to fall behind. If you’ve got a burning passion, try it realize it. Fail your way to success. Many allow fear and doubt keep them from trying. That renders them crippled, paralyzed, and emotionally stifled. The base of the matter is this: Worst-case scenario, you write a book that gains you rejection letters. Well, so what? We’ve all gotten tons of rejection letters. You tried and, if you look for it, you’ll see you gained from the experience. You wrote a book. Acquired knowledge or wisdom, honed your craft skills, your business savvy. There is benefit in failure. Don’t fear experiencing it. You grew. Is personal growth really failure? Growth is success.
• Thoughts have power.
If you doubt thoughts have power, go outside, focus on a cloud, and “think” it into moving. With focus, you can move the cloud, merge it with others, make it dissipate. The scientific reason has to do with energy. Thoughts have energy. When we think negative thoughts, we attract the negative like magnets. So how we think of others and ourselves has a dramatic impact on our lives and our work.
Love the novel you’re writing. If you don’t love it, change it until you do.
The same holds true for the writer. Love yourself, others, or change you until you do. Believe in you and in what you’re doing. Show that faith in your actions, feel faith’s power in your heart, and hear it in your mind. Believe in yourself, and never put yourself down. You will become what you believe yourself to be. Thoughts have power.
• Stick to the Plan.
We plan a novel and start writing it. Then we get a new idea and, in our enthusiasm, we abandon the work in-progress. This slivers our focus, drains the energy we pour into both novels, because we innately know we should first finish the work in-progress. Pause, jot down the idea, then finish the novel in-progress. What good can come from a closet full of partials? It’s completed works that publishers publish. Stick to the plan.
Yourself, your work, your peers. We are made up of energy. Energy can be depleted. If we don’t nurture ourselves, we render ourselves unable to nurture anyone or anything else.
Everything in life deserves respect. Everything. It’s inherent. That includes the writer. It isn’t a matter of being selfish, or self-indulging. It’s a matter of balance. Staying in-tune. When we feel cared for, then we’re able to reach out and to care for others. Our caring translates, as does much about us, into our work. If we nurture our novels, it shows. The editor senses it. The reader senses it. And our purpose for writing the book is thus more effectively conveyed. Conveying effectively is our goal. To accomplish it, we must first nurture.
• Do what you feel is right.
The best offer in the world becomes the greatest challenge if your instincts, intuition, or that little voice inside you tells you it’s wrong. We’re all confronted with potential wrongs. Whether they come in the form of being asked to write a book that we don’t feel a passion for writing, to change something in a book we’ve written, or to hide a truth.
All of these things, and many more, we sense are wrong. We’re tempted to do them anyway, but we have to be strong enough, and confident enough, to refuse. If a writer feels no passion for a project, no passion will be conveyed. Without passion, the work is lifeless, the reader dissatisfied. The editor isn’t enthused, the sales staff isn’t enthused. No word-of-mouth encourages sales. And so the writer suffers a lousy sell-thru that affects future sales dramatically. Who wins?
No one. Be passionate about the work, or simply tell the editor making the offer the truth: I can’t be passionate about this project. Please, give it to someone who can do it justice. Will you be penalized? No. You’ve lost a sale, true. But you’ve exhibited integrity and genuine concern over the success of the project. Net gain: respect.
If you’re asked to change something in a book you’ve written, and you innately know the change is wrong, explain your rationale clearly and concisely in concrete terms. While an editor/agent has read the work, you’ve lived it for months. Share your experience.
Ego, an aversion to criticism, doesn’t come into play. Often that fresh-eyed editor/agent sees things writers can’t see because writers are too close, too entrenched. So view the request as objectively as possible, then if it still feels wrong, explain why. The key is in remembering you’re both after the same thing: the best book possible.
There’s an old saying about the truth. It never stays hidden. Agendas don’t either. Be open and honest, straightforward and truthful in your work–in the writing, and in your business affairs. Hidden agendas backfire, negate the selflessness into selfishness. And everything suffers: the work, relationships, you. Knowing it can cause conflict and challenges, believe in you and in your convictions, and do the right thing.
At one time, everyone in this business was a rookie. Through experience, we grew. And no small part of that experience came to us from the kindnesses of others. Editors, agents, contest judges, and/or mentor-writers who took time to comment in their rejection letters, who shared their experiences through lectures, critiques, doing workshops.
In other words, we gained experience from those further up the ladder that shared. Editors/agents don’t owe writers rejections with comments. Other writers aren’t obligated to share their knowledge. These are gifts. Gifts of time, energy, the sharing of knowledge gained through experience.
Even if you don’t agree with what the editor/agent or mentor-writer is saying, acknowledge that them saying anything at all is a gift. Be grateful for it. Did the copyeditor “save” you from making a foolish mistake? Did the publicist go “above and beyond” to get you an interview? Did the art department put in overtime to design your cover? Did the sales force pound the pavement to get your distribution up? Did your editor go to bat for you in committee on a project you love that met with a lukewarm response? Did an editor/agent write a helpful suggestion in your rejection letter? Did you say thank you? Appreciate the gifts. Be grateful.
• Know when to quit.
At times, we all get on the wrong path. Recognizing we’re on it is a challenge, or we wouldn’t be there. If we’ve stayed true to the mission, stuck to the plan, and we’re still meeting with brick walls, we’re probably on the wrong path, and it’s time to realize it.
Turning points are a natural phenomenon in life. As we grow and change, we fulfill our goals. That brings us to a time of new goals, new challenges: a turning point. If you can quit writing, then do it. If you love it, you won’t be able to quit, and that’s the quickest way to define the desires hiding deepest within your heart.
But what if you can’t quit and you’ve been writing, say, category novels and now suddenly you’ve started getting rejections on everything you submit?
Look within. Most likely you’ve lost your passion for writing that particular type novel. That’s a signal to you that it’s time for change. But change to what? You’ve developed a career, you can’t just walk away from it–or can you?
If there is no passion, then no passion can translate onto the page. If no passion translates, then no editor/agent or reader gets enthused, and that equates to no sale. So what are you walking away from?
Far more important than dwelling on the loss is to discover where your passion went. What do you now feel passionate about writing? It could be you simply needed to take stock, to be nudged into stretching within your category writing. Or it could be you want to expand your writing, or your thinking about what you’re writing and why.
Whether you continue to write category or move on to another type of writing, you’ve redefined your mission. You’ve taken a hard look at what you’re doing and reiterated its value to you and to others. All because you reached a turning point, and you knew when to stop and take stock. You knew when to quit.
• Recognize potential.
We’re full of it, our works are full of it, and others are full of it. See the potential in yourself, in your work, and in others. Give it its due. Encourage and support it. There’s an old saying about imaging. Image it, and it will be. I’ve forgotten who first said that, but I’ve long carried in my heart its power. Possibilities are limitless–if we allow them their natural form. Through our thoughts and deeds, we limit ourselves where there are no limits.
Give yourself permission to explore your possibilities and potential. Encourage others to explore theirs. Praise their efforts, and your own. If you shoot for brass, you’re never going to hit gold. Set your sights higher, farther. Shoot for gold. Recognize potential.
• Start wherever you are.
When we begin, few of us are qualified to write a book. Accept it, and then write the book. Resolve yourself to learning as you go, understanding that learning is a lifelong, continuous process. Answers will come as you seek them, as you’re moving along. Take joy in the learning, in each little step you take, in each new technique or method you attempt. Congratulate yourself on those you conquer, master–every success.
If you wait until you’re qualified to get started, you’ll die of old age in the starting blocks. Start wherever you are.
• Holding on too tightly chokes.
Some writers hoard what they’ve learned out of fear they’re training the competition and that competition will usurp their place.
This hoarding has two effects, and both are negative. The hoarder deprives the student yearning, chokes off herself from fresh bursts of enthusiasm, from perspectives that provide new insights. There is no selflessness; therefore the soul is robbed, left hungry.
As an experienced writer, you can share a loaf of bread, but only the slices the new writer is prepared to eat and chooses to eat can be eaten. You can’t share the whole loaf.
We’re all equal. We’re all home to specific gifts and strengths. We’re also all on different paths, unique, and we never see anything in exactly the same manner or light.
Whether experienced or new at writing, share all you can selflessly. The best comes from the collective. Train your competition. Give them your very best. In doing so, you’ve elevated their standards, and your own. When you elevate standards, what happens? The whole becomes better, wiser, stronger, more effective. Who benefits? Everyone.
The romance genre has suffered an image problem for eons. Yet it’s gained marked respect in the last years. Why? Because writers are training the competition. On writing and on business savvy. Submissions are of higher quality. We’re becoming active in marketing, a stronger voice in the business side of our business. We’re working with our industry professionals, collectively doing our very best to attain success in our common goal. We’re elevating the whole. We’ve let go, rid ourselves of competition fears, realizing mediocrity stifles and stifled industries die, realizing we’re all unique and have individuality to offer. We’ve learned that holding on too tightly chokes.
• The big picture.
When a writer friend, or someone in your critique group gets a new contract, and you can’t find a publishing home, it’s easy to feel envious. When your publisher makes a fair offer, it’s easy to feel greedy for more. Both are wrong.
We all have a purpose, and none of us know each other’s. We might know another’s goals, but not their purpose. Something perceived as good could be bad. Just as something perceived as bad could be good. We shouldn’t envy because we don’t see their big picture. Too often, we don’t see our own!
Be happy for others when they’re happy. Even if it’s limited, they have the best view of their big picture. And don’t pat yourself on the back if you make a “steal of a deal.” You might contract it, but living with the contract will convince you that the real bargain is in striving for a “fair” deal. In a fair deal, everyone is satisfied and content with the terms. Everyone feels an affinity to bring the project to fruition, to commit to its success. There’s no resentment or anger or negative feelings that creep to the surface in production and distribution. There’s balance and harmony, good will and unity of purpose. There’s value and appreciation of the big picture.
• Responsibility isn’t a coat.
Responsibility is like skin. You can’t pull it out of the closet when it’s convenient; you’ve got to wear it all the time. And you’ve got to feel comfortable wearing it. If you goof, don’t shove it off as someone else’s fault. Admit it, do what you can to fix any challenges created by the error, and go on, wiser for the experience.
In writing, we affect lives. Ultimately, those of our readers. Many writers know this from letters received from fans which site how we opened their eyes, made them take a second look at their spouse, offered them an opportunity for their own beliefs and values to re-emerge in their lives. Changing someone’s life is a powerful thing, a blessing and a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly or without thought.
The gift bears an obligation to acknowledge this impact, to write with passion and compassion, to understand that responsibility isn’t a coat.
• Success is in how you play the game.
Life isn’t a game, but if we equated it to one, then whatever success we glean from life would be in how we played the game of it. If we walked over others to get where we wanted to go, participated in shady deals, let greed rule our negotiations, hoarded our knowledge, and expressed no gratitude for the efforts and sacrifices others made in our behalf, we left others trampled. We’ve shorted ourselves. Is that success? To know you destroyed others and yourself?
It’s only when we do our best, proceed in good faith and fairly–in crafting the work, in our relationships, in our collective efforts to market and sell those works–that we attain success and have truly accomplished. Only then that we’ve allowed our thoughts, actions, and deeds to permeate our lives, fulfill us.
Success should never feel hollow. Fulfillment requires its dues. That we pay them defines our character–us. And we define our works. Our success is a direct effect of how we play the game.
While these views of my personal philosophy by no means constitute the whole, I hope they sufficiently prove my point. We writers do most of our actual novel writing in isolation. But there is a much larger part of us, connected to others, and it is so much more. It interacts with those many others on such a variance of levels we can’t help but clearly see that the lion’s share of what we do, and the way we do it, defines who we are.
When writers are creating, perhaps they are isolated—but only physically. They bring with them to their pens and pads or computers all of their past relationships and experiences and perceptions. Those things can’t be set aside any more so than a writer can leave his/her blood at the office door and pick it up on the way out. It’s there with the writer all the time, flowing in the veins, nourishing the cells of the body.
Bearing that in mind, I ask again: Is writing an isolated profession? Truly?
No. Absolutely not.