Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Your Life as a Writer: Is Failure an Option?

Over the years I’ve read many book on how to be a success, faithfully applied what I learned and kept on going until what I refer to as mega-disasters tossed so many boulders on the road I was traveling that I got stuck in potholes and took forever to climb out. I sometimes think as a basically cynical melancholic personality, I would have been better served by books on how to be a failure rather than the success books in the world. Thus I am rearranging my blog writing schedule to write about how to be a failure so we’ll all know what to look for and avoid.

As I began my list of things that induce failure, I came up with eight right away then added a few more. All of them have subcategories and of course I excel at most of them and must constantly guard against allowing them to drag me down.

My list begins with arrogance. More people are done in by conceit than this world dreams of. (Okay, I ended that on a preposition. Go figure. A famous man can do it but me?) The moment the ego reigns education ceases, experts are not consulted and the personality grows moldy. I have an aversion to mold and to people who want to tell me of their successes from thirty years ago when the point of their story is to hear themselves talk and bore me. What’s worse, I’m often arrogant and don’t deserve to be. So first trait on my how not to be a failure list that I must bash is arrogance.

The next item is beginning a project at an unfavorable time. This involves not only reading the market, but also physical, family and other obligation that may interfere at the time. “There’s no time like the present,” doesn’t always apply.

My next failure factor is being out of step with the times. The days of paper submissions and sludge piles are gone. Without some technologic skills, it’s difficult to succeed, not just as an author, but in any field. This is also one of my biggest problems because I would do better with vellum and quill.

Extravagant living can do anyone in. One shouldn’t live beyond their means at any time. In this day and age, it is considered criminal and can ruin a life, a family, a business or employees. I used to be angry when I did home health and would go into “front homes” or beautiful high-cost mansions with a couple of Mercedes in the garage. It was all for show. Once inside, there was little furniture and sheets covering windows because people couldn’t afford the house note. Then when a child got sick, they couldn’t afford medical care, but didn’t want colleagues to know. I got called in to provide home hospice care for children that would have had a chance if they had received treatment sooner.  This will happen more now that Obama Care is in place, but that’s not the point. Let’s make a point with Fritos. In 1976, I could buy a family bag for $0.78. Now I can buy one for$3.99. So based on Fritos the cost has gone up 311% in the last 40 years or so. Now the COL pay increases I received have varied from 1 to 3%; around 89% overall. So if I’m not tightening my budget, I can’t afford to keep buying Fritos. They have moved into the realm of extravagance for me. I must decrease my spending or increase my income. Debt is not an option. Debt is a quagmire that’s killing the American Dream. So take a close look at what you spend and what you can afford. If you want something to worry about, let it be how you’re going to snatch your next character from the jaws of death, and not how you’re going to pay the utility bill.

Reckless speculation and failure to plan come next. I am not saying not to speculate. Without it, we would rarely achieve any of our dreams. I am saying not to speculate so irresponsibly or uncontrollably. Study the market, take inventory of your assets, and proceed wisely. Plan your future and speculate on via a smart goal plan. Don’t bury your talents but do not cast them away with no thought to tomorrow. So you may want to write the great American novel. In this day and age, I don’t think it can be done. But you can make a living as a writer if you don’t mind the risk and plan wisely.

Over-expansion or over-taxing of resources, time and abilities has been the fall of many self-employed people. When I was twenty-four, I could work a double shift and double-back for another double shift, sleeping little and staying alert. At this point in my life, I doubt I’d make it through a single shift and I would probably need to a few days off to recover. My physical resources aren’t what they used to be. I have a habit of being well on the way to completing a novel when another story idea pops into my head. I write it down so I can go back to it later but before you know it, I’m writing two books at one time and not making sufficient progress on either due to the infraction I make against sound time management principles. And who can deny that Peter Lawrence didn’t hit the nail on the head when he said that in every organization leaders often rise to their level of incompetence (paraphrase)? Assess what you have to work with and work with it wisely.

Dishonest or unsatisfactory associates bear contemplation by us in all phases of our lives. Depending on what type of writing you do, certain associates can harm your career. If you write Christian or Inspirational works, it isn’t wise to hang out at a bar with the drug crowd. By the same token, if you surround yourself with people who belittle your talent or career choice or are negative about your future as an author, they can destroy you if you don’t put them aside or find a way to keep your perspective focused on your goals. There are also sharks swimming in the overcrowded publishing pool who will put your career in the slug to make theirs surf the high waves. I always heard it’s best to avoid shark infested waters, but if you can’t avoid the occasional one that swims by, it is said the a swift hard punch to the nose will let them know you mean to retaliate and they’ll usually leave you alone. But no matter what, if a shark is near, don’t bleed.

Without a lot of comment outside disasters beyond one’s control and acts of God made the list. I have a friend in NY state, bless her pea-pickin’ heart, whose laptop froze this past winter because she left it in her car while shopping. The data was irretrievable and her book was late. (And people say I’m crazy for writing my books by hand). Plan for disaster. Back up everything you write.

Lack of perseverance has killed more careers than any other item on the list. Writing is hard work. It can be lonely work and it can be frustrating at times. But plugging away at it will accomplish more than anything else you can do. When you’re frustrated just reread The Little Engine that Could and get back to plugging and chugging along.

And last but not least, I must include in a category all its own: failure to dream. Yes, we need measurable goals with target dates. But rather than a simple task of goal setting, start dream planning. Flex your imaginations and step by step your dreams will come true.

Until next time, happy reading and writing.


Mary McCall is a best-selling author of historical romance and writing instructor. Visit her at www.marymccall.net Her next Developing Dynamic Characters class is scheduled for May 2014.


Big Mike said...

Fortunately, I don't have any of those faults (g).

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Liz Fountain said...

Me, either, BM (she says arrogantly, while living extravagantly beyond her means, and starting her fifty-sixth project before finishing the first). :-)

Great post, Mary!

Mary McCall said...

Yes, Mike, and I've eliminated them all...or at least the one or two I had.

Mary McCall said...

Liz, you crack me up!

GoProofreading.com reviews said...

It's pure luck that some are born that way and that they had the access to reading that is required for it develop. That said, most people do not have the literacy skills in writing.