Sunday, February 27, 2011

Writer Traits: Self-centeredness

I wrote last Friday about one of the necessary traits of a writer, which is nonconformity. It’s important, but I suspect it’s not the most important trait a writer must have, in order to succeed. The list below was taken from creativity coach, Eric Maisel’s book, Creativity for Life.

Introspective stance

Maisel asked readers to think about one of the traits, to define it for ourselves, and to determine its relative strength or weakness in our personality. He suggested also that we look at two traits together, and ask if we might need a different balance of them, whether a slight difference, or a radical one.

I suspect that having enough intelligence, honesty, empathy and being able to introspect are qualities that most writers have, in at least adequate quantities. I don’t worry about these in myself. I’m also not terribly worried about my relative conformity or nonconformity.

But I can see where not having enough discipline, self-direction, assertiveness and yes,
self-centeredness, could derail a writer’s progress toward his or her goals. Lack of sufficient resiliency would contribute to the same. It’s obvious, when you think about it.

And as much as we don’t want to even think of ourselves as self-centered, much less to actually be that way, if we don't make a point, every day, to prioritize our writing goals (without being totally selfish), we won’t get anywhere in our writing.

I should know. I’m the age that I am, and still unpublished. Like most women, I've always put everything ahead of my writing. In the name of Selflessness. I believed it was far more important for me to give of myself to my family. I thought that if I helped them to succeed, my "lesser" needs, i.e. my writing dream, didn't matter so much. But guess what? The kids grew up, and still had their own problems. My husband and I had, and continue to have, ordinary marital struggles.

If we say we're sacrificing ourselves for our families--or even if we wouldn't dare give voice to it--who likes a martyr, anyway? Did our families ask us to sacrifice ourselves for them? Do they really expect it of us? Absolutely not.

Also, we need to ask ourselves, is this the real reason we’re putting their needs before our own? Is it really the admirable trait of Unselfishness?

Or is it a handy excuse, when the real quality lacking in us is a healthy belief in our own self worth? I.e. a little more self-centeredness?

If we truly believe in ourselves, we would assert our needs. We would be disciplined enough to prioritize our writing time and to stick to it. We would be self-directed and self-centered enough—not too much, but enough—to overcome any and all blocks toward achieving our dreams.

I’ve been working on it. I’ve come a long way from where I was throughout most of my life so far. I’m still available for my family whenever needed, but I’m no longer going out of my way to try to solve their problems when problems arise. Thank goodness for that. I don't want to be labeled a martyr, and I certainly don't want to be deemed meddlesome.

Maisel said, “The writer not equipped with necessary arrogance will be repeatedly sidetracked or subverted by others’ agendas. He will lack a sufficient sense of purpose, will frequently stall and block, and will bring a nagging passivity to his writing career. His desire to make art will remain only a potent idea in his body. He is likely to accomplish much less than he otherwise might, support others rather than find support for himself, attempt the small rather than the large, and rebound less well from rejection.”

I like this quote too: “If asserting yourself makes you feel anxious, frightened or guilty, you will hesitate to argue with the editor whos failed to deliver on her promise to champion your new book. You will be unable to aggressively forge new art. You will not be able to take risks. The more fearful and conforming, the more you’ll see danger as you approach art-making.”

Maisel’s words are worth serious thought. They're a call to action, and not just once in a while. Not daily. Hourly, if need be. Be on the lookout for things that will stop you. Even in the name of selflessness.

How much is being published worth to you? Is it worth being selfish once in a while, and feeling a little uneasy about it?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Creavity and Nonconformity

In his book, Creativity for Life, writing coach Eric Maisel talks about traits that are necessary in varying degrees for a writer. The list includes the following:

Introspective stance

He asks the reader to single out one trait that is most important for him or her to better understand, and to ask themselves if they need more of it? Less of it? Or does it depend?

I decided I needed to examine nonconformity. I feel so vanilla. But am I? On the outside, maybe. On the inside, not so much. Because I write for young adults, I decided to think about who I was when I was in high school.

In high school, when 498 students in my class of 500 bought Saddle Shoes because it was the latest trend, I didn’t, if only because everyone else did.

When girls ironed their hair to make it straight, I got a short curly perm—and took more teasing from adults than classmates!
I’m not writing a paranormal novel, but I “get” feeling so odd and different from the rest of humanity that I used to dream regularly that I was evil or bad. (Me? I’m as mild-mannered and unassuming as they come.) But I “get” a teen’s interest in the paranormal, as well as their feelings of alienation.
I never ran in the popular crowd. I had friends, but I never really ran in any crowd at all.

My husband once said I’m one of the strangest people he ever met. It was a compliment. We share an irreverent sense of humor.

Maisel says, “Powerful writers are always nonconformists and rebels. Writers who rebel the least may fit neatly into their society, but may not speak or know their minds.”

Where do you fit in the continuum between conformity and nonconformity? Are you able to know and speak your mind?

We’re here to contribute what is uniquely our own. Our honest self-expression is the greatest thing we have to give. Don’t be afraid to step forward and tell your truth.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Finishing a Novel

Stephen King in his book, On Writing, suggested that we think of our writing as a job, rather than an art. Looked at this way, writing becomes easier. We are crafters and laborers who are assembling words instead of, say, building a cathedral or an airplane. And in the same way that an stone mason or a pilot one day finishes his project, we will finish our books. 

This is one of our airplanes. It's a kit-built Van's RV-7. It took all of my husband's spare time for six years to build. We flew it unpainted for two years. Then last May, he took another five months to paint it.

I'm really proud of him!

I also enjoy being a craftsperson working on my novel, although sometimes it feels like it'll never be done. I've already been working on it for two years. How much longer?

Then I think about Stephen King's analogy. And I think about my husband's labor of love in building our airplane. I don't know if my finished product will fly, but our airplane sure does. 

We're leaving this morning for a 10-day vacation in Sacramento and San Francisco. But we're not flying. Regrettably, the weather's too bad. So we'll drive on bad roads instead.  

Friday, February 04, 2011

Are You Writing a Breakout Novel?

First of all, what is a Breakout Novel? Agent Donald Maass, who's been reading unpublished manuscripts for over 30 years, wrote this book (How to Write a Breakout Novel), and his workbook (Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook), close to ten years ago.

At that time, a breakout novel was a work that was bigger and better than typical midlist fiction. Since that time, and especially in the past couple of years, I've noticed a distinct and sweeping difference in the quality of Young Adult novels that are being published.

As a librarian who buys almost everything that's published each year, I would have to say that there are very few, if any, "middling" books anymore. If a book was published by any of the big-six New York publishers, they are all quite astonishing in concept and/or quality.

Perhaps what was considered a Breakout Novel in 2004 is the new norm.  Anyway, if you haven't read How to Write a Breakout Novel or The Breakout Novel Workbook, they are well worth your time, as well as Maass's more recent, The Fire in Fiction

I'd bought Maass's How to Write a Breakout Novel Workbook back in 2004, but wasn't writing at that time. I never got around to reading it, although I did read How to Write a Breakout Novel. After a reader commented recently that she was using the workbook to revise her WIP, I pulled it off my shelf and started reading it.

Maass shows the writer many ways to make his or her work stand out from the crowd. In fact, if you were to do all of his suggestions, it's something like 503 ways to improve your manuscript, which he issues as a checklist challenge on the last page. Do them all, and you will have a breakout novel on your hands. I think I just might take him up on his challenge, or a close approximation ...

How about you? Have you read one or both of these books? Are you interested in pursuing his suggestions with your current manuscript?
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