Friday, September 22, 2006

The Five Habits of Highly Neurotic Authors

Admit it---if you write for a living, or strive to write for a living, you're probably a basket case.

Part of the problem is that writing is such a fickle profession. It's impossible to break into, with a tremendous failure rate.

Another part of the problem is that artistic types tend to be right brained, which means they are moody at best, psychotically bi-polar at worst. Selling your art comes with a lot of egotistical baggage, some of it good, most of it bad.

Here are five traits I've noticed in writers. Do any of them describe you?

Depression - Rejection hurts. It never stops hurting. Unfortunately, rejection is a part of the business. Being told that our work and our efforts aren't good enough can really play hell with the healthiest of egos. Especially if it is long term.

My Advice - Allow yourself to hurt. Go ahead and get down on yourself. Commiserate with friends. Stay in bed. Drink too much. Then move on. Never dwell for more than a day on being rejected. Instead, jump back on the horse and try again. I've heard JA Konrath was rejected 450 times and had 9 unpublished novels. If he can do it, so can you.

Insecurity - It's easy to believe that you aren't good enough, that you'll never succeed. After all, the odds are against you. Why even bother finishing that book? It won't sell anyway. Besides, your mother/spouse/teacher/writer's group told you it isn't any good. It's best never to submit anything. And if you are published, it's best to never promote yourself. Because, ultimately, you're just going to fail.

My Advice - Confidence isn't the absence of insecurity; it's never allowing insecurity to prevent action. It's never easy to show people your story, or speak in front of a crowd, or give an interview. But that doesn't mean the world has to know. You can fake confidence, and no one will know it isn't the real thing. And, strangely enough, faking confidence usually leads to real confidence, and there's really no difference between the two. Be the person you want to be, not the person you fear you are, and you will become that person.

Obsessiveness - Of course you check your Amazon ranking four times a day. Of course you torture yourself over how soon you should send a follow-up query to an agent or editor you haven't heard back from. Of course you Google yourself. Of course you travel everywhere with a laptop/Blackberry/PDA/Cell phone that allows you 24 access to the Internet so you can see if anyone has responded to your comment on Backspace. This is your career, and you're entitled to obsess about it--even if that obsession turns you into one of BF Skinner's pigeons, pecking at a lever hoping for a treat.

My Advice - I spent two months on tour, with limited email access. I survived. Cut the umbilical cord and realize that your career will continue without you watching over it every second of the day. Not every person who talks about you needs a personal response, and a few jackasses writing snotty reviews on Amazon won't hurt your sales. Walk away from the computer every once and a while. You'll feel much better.

Egomania - At one point or another, we all feel very good about ourselves. Maybe it's after writing something we love, or getting a good review, or signing a contract, or seeing our name in print. Beware the sense of entitlement that can piggyback on this pride; the feeling that good things are happening because you truly deserve it, or because you're better than everyone else.

My Advice - Chances are, if you're an egomaniac, you don't know it. Some signs to watch out for are:
  • In conversation or correspondence, the topic is almost always about you.
  • Anyone has ever called you 'smug,' 'condescending,' or 'unsympathetic.'
  • You believe that your success has nothing to do with luck.
  • You know that you're better than other writers.
  • You truly believe your way is the only way.

If you find yourself thinking or acting like this, plan on quickly losing friends and having the world collectively cheer when you fall on your ass. Don't confuse confidence with cockiness---people respond to humility much more than they resond to superiority.

Obliviousness - None of us are born understanding the dynamics of writing and publishing. We often do the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results. We refuse to listen to the advice of others. We have goals but haven't fully thought out how to meet them. We think that publishing is something that it actually isn't. And we hope it will all work out anyway.

My Advice - Learn all you can about the craft and business of writing. So many writers I meet, even bestselling pros, are amazingly naive, and content to stay that way. You're not doing yourself any good with your head in the clouds. Figure out how the industry works, and where your place is within it. Set attainable goals. Expect reasonable results. Try different things and learn from your failures and successes. Ignorance isn't bliss---it's death.

Speaking of learning about the business, MJ Rose's Buzz Your Book - The Class is starting soon. The online, one-on-one, marketing class MJ created with Doug Clegg is back due to popular demand. One time only in 2007 from Jan 8 to Feb 18th. It's for all authors who want to augment their publisher's efforts with grassroots marketing. Class size is limited. Visit for information.