Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Crush Your Hope

I believe that worry, guilt, and regret are pretty useless emotions.

Worrying doesn't fix anything, guilt doesn't help anything, and regret doesn't change anything.

I'd like to add another emotion to this list; hope.

Don't get me wrong. Hope is part of what fuels us as writers, and as human beings. We all want to see our books on the NYT list, have Oprah recommend us, have mile long signing lines and huge advances.

But like those other emotions, hope is a reaction rather than an action. We hope for things to happen when we don't have control over them, and then our hopes often get crushed. That leads to doubt, depression, and a bunch of other unhealthy emotions.

Consider a marathon runner. She trains, and practices, and conditions, and keeps at it until she can, indeed, run a marathon. There's no hope involved, only determination.

Now you could say that a marathon runner is in control of her future, because success doesn't involve other people. Writers need agents and publishers and sales reps, because they can't succeed without them.

That may be true, but we can still learn a few things from the marathon runner:

1. Set Goals Within Your Control. You have control over how many pages you write per week, how many submission you make per month, your marketing plan, and how you budget your professional time.

2. Understand Expectations. Whenever you do anything in publishing, you should have a clear idea of why you're doing it, and what results will be acceptable to you. Know what these results are before attempting anything, and you can never be disappointed.

3. Push Yourself. You don't know your limits until you go past them. Don't let anyone, including you, tell you what you can and can't do. You need to find out what you're capable of by doing it, not by guessing.

4. Learn From Your Mistakes. Actually, there's no such thing as a mistake if you learn from it. Evolution involves stress and failure--it's the only way to become stronger.

5. Know the Competition. You aren't competing with me, or Dan Brown, or the people your writer's group. The only competition you have is with yourself. If you work hard, you can always get better. Getting better is always good.

As I've said many times, success will ultimately come down to luck. But luck favors those prepared for it. You may not have control over the publishing world, but you do have control over how you act, and how you react. Don't waste your time hoping for success. Instead, like a marathon runner, you should be training for it.


FizzWater said...

One of my favorite lines of dialogue from the original KUNG FU television series:

"If you worry, will the future change?"

Mark Terry said...

4. Learn From Your Mistakes. Actually, there's no such thing as a mistake if you learn from it. Evolution involves stress and failure--it's the only way to become stronger.

Or as Thomas Edison commented, he didn't fail 10,000 times to build a lightbulb, he found 10,000 ways that he couldn't.

On better days, that's how I feel about rejections and manuscripts that gather dust in ye olde trunk: they weren't failures, but my learning what worked.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, as usual :)

Although I'd argue that #3 - Push Yourself - has everything to do with hope. We push ourselves because we hope that our imagination isn't the limit of what we can accomplish. So we keep on keeping on, hoping something surprising and spectacular will come of it.

Anonymous said...

Trish wrote:
"Push Yourself - has everything to do with hope."

I don't agree with this, although I think I know what you're trying to say.

I push myself because I'm competitive and I like challenges and I want to get better at stuff. Hope is rarely, if ever, a part of the equation.

Writing is a lot like doing crossword puzzles or cooking or lifting weights or, well, you get the idea: you do something every day for a while and you're bound to get pretty good at it.

Anonymous said...

4. Learn from Your Mistakes.

General Colin Powell said that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you do three things: admit you made the mistake, learn from it, and never do it again.


Anonymous said...

Talk about pushing yourself, Joe...I was seriously up against it last week. I don't know if you remember, but my next books, Isle of Swords had a tight deadline.

I found myself on the front side of the holidays with lots more to write. I'm not sure what the average author cranks out in an hour, but for me, 2 pages in an hour is quite fast. By the grace of God, I this weekend, I averaged 3 pages a minute and churned out a good 15,000 words to finish my manuscript inside the deadline.

JA Konrath said...

Way to go, Wayne!

Jude Hardin said...

Let's all "dress for success" in 2007.

Forget the amateur critique sites. They're a waste of time.

Don't get into word wars with anonymous commenters. If some S.A.P. (Spineless Anonymous Puke) gets your goat, ignore them. Trolls feed on attention. Without it, they fade like cigar smoke in the wind.

READ READ READ, WRITE WRITE WRITE. It's the only way to improve.

Don't take rejection personally. If you've written a bad book, start over and write something better. If you've written a good book, it will likely find a home. Even if it doesn't, you'll know in your heart that you've accomplished something worthwhile.

Say good things about the authors you like, and keep your mouth shut about the ones you don't. Venom spawns venom, and we can all do without it.

Behave like a pro, and you will be one. Behave like an amateur hack, and you will be one.

Let's all dress for success.

We're all in this together, so we might as well hunker down for the long haul. It ain't easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Support each other, and together we will fly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the news! My Oprah stocks are up 20% on trendio now, great

Anonymous said...

Number 3 and 5 are awesome. Truly, truly, truly, we are own worst enemy and we limit ourselves all the time.

The hardest part is recognizing when we're limiting ourselves, so we can tell ourselves to shut the f--- up and just do it.

Anonymous said...

After spending several hours over several days doing all sorts for my new blog but very little for the real writing (and look at me now, cruising blogs at 2:27am!) this post has helped to remind me of the important things.

If I'm going to call myself a writer, I'm going to write, and fake news doesn't cut it.

Anonymous said...

"Crush your hope"-great point, and well said.

Re: pushing yourself and hope. I think the distinction here is between hope and desire.

I'll push myself because I want something really bad--either to get something that will make me happy or get away from something that's making me unhappy.

I don't think hope plays any part in pushing myself.

Keeping hope alive, like a flame burning inside, is necessary as a guide and comforter. But by itself it gets us nowhere.

We need the light on in the room in order to work. But just having the light on does nothing toward getting the work done.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I think those are great as part of my new Year's resolutions!

Anonymous said...

What if your hope is being strongly ridden by a jockey or reality? Really great advice.. but so very hard to do.

s.w. vaughn said...

Jude - how about behaving like a professional hack? :-)

I am fortunate. I have no hope left. Glad to hear it's a step in the right direction!

Jude Hardin said...


LOL! My apologies to all the professional hacks out there.


While hope isn't exactly proactive, I think it's an essential part of getting through the day. Don't lose it!

Anonymous said...

Boy, I hate to discount hope, Joe. Hope is the only thing that gets humans through their darkest hours.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” Thomas Jefferson

To me, that's what hope is... tied in strongly with faith... neither of which I, personally, could do without.

Anonymous said...

JA writes: " If you work hard, you can always get better. Getting better is always good."

But in previous posts, you've said that there's no such thing as "better." And how does this square with "success will ultimately come down to luck"?

Anonymous said...

I believe in hope, but also in actions.

Good points you made. Thanks for sharing.

ec said...

JA writes: " If you work hard, you can always get better. Getting better is always good."

But in previous posts, you've said that there's no such thing as "better." And how does this square with "success will ultimately come down to luck"?

Anonymous, your question can be answered with one word: context.

A book that is commercially successful is not necessarily "better" than one that squeaks into the midlist. Luck plays an important part in publishing--getting the right story to the right agent/editor at the right time, for example.

But "better" doesn't always indicate a comparison between one writer and another. The concept also applies to the process of learning the craft and improving your skills; i.e., your sixth manuscript should be "better" than your first.

I see no conflict between the examples you named.