Creative Mistakes: Five Ways Authors Box Themselves In

As an author, you’re a creative type. That goes without
saying. But in your approach to your craft, your publishing, and your
promotion, are you actually as creative as you might be?
Writing is a scary business, any way you cut it. In Write Your Best Book, the companion volume to What Every Author Should Know, I
compare it to the position my son played on his high school hockey team. There’s
nothing quite like being the mother of a goalie. He’s got his team out there,
helping, but when pucks whiz toward the goal, it’s all up to him. And believe me, those pucks fly
from every direction. The goalie has to watch every angle. He has to be quick.
Fluid. Psychologically unshakable.
I don’t mean to suggest that the position of author should
be a defensive one, although sadly, that’s how it ends up for some. What I
learned from being a hockey mom (and please, no comparisons with thatother hockey mom) was that goalies shore up the uncertainty of their position
with practices that don’t make a whole lot of sense, like never washing their
jerseys during the season (my son claimed this was essential for his success)
and talking to the goal posts, as top goalie Patrick Roy did in every game.
The equivalent for authors are these creative mistakes, all
of which confine us in unhelpful ways:
A focus
on the wrong kind of being:
To write is to make yourself vulnerable. You
will fail, time and again. Your work won’t be as good at first as it will
become if you stick with it. Writers who fail to accept these truths typically
end up spending more of their energy on “being” a writer instead of doing the
hard work of a writer. The “being” that benefits writers is the “being” of
everyday existence, the conscious effort of experiencing life as it happens, of
staying actively engaged as opposed to striving to present ourselves as writers
(or as anything else).
In any uncertain enterprise, the natural tendency is to shy from
risk. For survival, risk aversion is a healthy impulse. But in both the
entrepreneurial and creative pursuits of a writer, risks are inherent. To avoid
them means doing what everyone else does—and getting generic results.
on formulas:
Good writers balance reader expectations, which are sometimes
taught as formulas, with the unique insights and approaches that are only
achieved when we allow ourselves to think beyond formula. The same applies to
promotion—do what everyone else does, and you’ll get lost in the crowd.
you’ve got nothing left to learn:
A writer’s education is never finished.
Seek out the best—in the books you read, in the examples you follow, in the
discussions of craft and business in which you engage. Be an active learner of
both aspects of being a writer: your craft and the publishing end.
rewards too soon:
The readers, the accolades, the sales—these will come.
Focus first on your process, on doing your best creative work. Don’t rush a
book because this person or that person has theirs out already. Don’t succumb to
discouragement because your rankings aren’t what you’d like. Take your time. Persistence,
diligence, completing your work, having the courage to publish—these matter,
but check your motivation. If it’s all about rewards, your work will suffer,
and you’ll likely be disappointed. Repeat after me: you have nothing to prove.
As writers, we enjoy
the freedom to innovate, in our work and also in the ways we learn and grow. How
do we make the most of that freedom? Author of fifteen books, including the
What Every Author Should Know,
Deb Vanasse will discuss creative ways for writers to think about craft,
education, and publishing at “The Self-Made Writer,” a 49 Writers Reading and
Craft Talk on Thursday, Jan. 29 from 7:00 – 8:30 pm at the Great Harvest Bread
Company, 570 E. Benson, Anchorage. Book sales and signing will follow (cash,
checks, PayPal only).

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