YOU’RE NOT A WRITER IF…

Writers tend to doubt themselves, amiright? “I’m not a real writer if I’m not published yet” or “Sure, I’m published, but compared to so-and-so I wouldn’t really consider myself a writer.” Knock it off. If you write, you’re a writer.

Unless…you’re not.

On Feb 21st you can attend my 2pm PST “You’re Still a Writer If…” blog event at WriteOnCon (registration starts at only $15 (!!) and can be purchased even after the conference kicks off– or after it’s over). In honor of that event, I’m giving a quick preview list of the opposite…ways you can tell if you are NOT a writer. Hopefully you do not check any of these boxes, my friend.

You’re NOT a writer if…

  • You’ve posted a FANTASTIC blog/tweet/chapter and are waiting to go viral (or be discovered)

Yeah, sorry. No one is going to just happen upon you, discover your brilliance, and offer you a million-dollar book deal. That’s not how it works. Publishing isn’t a passive sport. You need to get off your duff and hit the virtual pavement. You need to find THEM. You need to seek out the best editor or publisher or agent for your work. Chronicle Books, for example, gets over 1,000 kidlit submissions A MONTH. You think those hard-working editors have time to proactively scour the internet looking for a diamond in the rough? If only. You are the captain of your ship, the coach of your team, the driver of your bus, the director of your movie, the beater of your drum. You can’t sit there and wait.

Wanna call yourself a writer? Then don’t just sit there, man. Go out and get ‘em.

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Let’s say you now submit your story, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You cranked out a story in record time
Time-lapse Photography of Brown Concrete Building

I always say writing a picture book is easy. Writing a good one is hard. There are formulas and formats and industry standards and protocols…things you can only learn by putting in your time.

Can you wake up one morning, never having run a day in your life, and win the Boston Marathon? (Uh, correct answer is No. Nice try, optimists.) Writing is the same way. You have to train: do your homework, hone your craft, edit, rewrite, edit some more. Perfection can be simple, but it’s never easy. Writing crappy stuff doesn’t make you a writer. Not to me at least.

After a talk I gave about how to start writing children’s books, a young man and his lady friend came up to me. Or should I say he swaggered over and she quietly followed. He proudly announced he had just written a children’s book, how he had never written one before, and how excited he was about it. His lady friend was duly impressed. I congratulated him. He told me he knew it was good because it took him “only about three minutes.” I tilted my head, paused, and said something about how that’s a great start and encouraged him to consider spending some more time on it, maybe joining a critique group and getting feedback before going any further. He shook his head and waved his hand at me as he said “No need,” and proceeded to tell me because it came to him “just like that” <with a snap of the fingers>, that meant it was good. Finished.

Now you have to understand, in the hour-long presentation he had just attended, I talked about reading 100 (current) children’s books to get a feel for the industry, how you still need a solid plot, the importance of word choices and word count, to set aside your first few drafts for a few weeks, etc. But this guy here, having perhaps (I’m guessing) read his last children book 13 years ago when he was five, was convinced he wrote The Next Great Picture Book in three minutes.

I wished him well, and he swaggered off into the proverbial sunset.

I am sure he was well intended.

He was not a writer, though. He was a poser.

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Let’s say you now take time to edit, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You listen too hard to other people

Heck, maybe that person is me. I never saw that guy’s manuscript, maybe it IS genius. <insert shrug emoji lol> Writing is subjective, sure. What works for you might not work for me or someone else. Just because I don’t read magical realism, for example, doesn’t mean there isn’t value in it. But you’d be best off getting a critique partner that knows (and likes) the genre rather than someone unfamiliar with it.

giving feedback
image from unsplash

There are certain aspects and styles and formats and rules that we all need to follow to some degree, though. I always say follow the rules the first time, and once you’re “in,” break all the rules you want. Even that advice might not work for you. Remember when I said you’re the captain of your ship, the driver of your own bus, etc? You still need to be in charge of your own writing and editing. It’s yours!

OF COURSE other people’s opinion’s matter—that’s how books are sold (how any product is, really—people need to like or want it). You need to listen to the right people. I know, I know, that’s the tricky part—figuring out whose advice can best steer you in the right direction. It’s been said that a critic suggested F. Scott Fitzgerald “get rid of that Gatsby character,” and we’ve all heard how many times the Harry Potter series was rejected because it was too long, not kid friendly, considered not commercial enough, blah blah. Clearly those writers knew well enough to toss those kernels of advice. When you ask for feedback, such as at critique groups or a paid conference critique, please keep an open mind when people give you feedback, especially in the beginning, and consider what other people have to say; I’m not saying to toss all of it. (I do listen to unsolicited advice from well-intended friends that aren’t in the industry, because almost all readers are potential buyers and they might actually be my target audience one day, but just like taking parenting advice from someone that’s never had kids? Please.) The longer you’re in the industry, the better you get at discerning valid feedback (“Wow, I never thought of that, thanks!) vs opinions that are not in line with your vision (“Gee thanks, I’ll try to keep that in mind…”).

But if you listen too much and change TOO MUCH (your style or genre or main character’s motivation or whatever), then you’re not a writer. You’re a robot.

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Let’s say you now have a solid story, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You don’t read

Read, read, and read some more. It’s not about knowing what your competition is up to (they aren’t your competition anyway, this industry honestly isn’t like that, they are your colleagues). It’s staying on top of what’s trending, what to avoid, and knowing who is who. You’re educating yourself on the book industry overall, the one you plan to play a large role in some day. Don’t you want to know what’s going on? You gotta stay educated.

Reading can give you inspiration. It can offer effective roadmaps that you don’t have to (re)create from scratch. It shows you tricks like layering or effective use of metaphors or good old distractions that allow for a spectacular twist ending. I mean, you can read a How to Write a Mystery manual, but there’s no better teaching method than reading an actual mystery that’s well done and watching it unfold before your own cute little eyes. Can you imagine taking your driver’s test having only read the DMV manual, without ever being in a moving vehicle or having seen a car? [Wait, in that case I’m saying you can’t just read a book and then do it but I think you see what I’m saying…] You have to experience it, not just hear someone tell you about it.

You can’t be a writer without being a reader.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Stephen King

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Let’s say you now read lots, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You don’t write

“Writer” is a verb, not just a title.

Stop making excuses! Taking a break is fine, but breaks have end points. Stop spending so much time finessing your bio about how you’re writer that you’ve left no time to actually write. Stop surfing social media. [Seriously. Give yourself a window, and ONLY check in at those times. I try to check in midmorning, AFTER I’ve done some work, and later in the afternoon. Sometimes at night too, but never late b/c it tends to agitate me and disrupt my sleep (there’s so many distractions!).]

Yas needs ta write to be a writer! If you’ve stopped, start again. If you are just getting started and are frozen in fear, dude get over it. Start writing. Anything. Outlines. Summaries. Notes. Story ideas. Character names. Backstory. A list of potential future titles (I have a friend that has written TWO books after a cool title popped into her head). Anything that will get your pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. You don’t need an arbitrary daily word count or daily number of minutes/hours toiling at your desk; not every successful writer has them. You don’t need to write every single day; not every successful writer does. You don’t need to feel like writing; not every successful writer is magically inspired at every given moment. But you know what all successful writers have in common?

They write.

I can’t believe I have to say this…but you’re not a writer if you don’t write.

End of story.

Are ya with me? What you need to do RIGHT NOW is stop reading this, and get back to work.

You’re a writer, afterall.

[Don’t forget to pop into WriteOnCon at some point (any point really), the best bargain in the business, starting at $15 for access to all blogs, keynotes, Q&A, and live workshops like the HOW TO MARKET YOURSELF BEFORE YOUR BOOK EVEN COMES OUT live workshop I’m giving on Feb 23rd at 5pm Pacific time. No, I don’t get any affiliate monies from you clicking any of the links. I’m encouraging you to go b/c I think it’s honestly in your best interest, even if you don’t attend my sessions. (See what I mean about this being a friendly industry?)]

What are you doing still reading? Get back to writing!

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Lessons From An Oscar Party

Oscars 2020

Every year I go to annual Oscar party (yes I know annual means every year, shhh, let me finish). People get all dolled up like the real thing–hair, makeup, gowns. We have our own red carpet, ante up to cast ballots to win cold hard cash on the winners, and sit back to enjoy the show. Someone might wear a prop from their favorite nominated movie, another might show up in shorts, some bring their visiting relatives that don’t know what’s going on. They all come happy. There’s usually theme foods connected to a nominated movie (gimlets for Once Up A Time…), or to awards (red velvet cupcakes ala red carpet), or the film industry overall (fancy popcorn). It’s really fun.

This year, I realized a few things.

1. You can’t control everything

The wind having its way with me

There are lots of things in this world we want to control. And only very few we can’t. Weather is one of them. Other people is another.

This year there were literal record-breaking winds in Northern CA (200 mph anyone?). That red carpet of ours wouldn’t stay down for a millisecond. It could have been made of lead and still spun off in a twisty helix down the street. Some years it rains (can you BELIEVE it? in CALIFORNIA? I want my money back). Some years it’s been waaay too hot for the red carpet; after mere minutes hanging out in the sun, makeup quickly gives you an Alice Cooper look (talk about wanting your money back).

Since we can’t control the weather, only our reaction to it, on weather-imperfect party days we move the red carpet inside. Less fun? Not at all. Whenever someone wins a category on their voting ballot, they get to (ok, HAVE to) walk the red carpet while the rest of us cheer. If they don’t walk it, their win doesn’t count! Yes, I will admit by the end of the night if anyone is in the lead by a landslide they get fewer and fewer cheers but still, it’s an added layer of fun we’d never have if the weather didn’t suck force us to adapt.

The lesson here is other people can rain on our parade if they want. We can’t control that. But we can move the parade inside, leaving them outside, and have the time of our lives.

Don’t let others decide your happiness.

2. Trust your instinct

Image result for oscars ballot 2020

Filling out the ballot can be a crap shoot. Even if you’ve seen every movie, and memorized every SAG win which tends to foretell the Oscar win, how can you possibly predict the outcome? You can either pick the winners you think will win, or the winners you want to win. Whichever you choose, stick with your first choice, your gut feel. If I hear one more time “I had that then changed my mind!” or “I knew it! I only picked the other one because so-and-so said…” I’m sure you remember your multiple choice test-taking days. The lesson here: always stick with your first answer.

And I’m not just saying that because I lost by one this year…

3. Free champagne is good champagne

If you go to a party expecting them to serve you a certain food or beverage, especially a certain brand, you’re an entitled jerk unnecessarily setting yourself for disappointment. Even if the host knows your favorite food or brand or that you hate onions, that doesn’t mean they will cater to your fancy. They don’t owe you anything. For example: I love champagne. It fits in extra well with the ambiance of the evening so it’s almost like I HAVE to drink it, lol. Hedging my bets, in case there isn’t any (or they drank it all before I arrived) I bring a bottle or two of my favorites with me–TO SHARE. This “Oh, you don’t have any xxxx?” is bull****. It’s rude and disrespectful to the host. And I’ve done it too many times. I shouldn’t need one special kind of food or drink to enjoy myself. None of us should. It’s a party! Let’s broaden our scope. Be adventurous, try something new. (Get your special stuff on your own dime, and time. Or host your own dang party.) Remember how you can’t let others decide your happiness? The lesson here: choose to enjoy yourself with whatever’s there.

Lighten up.

4. Take pictures of the party. Then put your phone away.

Image result for famous ellen selfie
Famous Ellen DeGeneres selfie

You’re at the party. BE at the party. Engage. Participate. Talk–as in, genuine live conversation, not snapchatting with people that aren’t there.

LOOK. UP.

Don’t take so many selfies documenting the party that you miss out on the party.

Don’t take so many selfies that you forget to take pictures of the party itself, or the people you’re there with. [ahem…notice there no party pix posted here…I don’t have any!]

One guy (looking at you, son) was so focused on his phone he might as well have stayed home. I honestly don’t know why he even came (except yes his mom made him but shut up that’s not the point I’m making). We’ve all seen people like that, yes? Yet when my guy walked that carpet each time his ballot answer was right, and we all cheered, his face lit up and I just know he was enjoying himself. He smiled and made eye contact and interacted. Then he turned the corner off the red carpet…and…back to his phone he went. Will he remember this party? Not a chance.

I can’t tell you how many parties and concerts I’ve been to, yet missed–missed because I was so busy trying to get just one more shot–oh this is perfect or consumed with texting someone about some inane thing that had nothing to do with the event. I mean, I literally can’t tell you…I’ve forgotten them all.

The lesson here: be present. I’m almost begging you. (And by you I mean myself.)

Funny to walk away from a fancy party thinking about how the wind can’t dictate your fun-o-meter, and then reflecting on what else you learned. I need to remember all this.

Try not to curse the weather. Try to not second-guess myself. Don’t complain if the champagne isn’t one of my faves or there isn’t enough chocolate. Be aware of the times my focus is on my phone instead of my friends. Flip the camera lens to point outwards…I’m kicking myself for all the pix I didn’t take of parties long gone…of the people no longer with us, of the little kids now big kids, and of course, of those ridiculous outfits we all wore.

Can’t wait to look back and make fun of myself wearing this one.