SO YOU WANNA BE A SUCCESSFUL AUTHOR

Photo by aurelio.asiain

The literary agent, Irene Goodman, wrote an article back in 2008, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors.” Most of her successful authors had these following habits in common. The article should be my Bible; it makes so much sense, and yet I fail at each one. I’ll paraphrase the article anyway, because if I were a highly effective author, here’s what my habits would look like:

1. STOP WAITING FOR LIGHTNING TO STRIKE AND SIT YOUR ASS DOWN ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Picture a writer as a lazy hooker, hanging out on the corner of Procrastination and Despair, south of Writer’s Block, whenever she (or he) feels like it, waiting for a john (an idea) to pick them up. Maybe one comes by, maybe one doesn’t, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have a family to support, or a crack habit to feed, or a book to write. As Janet Dailey said, “Someday is not a day of the week.” Treat writing like a job.

2. NEVER GIVE UP.

I used to pray to my God every day to take away the craving to write, the need to live a creative life, and replace it with a burning desire to be a banker instead.  I wanted the stability and routine of a normal job. Funny thing is whenever I’ve worked a normal job in the past, I’d have regular visions of jumping off bridges or cliffs or buildings—anything to avoid being at the same place at the same time, day in and day out. Those jobs equaled death of my spirit, and the perks just weren’t worth it. No matter how craptastic you think the writing life is, realize that the alternative is even worse. Ride out those downs.

3. DON’T LOOK A FEEDBACK HORSE IN THE MOUTH.

Nobody likes criticism, even less so when it’s about their writing. Writers always think whatever they’ve written is crap. So you can imagine how it feels when someone confirms it. I entered the first chapter of my romantic comedy, The Accidental Cougar, in a contest last year. Two judges trashed it, and one thought it was perfectly written. Guess what I focused on? The criticism, of course. I went back and forth between thinking the judges didn’t know shit to me feeling like the worst writer on the planet. When I received a contract for the manuscript soon after, and went through the editing process, I didn’t change much. But what I did have to change was indeed what the wise judges had suggested I should change. Hmmm, maybe I don’t know everything there is to know about writing.

4. IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT.

I understand writers become bored, they want to branch out and try new things, chase a trend, and hopefully target a new set of readers. But writers have fans for a reason, so if you up and change the program, or in my case, give me Fifty Shades of Grey when I’m expecting a well-written, sexy erotic romance that doesn’t resemble Twilight in the least, you’ll be met with a cranky bitch. Never alienate your bread-and-butter just because you have ADD. Nobody wants to see Cindy Crawford do Shakespeare, just like there’s a reason Matthew McConaughey takes his shirt off in movies. Give your audience what it wants, or be prepared to suffer their wrath.

5. ALWAYS WEAR CLEAN UNDERWEAR.

Accidents are when you rear end someone or the condom breaks. Very rarely should a career be accidental. Even E.L. James who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey had a plan in mind: Steal another writer’s idea, opps, I mean, write fanfiction; Don’t edit it; Have a well-known NY blogger talk it up; Sit back and rake in millions. While most writers will never come close to seeing their book translated somehow into makeup, bed sheets, or sex toys, it’s still no excuse for having a career without a sense of direction. Even though I despise this word, Plan, write down goals and meet them. Be the tortoise, not the hare in the race.

6. TAKE A VALIUM EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE, OR HAVE A GLASS OF WINE FOR GOD’S SAKE!

In other words…Chillax (Chill out + Relax) as my twelve-year-old neighbor would say. You must replenish the well, smell the flowers, enjoy the fruits of your labor—lest your creativity run dry. Um, yeah. Sorry, I can’t comment on this one, because I don’t relax. Ever. I have too much shit to do. Writing is a full-time job. You want eight-hour shifts, with a half-hour for lunch and two fifteens? Go work at Costco.

7. NEVER REFUSE SEX.

This is actually a metaphor about missed opportunities, although if a woman wants sex and her man tells her he needs to eat a sandwich first and take a shower? That man better be prepared to wait a long, long time before getting another offer again. Also, when you’re travelling, never turn down a meal. And those cute shoes you’re not sure you should buy? They won’t be there when you go back to the store. Ever notice how a lot of actors always say they didn’t want to do a certain movie, but then their agent convinces them to and they end up winning an Oscar for their performance? Same is true with writing. If a once-in-a-lifetime chance comes along, take it, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

There you have it—seven habits that make a successful author. Does anyone have anything to add?

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ASS IN CHAIR

“Writing equals ass in chair.”—Stephen King, On Writing

Pretty straightforward and simple advice, no? Then why is it so freaking hard to do? I’ll admit I probably spend more time procrastinating over writing than I do actual writing.

Everyone says it gets easier the more you write. I’m finding that NOT to be the case. I’m in the process of writing my third novel. Each time I sit down to write, it’s like I’m learning English for the first time: awkward sentence construction, abundance of clichés and spelling errors.

Some believe you should get all your ideas out on the page, without any self-editing—a verbal diarrhea of sorts. The problem with that method for me is when I look back on the words and see crap, any self-esteem or future inspiration I may hope to have stagnates—constipation, if you will.

So I tend to think more before I write. Problems arise when I don’t know what to write; I don’t know where my story is going or what my characters are going to do. Instead of trusting in the organic process of writing and allowing ideas to flow from me, I procrastinate instead. Here’s how my day goes:

Fire up the laptop; read the news and check emails. Read other writers’ blogs, peruse various forums, threads, loops, and comment when necessary. It is often necessary.

Start stressing because I haven’t begun to write yet.

Google “Why wives won’t have sex with their husbands,” or “Why do men cheat.” Read gazillions of never-ending sob stories. Feel grateful that I’m single.

Check Facebook. Resist the desire to stick a fork in my eye after being forced to read all the insipid inspirational quotes and cartoons that people post, just to get to one piece of news I actually care to know.

Continue to stress because I have no clue what I’m going to write that day.

Check email again.

Think about opening my WIP document to stare at the screen. I do not go through with it.

Do a half-assed work-out, in the hope that divine inspiration will hit me due to increased oxygen reaching my brain.

Shower and stress while shampooing my hair, because the day is already half over and I still haven’t written a goddamn word.

While picking up son from school, I finally envision how the next scene in my novel should play out. Of course, now interruptions and noise levels are at maximum level, what with a hundred kids running in and out of my house, the diva Chihuahua barking at every single noise she hears, and my son demanding to eat or drink something every thirty seconds.

I’m fired up though, because I have an IDEA, so I rush to my computer. As I’m in the process of getting that idea down, I feel an amazing sense of accomplishment (kind of like when I don’t feel like exercising, but I do anyway, because I know if I don’t I’ll feel like a loser all day).

If my son is occupied for a bit of time, and he doesn’t need an extraordinary amount of help with his homework, I can manage to get a few pages of writing done, thereby increasing the word count of my stubborn WIP.

When all is said and done I wonder, Why in the hell did I not get my ass in the chair sooner?

If I got my ass in the chair at the same time each and every day, instead of doing all that other mindless crap, I may have a shot at an actual writing career. Perhaps not as prolific a career as Nora Roberts, who churns out five (FIVE?!) books a year, but maybe, just maybe I could earn enough to support a daily white chocolate mocha habit.