Sunday, 6 June 2010

Wise Words Passing Through: Penny Dolan



Always on the lookout for wise words to help me through an "Aaaagh!" writing phase, I caught these, passed on by Adele Geras. They came to her via the Romantic Novelists' Association e-group, with instructions to share. So now they have been shared twice!

"How Successful Writers Maintain Confidence

Self-confidence is the single most essential ingredient an author needs to succeed, since good writing is never quick or easy. To write well requires energy, discipline and a sense of humour.

The most accomplished and productive writers I work with are able to sustain a level of assurance and optimism. And that's even when they¹re feeling blocked, burned out and unappreciated.

There are no universal, cookie-cutter techniques writers can use to keep up their hopes and dreams. Each writer is unique, with an individual temperament, culture and developmental process. But here are some general suggestions all writers can consider to help soldier through periods of doubt.

Stay Connected
Withdrawal and isolation can debilitate and reduce creative energy. Writers can work with other people doing research, brainstorming plot ideas, and building characters, but, ultimately, writing is a solitary occupation, with hours alone facing a blank screen or empty notebook.

Consequently, a conscious effort to reach out is the only way to prevent isolation and loneliness. Maintain contact with other people, loved ones, family, friends and colleagues. You don¹t have to ask for help, just engage as much as possible in regular human relationships. Look for people who can make you laugh out loud. Get out of your head, get out of the house, go and talk to another person. You don¹t have to be alone. I repeat: You are not alone.

Keep Writing
Even if you don¹t love what you¹re turning out, keep putting those words on the screen or down on paper, regardless. What may feel like a massive writer¹s block may be only the need to pause, or to work out the story on an internal, unconscious level. You can always polish or delete what you¹ve written, but sustaining the discipline will be encouraging and ultimately valuable. You will actually build confidence by sticking to the task at hand.

Revive Your Passion
Go back to the source of your motivation, your real reason for writing and the thing you are determined to produce. Whether it¹s a novel or narrative non-fiction, a well-argued polemic about something important, a love letter to a lost relationship, an angry response to a perceived hurt, or a desire to understand and make meaning out of your life, be honest about it and renew your devotion to this mission.

Maintain Good Mental Health
Some writers exercise, while others maintain a spiritual practice like meditation or positive visualization. Others devote themselves to a righteous cause, or become passionate about domestic arts like gourmet cooking or building beautiful things with their hands. Many paint or make music to relieve their creative tensions. Some go to therapists, either regularly or on an as-needed drop in basis. Whatever it takes, do it.

Get Editorial Help
The best writers I know use developmental editors. Not family and friends who love you no matter what, not other colleagues who may have a personal agenda, such as flattery or competition, but professionals with proven experience. Writers under contract may already have an editor at the publishing house. Other writers can engage an editor on a freelance basis. Choosing the right editor is crucial, so track record and compatibility are a top priority.

Read
Good writers love and appreciate other good writers. It¹s inspiring, not necessarily as a direct literary model,, but as a process example and goal achieved. It can be done!

Expect Rejection
Even the best writers have their work sent back as unacceptable, in some cases after acclaim and riches. Bad reviews, a fickle market, unpredictable changes and abandonment from their publishers-- it¹s a jungle out there!

Get used to it. Agents and editors don¹t always behave rationally, and they occasionally say things that just don¹t make sense, like ³This isn¹t a good fit for us.² What does that mean, anyway? Learn to distinguish constructive criticism from glib and thoughtless remarks. For a reality check, consider the fact that Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times before a publisher finally took a chance. So take heart!

Be Patient
All evidence and historical example shows us that it takes many years of rewrites and heroic perseverance to endure the creaky, slow, risk-aversive decision-making process of the book business. To get published, it¹s essential to have realistic expectations about how long it will take. Think years, not months.

Embrace Irrational Exuberance and Obsessive Compulsions
During the course of writing a book, it¹s okay to be a little over-the-top in your focus and devotion to the work. What may seem to others as a bit crazy can actually serve you well. Many writers succumb to an extreme level of behaviour that really keeps up their confidence during the hard work. Then, when it¹s done, they relax, wind down, take a vacation and enjoy their time off--at least until they are compelled to start again.

By Alan Rinzler, Executive Editor at Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons."

There! Don't you feel at least a little bit better now? I did. Thanks, Adele.

4 comments:

adele said...

No, thanks to YOU, Penny! I will send this link to the Romna gang. The Romanovs, Sally Prue calls them. Short for Romantic Novelists....

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks bouncing all over the place from me too - timely stuff.

Penny Dolan said...

My pleasure, as it's free-space Sunday on ABBA. Well, more a necessity as I need to remind myself of all this stuff.

Michelle said...

great post! thank you :)