Monday, February 22, 2010

How to FAIL As a Writer

It has been over a year since I decided to take the biggest gamble of my entire life and try to make it as a writer. In that time, some good things have happened. Obviously I’m not an insanely famous writer who never has to worry about money or even being offered more work than she can handle (yet). But I’ve learned a lot, changed a lot, grown as a writer and person and done a few things right. I’ve also made some serious colossal blunders that make me an expert in the ways NOT to make it as a famous writer. While I’m not yet an expert in what to do, I can safely say I know what NOT to do. Here are the top five things to do if you never, ever want to see your name in print:

1)Don’t send out query letters. I’ve got plenty of ideas for articles, fillers, essays and stories. Unfortunately, ideas are only the beginning. You’ve got to take the idea, work on it and make it into something that will inform or educate others. Then you’ve got to perfect it until it’s an idea that will actually sell. Then you’ve got to write a query letter and find multiple viable markets that would consider accepting it. Then comes the work of sending them, waiting, hoping… and if you’re lucky enough to get a “yes,” THEN you get to write the piece you wanted to write three months ago.
Like I said, lots of ideas make their way into my mind. Some make it into my notebook. I admit that I’ve gone through periods where very few, if any, have made it to the query letter stage. Duh! How does one expect to become a famous writer without saturating the market with her ideas? If you don’t ever want to make it, keep those ideas to yourself.

2) Don’t believe in yourself. For every person who tells you you’ve got what it takes, there are literally a million who will tell you that you won’t make it. You’ll hear tales of the poor economy, of a more competitive market than ever, of aspiring authors who spend decades trying to find a publisher for their book, of people giving up left and right. It’s easy to get weighed down by all the negativity even if you do believe in yourself. If you don’t, you’re screwed from the get go.
I’ve had plenty of “What in the hell am I doing?” moments since I started my pursuit of happiness. Who in their right mind quits all other sources of income to pursue something so unlikely? Who am I to live every day doing the things I want, the things that make me happy? I’ve had my moments of self-doubt. I can’t guarantee there won’t be more. But I have no choice but to believe I can do it… or I won’t.

3)Act unprofessionally. Being self-employed is tough. Working from home gives you the opportunity to set your own hours, which is fabulous. It also gives you the opportunity to slack off and do the dishes when you should be sending out queries or writing articles that have deadlines. I’ve been guilty of that and more.
Typically, I apply for writing gigs several times per week and check my email very frequently for signs of response. Last week, I ignored my email to focus on a big project (another must for freelancing is you’ve got to be flexible and able to multi-task). Imagine my horror when I opened my inbox this morning and discovered an email from several days ago asking me to complete a blog post by the following day. It was a well paying job on a topic I could’ve handled. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I sent an apology email asking the guy to consider me for future jobs, I CALLED HIM BY THE WRONG NAME. Taking too long to respond: FAIL. Getting his name wrong when it was right in front of me: EPIC FAIL. If you never want to make it as a writer, do this regularly.

4)Procrastinate. As a freelance writer, some of my jobs have deadlines. Some article ideas have a timeline, such as seasonal queries or time-sensitive topics. Other projects, like my novel or the greeting card market I so desperately want to break into, can be done at any time. This doesn’t mean they SHOULD be done “whenever,” but they can be. I wish I could take back every single day I put off my goals for something that seemed so important, like cleaning the house or meeting my friends for lunch. I’d be a lot farther along than I am now. If you never want to make it as a writer, procrastinate like crazy. One of these days, tomorrow won’t come.

5)Don’t network, attend writers’ conferences or buy books on writing.
I admit that I don’t currently belong to any writing groups. I may change that in the future, but right now, it’s not something I am compelled to do. However, I make sure to read at least two books on writing per month. They’re usually so informative, I have to use them as references for when I need to know something or read them repeatedly. I go to writers’ conferences. As much as I fail at it, I always give networking my best shot. If others don’t know who you are, if agents don’t see you at those conferences trying your best to learn and promote yourself, no one will take you seriously. Then you won’t take yourself seriously. Before long, you’ll be living a life of mediocrity wondering what might have been while someone with no more talent than you goes on her third book tour. Being self-employed might be a job for one, but trust me… there is power in numbers.


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