How to Get Out of Your Own Way: The Secret to Becoming a Successful Writer

First, we have a few announcements:

#1 Our blog has been nominated for the Top Writing Blog Award by ECollegeFinder. UPDATE: Votes are open again through February 3rd.

#2 Ruth’s thriller HOOKED which she wrote with her husband Michael Harris, has been zooming up the charts this month. It’s in the Kindle top 100, and made it to #3 on Movers and Shakers!

#3 Treeware lovers: Anne’s first Camilla Randall mystery THE BEST REVENGE is now available in paper ($9.95.) You can buy it at Popcorn Press or Amazon .

#4 NOOK Owners: Anne’s other two Camilla mysteries GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY ($.99) AND SHERWOOD, LTD ($2.99) are now available at B & N. And Ruth's romantic saga DECADES ($.99) is featured this week on the Nook Lovers blog.

#5 SLO folks: Judy Salamacha interviews me for her column in the Tribune on Monday, January 30th.

And now I’m going to get out of Ruth’s way and let her give you some very sound advice—a lot of which I could have used a few years back. I hate to admit it, but I spent almost a decade trying to “perfect” a book that wasn’t that bad to begin with—but got worse with every “please all of the people all of the time” revision. My perfectionism killed my own book. So listen to the lady. She knows what she’s talking about:

The secret to becoming a successful writer is not learning writing one perfect book. It’s learning to write as many good books as you can. So once you’ve got the nuts and bolts down, stop obsessing and write another book.


You know what I’m talking about. I know you do. Most of us recognize it as The Enemy Within, the devil with a thousand faces, the ugly, waxy build up of negative forces that stand between you and Writing The Book/Finishing The Book/Editing & Polishing The Book.

Science still hasn’t come up with a cure for the common cold but, as an editor, I’ve worked with lots of writers over the years and I’ve learned that writers, crafty creatures that we are, struggle with the lit version of the common cold.

I’m going to list a few of the symptoms and propose cures, but be warned: If you like to play it safe, don’t pay any attention to me.

 Are you a perfectionist?

Do you suffer the misery of unfinished drafts, half completed novels, computer files so ancient only Methuselah remembers the program that created them? Have you settled into an endless rut of rewriting, revising and second guessing yourself? You’re working hard but getting nowhere—and not fast?

Then, please, stop! Ask yourself what are you afraid of: failure? Or is it success? And what’s the worse thing that can happen if you upload a less-than-”perfect” book? Heavens gonna fall? Earth stop in its orbit?

So you think it’s a POS? Maybe you’re right—but maybe you’re wrong. Writers are notoriously lousy judges of their own work. So get over yourself. No one except you is going to give a bleep.

Who knows, maybe readers aren’t as picky as you are. Maybe no one will notice whatever it is that’s worrying you and maybe whatever’s bothering you is only the monster under the bed anyway. If people like your book and buy it, what’s the problem? Close your eyes, think of the money, and smile.

If they don’t like it, if they actually hate it, and your reviews absolutely, positively stink, take the book down. That’s what the “unpublish” button is for.

Give yourself a day to lick your wounds and shore up your ego, then look at the book with a fresh eye. Maybe you ought to hire an editor to offer some objective perspective, then fix what’s realistically wrong.

Give that sucker a new title, a new cover, maybe use a pseudonym (although I don’t think people remember writers’ names unless they’re Stephen King or William Shakespeare), write a brand-new, more come-hither blurb and re-upload.

Think: “Why, Miss Brown, you’re beautiful without your glasses!” Same deal, the magic of the makeover. 

Like shampoo, a book can be rinsed and repeated. Big 6 editors hate this but these days you’re not writing for an editor. You’re trying to reach thousands and maybe millions of readers. Huge, huge difference.

Heed Voltaire: The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Accentuate the positive.

In a tizzy about your alleged weaknesses? Your critique group sez your characters are stereotypes? That means readers will recognize them immediately. They’ll fill in the blanks themselves.

Your bff sez your plots are creaky? There are only 6 plots anyway….starting with the Bible and going up to Harry Potter. It’s what you do with the plot that counts. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl? What if the boy is Clark Kent and the girl is Lois Lane? What if the boy is a scruffy junkyard mongrel and the girl is a snooty Park Avenue poodle?

Do more of what comes easily and work on your strengths. 

Snappy dialogue? Scorching sex? Elegant descriptions?

Whatever you like to write will likely be a key to developing a style that is uniquely yours.

Whether your style is Tilda Swinton or Lady Gaga, George Clooney or Judd Apatow, work it. Robert M. Parker did. Elmore Leonard did. Style counts, style matters, style lasts.

Raymond Chandler nailed it: “Style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.”

Bottom line: Style is you being you on purpose so embrace it.

Make friends with your subconscious.

If you respect your subconscious and treat it right, your subconscious will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

That guy who works at the deli on page 3? You had to stick him in when your heroine stopped for coffee and needed change?  You put him in, didn’t spend two seconds thinking about him. You needed him so you typed something.

Maybe on page 106, he reappears. Maybe he’s the murderer. Maybe he’s an undercover cop. Maybe he’s a billionaire who wants to find out how the 99% live. Maybe he’s the long-lost sister who’s had a sex change op. Maybe that guy at the deli will turn out to be the key to a great plot twist.

That guy—the one you didn’t spend two seconds thinking about—was a creation of your subconscious. He appeared out of nowhere because you needed him while you were concentrating on your heroine.
But later?

Later, that character turns out to be gold.
Scriveners, have you ever had an experience like that with the deli guy--has a minor character reappeared to become a major player? Are you tired of the writing gurus who tell you rejections will stop if you do yet another edit of your Work-that-has-been-in-Progress for a decade? Are you working as hard to be YOU as you are at following directions and coloring inside the lines?

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