Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Putting in the hours

Working on: Chapter 2 of CDB
Listening to: Most Relaxing Chamber music album in the world - ever! (Ever after known as "chamber music" LOL)
Reading: The Inn at Eagle Point and The Writer's Journey

Michelle has blogged today a bit on Gladwell's Outliers, which I reviewed last month. I was reading her blog today and nodding my head - I think we're of similar opinions.

One thing about it though is the consolation that one doesn't need to be a genius to succeed. Nor does he/she need to be particularly privileged. What you really need to do is work very hard, perhaps for a very long time. And you need to sieze opportunities, even when they are in disguise as setbacks or road blocks. Turning things to your own advantage is really key. The examples in the book demonstrate this well - how attitude truly affects outcome.

I was reminded today about my school days, in particular elementary and junior high years as I was in a small school and had the same classmates year after year (not so much in high school). I had a reputation of being one of the smart ones. I was very popular come test and project time, not so much on a regular basis. At home, it was simply expected that I would do well.

But I will confess it did not come easily, nor am I a genius. Some things were not so difficult, like reading, because I was a keen reader from an early age. But general school work was WORK. It didn't come without study. And at times, a lot of it. I guess in some ways I learned that self-discipline early on. And I enjoyed learning.

But I had to work hard. Especially in high school and university. I suppose, though, that paid off because I also had to work hard to be published AND it's even harder work staying published.

That brings me to Bickham's 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and his fourth point - DON'T EXPECT MIRACLES.

My sister once told me that all my rejected mss were like doing my internship before I could become a "real" doctor. Oddly enough, Bickham uses a similar analogy in his fourth point - comparing learning to be a doctor and learning to be a professional writer. He says that writing may "become an art, but only by first being consummate craft." How do you learn craft? See Outliers and Gladwell's 10,000 hours theory.

What I really loved about this was his positive take on it. He says "Why should that be such bad news? If the task were easy, everybody in the world would be a writer, and your achievement would mean little." He also says it's worth the time you put into it. If you persevere, chances are good you will be successful. If you're in the game for quick money and fame, you're pretty certain to fail.

All of us want that response at the end of the day to be "We want to buy your book" instead of "not right for us" or whatever terminology happens to be in that letter. And yet, if we're looking at things as opportunities, each rejection is an opportunity for us to try again, to do it better, to learn something new, to become masters of our craft.

His penultimate point, number 37, is titled DON'T GIVE UP. There are myriad excuses we can come up with, that old negative vs. positive thing. It boils down to this: "Optimists - doers - have a chance. Pessimists - who do nothing - spend all their time defining the nature of their failure, sometimes even before it takes place." He also says that as long as you are working towards the goal, you're still in it (that old in it to win it bit, right?). "Your quest cannot be lost unless YOU choose to throw in the white towel."

We all get discouraged, struggle to keep faith in ourselves and our abilities, wonder if it's worth it. If a writer tells you otherwise, don't believe them. And if they mean it, well, see Bickham's point number 2, DON'T CONSIDER YOURSELF TOO SMART. It's only in our doubt that we strive to be better. And only in striving that we learn the craft. You're in good company. What binds the published author to those on the quest is simply the common task of putting hands to the keyboard and writing.


  1. Thanks for the wise words Donna. The crows of doubt are circling over my wip at the moment and your blog has put me back on an even keel! Take care. Caroline x

  2. Fabulous blog! I love the quotes!

  3. Janet Ch.11:35 a.m.

    Hi Donna,

    What an interesting blog post. Went straight to the library this morning and took out the Outliers. Looking forward to reading it tonight.