Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ten of the Worst Reasons to Write

By:  Karen Albright Lin

It is fun to undertake most endeavors with lofty intentions and enthusiastic dreams. But when it comes to writing, it’s wise to temper the fantasy with a dose of reality. Impractical expectations, misguided objectives, and false hopes can prevent you from getting off to a good start in one hell of a tough industry. Over many years of writing, publishing, and helping my editing clients do the same, I’ve seen writers with assumptions and motivations that hinder rather than help. I’ve been guilty of a few of these myself. Worst reasons to write:

(c) bluebay14/

1)      Stephen King became a famous millionaire, I can too.

Go for it.  It’s fun to have a dream, admirable to bite off a challenge aiming for the gold.  Nobody earns an Olympic medal of any color without trying. But a statistical reality check suggests that you may awaken from that dream someday, use it as grist for the mill, and still not become a household name or rich off your words.

2)      There are so many bad books out there and I could do better. 

Certainly possible. But writing shouldn’t be like a bad excuse, “everybody else is doing it.”  Writing isn’t following the lemmings over a cliff; writing is finding a better route and sharing it with others willing to take that adventure with you.

3)      I’m an introvert and suited to the writing life.

Marketing is largely in the authors’ hands now. If we can’t reach out, network, and be our own loud advocates, we may be doomed to fail even if we have a remarkable product. If you are a screenwriter, are you willing to have a presence in L.A.? If you write nonfiction, are you willing to be part of the social networking community? Blog on your topic? We are salesmen as well as writers. I wonder whether J.D. Salinger could have been a media-averse recluse in today’s world and still have had his book become listed in class curriculums.

4)      My mother and aunt loved my fourth-grade poetry.

That’s nice.  But are they typical readers? Industry experts? Objective?

5)      I have a great idea.

Ideas are everywhere, most of them reruns. Success is in the execution. Underworld and Westside Story are Romeo and Juliet. The great ideas are recycled, but it is how they are reconstituted that makes them successful. Uniqueness can be overrated. But there’s no harm in trying. Titanic II? May sound ridiculous, but someone out there could pull it off. It may be you. It’s all in how you approach it. But having the brilliant idea isn’t enough. 

6)      If my neighbor can do it, anyone can.

Really? You so sure about that? How many people start a book and never finish? How many have an idea and never type one word of it? If your neighbor has a finished product (good or bad) she at least has a shot at success. You can too, but only if you stop comparing yourself to others and plaster your butt to that chair.

7)      I’ll feel better about myself if I become a famous writer.

Hmmm. I suppose it could be true. But success can also lead to confirmed fears about our weaknesses when the public wants more and we get creative constipation, or worse, insecurities about whether our breakout novel was a fluke. We don’t suddenly become healthier, happier people when our books sell in the thousands. There is likely no author gene that we can suddenly prove we had all along. If anything, an emotional basket-case gene is twisted up next to the creativity gene.

8)      I have the software, I can be a writer.

It is useful to own software like Final Draft, Scrivener, or voice recognition software, but no program, no laptop, no note cards, paper or pen can make you into a writer.  Those are only tools of the trade.  Owning an anvil and fire pit don’t make you a blacksmith.  Years of apprenticeship are required. The tools of the trade are only a miniscule part of success. 

9)      I read voraciously, I should be able to write.

Not necessarily. It is the easy reads that are the hardest to pull off.  Like a back flip on the balance beam, we usually notice its difficulty when something goes wrong. Well-executed, it looks easy. Writing a great piece--whether it be an article or picture book or novel--is much more challenging than it looks to most readers. But please don’t confuse this with the notion that a writer is not a reader. Just the opposite. Great writers are insatiable readers. There is something to be said for osmosis, if one has the training to recognize brilliance.

10)  I’m deep and complicated. I should share the stuff in my head.

Maybe readers could benefit from your insight. Maybe your revelations could change the world.  But genius often doesn’t understand its audience. Cleverness can come off as grandiosity. You may have super-complex gears turning in that brain of yours, but the best writing complicates the struggles of your characters but simplifies an idea.

Taking those first few baby steps will be far easier if we are realistic about why we write.

About the Writer: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at