Why I am Failing as a Writer: Part 1

I bookmarked them as they came out. For a few years, I have followed Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her writing blog, paying particular attention to her “Business Musings” entries. For those who don’t know, Kristine is a long established writer who co-runs a small publishing house with her husband Dean. Once traditional, she now operates as an independent author. This year, she started a series that is ongoing on her site with 8 entries so far: “How Writers Fail”.

The title gave me pause, of course, and I could not bring myself to read them. Because, deep down, I knew they would strike a chord.

Given one of the last entries on this site, one can surmise that I recently started to dig deeper into the personal hangups, habits, and fears that help to prevent me from making progress as a writer — all things I essentially knew about, yet skirt around. So the other day, I picked up the links and started back at part one.

As I was reading, I decided it would be good if I really gave some thought to what Kristine wrote in each of her entries. It would solve two problems: 1) further exploration of my hangups, habits, and fears; and 2) provide me with some much needed content.

This isn’t by any means a review of Kristine’s posts. She’s a well-established writer with more than enough experience, knowledge, and whatever else might be needed to comment at length on each of these topics. The point of what I am doing is using her posts to explore more of my self and my writing. Each of these entries is going to dive deeper into the topic she lists. Part 1, though not titled, was about: Attitude.

Kristine’s post: Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part One)

Kristine describes the artistic attitude as an optimal blend of optimism and pragmatism with a little bit of cynicism/skepticism. But as she urges on through her essay is that attitude can be what makes or breaks a writer (or artist). Based on here estimate, it should be mostly optimism, a good chunk of pragmatism in order to ground said optimism, and then the cynicism is there to be wary of whether opportunities are real.

What attitude do I have?

Well, if I were to ask myself on any day previous to my self-exploration, the response would have been a big, fat, resounding affirmation that I had the right blend of attitude. In truth, I do not. If I had to dig a little, I probably look about 60% cynic, 30% optimist, and 10% pragmatist. The pragmatism may even be lower. This certainly is a bad ratio for an artist.

What exactly does this mean? To me, it means that I shoot things down before trying them. It means that the good portion that is an optimist keeps me coming back for more. The pragmatist — that part that is meant to adapt both the cynicism and optimism into the real world — is barely there. That means I jump on projects all excited only to see that once the optimism wanes (even just a little), the cynicism convinces me it is all for naught.

Fear helps to drive cynicism. Maybe fear manifests through cynicism. Cause or effect, they seem to be dependent variables. One exists with the other, not independently. That cynicism — that fear — is what holds me back and makes me more like the woman from Kristine’s story that shoots down the opportunities that she was there to learn to begin with! My attitude is helping to push me there where although I get excited and want to write as a professional, I suddenly hear the voice saying, “yeah, right. Like that will happen”.

Whatever the true mix of attitude I really have, there is enough optimism there that keeps me coming back to the game. It keeps me trying — to a point. Too much of that cynic hangs around, though. In the past, I’ve been able to work around it by shoving it into a corner and ignoring it. The problem was that the corner I shoved it into was the same one that I needed to access what is needed to keep fueling the optimism or to get those other traits to become professional about what I was doing. Marketing, revision/editing, sales, etc, etc. Then the cynic in me says things like “like the opportunities in independent publishing are still available for me”, and the topics are dropped.

They may or may not be there. And some cynicism will help me evaluate that. Some. Not the large volume I have.

But Kristine mentions she has an overabundance of cynicism too. The difference is that she has honed it into a more skeptic approach. She’s tamed it, unlike me and the other woman mentioned in the story.

Untamed cynicism is a killer. No matter how far one might think they can progress through a project, the moment that cynical nature is allowed air to breathe, it will strangle out any optimistic feeling. Shrinking that emotion and taming it can be equated to the same task. Either way, it is an emotion that is given far too much rein in my attitude. But it also cannot be replaced by sheer optimism.

What I need to develop is the amount of pragmatism. It needs to displace enough of the cynicism to help build a path forward without that voice in the background saying, “what good is this going to do?”, or “why even bother? Not like you are going to succeed anyway, being a novice writer as you are”. Enough pragmatic behaviors need to come in and tame both the optimism and the cynicism, grounding each in the real world. Pragmatism can also be called discipline, which I have sorely lacked in my writing life for — well, forever.

Something in me keeps me coming back to the game. It keeps me wanting to try. Rather than standing here and debating the exact ratios of cynic, optimist, and pragmatist there is, it would be better to ask the questions about what has worked so far and what isn’t working. My attitude keeps me trying, but it also keeps me from going any further than stepping up continuously to the starting line and maybe doing a quick dash, then stopping and moving back to that starting line. To go forward from here, I need an attitude adjustment. I need to tackle that thing we call “fear”. And funny enough, that’s the next topic Kristine wrote…

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