I am unsure if this is going to be the last post or if there will be more. When I started writing these posts, taking a harder look at my own thoughts and habits encircling my writing — both career-wise and the act of writing itself, there were only 6 or 7 of these posts from Kristine. This, of course, is number 10 in the series of “Why I am Failing as a Writer” — which are self-examining responses to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “How Writers Fail” series.
It feels that in this last post she might have reached some zenith. Given that I am not fully versed in all things writing and publishing (not that she claims to be, however she is far more versed than I), there could be any number of future topics that fit into the reasons writers fail. If I dig enough, there will be plenty of reasons I do, for certain. Why keep digging, though, without the guidance of someone like Kristine, who through her expertise and experience, is poised to do such things. So even if she puts out a part 11 or moves beyond that, this might be the end of the responses from me.
I guess it will depend on the topic and if it strikes me.
But why keep digging if the digging is starting to become the excuse? There’s always more work to do, there’s always improvements to be made, but what about life? What about just writing and seeing where that takes me? Take the lessons I learned to this point and work on them as I push forward? Why not go back and really dig into these 10 reasons that other writers and I all fail at?
This dovetails nicely into the last topic that Kristine put forward: Blame. There’s always a lot of it going around. All the time. In just about every facet of life. And in the writing world, there’s always been enough there, too. Writers blame publishers. Publishers blame writers. Both blame the economy. They both blame fans (as a side note: this has become almost a parody in modern times, and I want to do a larger essay on this phenomenon sometime soon). We all look outward for the reasons things aren’t going as we hoped instead of what we should be doing.
Throughout my writing life, I certainly took part in this practice. Circumstances always presented a better option for me to blame something other than myself. Oh, I had too much work to do. Oh, I had errands to run. Oh, it’s the editors — those evil bastions of the publishing industry (or rather my lack of being able to afford them). My kid needed my time. Life. House chores. The insignificant, dirty spot on the floor over there that no one will ever notice…
Put plainly, there are always things happening more important that writing. Sometimes they are literally more important, like family or work, or they are metaphorically more important, like anything else used as as excuse to not write. What I did in the past was simply shrug my shoulders and use those as the reasons I wasn’t being “successful” as a writer. Anything really would do so that I could avoid turning inward. Many people do the same in other areas, like getting in shape — or parenthood.
Stoicism has been a huge help for me, as have Kristine’s posts. One started giving me some tools I could use to stop pinning my ailments and failures on the outside world and the other helped me to better understand where these all impacted my writing. Blame isn’t a direct cause of failure, such as fear or stupidity, but it is a vehicle through which all those things operate. It is a defense mechanism that allows us to not have to face ourselves as the reasons we are not doing as well as we could. If it is someone else’s fault, what then can we do about it?
In my life as a leader/manager in my day job, there was a concept that I always bantered about to others, having learned it myself (the hard way). That is that there is a difference between fault and responsibility. Being a manager of a department, for instance, meant that I was responsible for anything, good or bad, coming out of said department. That had nothing to do with whose fault it was. One of my operators does something wrong and something broke? Might not have been my fault, but it damn well was my responsibility. It means that no matter what happened, I couldn’t blame anything or anyone other than me.
Writing is different… because of course it is. No matter what happens, it is both my fault and my responsibility. Then again, that is the case with any solo endeavor. Yet, even so, writers (like everyone) find interesting ways to shirk the blame from themselves. Given that creativity always seems to have such a fleeting sense to it. As though it was something that visited upon us rather than something that we have to grab as we need it. So when we are in the mood to be creative, but are unable, only to lack motivation when we have time, we load up the blame cart and start dragging it around.
Creativity doesn’t quite work like that. Sure, there are times where motivation and all align in a glorious fashion, the stars line up, and everything seems to work in our favor to create. Most times, however, are really a trudge through less-than-ideal circumstances just to get a little work done. Discipline and hard work are the things called for, which admittedly, I’ve struggled with on this front much of my life.
Temptation is to blame others for this condition, this mindset that assumes that creativity is a fleeting emotion that must be harnessed when all the things align. I mean, that’s what we’re always told about those who are creative — some beam of inspiration shines down upon us and glorifies us in the light of the all-powerful muse! You must leap upon these moments of divine providence to produce the works called upon thee!
Some of us learn that this isn’t true. I mentioned in my previous entry that my muse sits impatiently at my desk waiting for me. She doesn’t fly in on her whim, she’s there all the time. It’s up to me as to when I will get off my ass and sit to write. (Okay, so getting off my ass only to get back on it is an odd analogy…) Constant work and discipline are required to be a creative. Particularly a successful creative — not that I have any experience in the success part. Then again, that simply depends on the definition one wishes to use.
Blame does nothing to get anyone anywhere. It is only a tool to use when you want to avoid something — whatever it is that the blame is diverting attention from.
Let’s take lack of sales in my books, for instance. I’ve sold several books over the course of the years. Are those sales enough to do anything for me? Nope. Maybe a few cups of coffee. A few drinks. Nothing substantive. Who can I blame for that? Readers who don’t buy my book? Sure, let me blame prospective readers… that’ll change things. One of two things are more likely: 1) no one even knows the books exist, and 2) if they knew it existed, it just didn’t interest them. Neither can be pinned on the readers.
In the first circumstance — well, who knows of the many reasons people don’t find books. There can be many things going on there, some outside of the writer’s control, but what about the situation being that I do less than the minimum amount of marketing for my books? Does one think that that would have anything to do with it? But no, that can’t possibly be it. People are just not seeing my books to spite me, right?! Ridiculous when you think people might see it that way, but in many ways, this is exactly how people often think. Hell, it is how I think.
The second example above — the lack of interest one — asserts that the readers know my books exist, but that it doesn’t interest them. Maybe those heathens don’t understand the greatness of my writing! Yes, that is it! They are simpletons and thus undeserving of the greatness I possess! Unfortunately, there are those who think in this way, too.
All in all, it’s all a deflection. These are ways of not taking responsibility, of ignoring the internal reasons that failure is on the table for us writers. Turning that outward versus inward is a much easier task.
For most of my writing life, I found it much easier to blame outside circumstances rather than to see what I was doing that contributed to my lack of success out in the writing universe. It was far easier to play the game, who’s at fault for my not being a successful writer? 1, 2, 3—not it! rather than to accept that I had any control over it.
Control is an interesting concept, too. We imagine that by having “control” over something, we can simply say what we want and then those things will happen. We tell people what to do and they do it. That is not what control is, though. It is nothing more than the existence of ability. It’s effort and influence. Control is the ability to align behavior and action toward a set of goals. Nothing about it means that said goals will occur. Thus, to control one’s writing career, as I would mean to do, that writer would need to not only write regularly and consistently but also perform any number of actions that would align their life to their goals.
There’s a lot more to this to explore — such as ways that books such as Oprah’s “The Secret”, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”, and even the Holy Bible hold keys to this. But it isn’t the general idea of vision boards, wishing with all of one’s heart, meditation on goals, or some of that other woo-woo stuff that many of them would have you believe. It is much more of an alignment of heart, mind, body, and soul oriented toward an aim. And that aim takes specificity. It takes focus. And it takes WORK.
If I say I want to be a writer — well, I am already that. I write. That means I am a writer. What more could I or the universe do for that? If I say that I want to be a financially successful writer, such as earning sufficient income from my writing to replace my day-job… that means a different aim than simply writing. The work needed for the latter is much different from the former.
Blame disables all of it. At least blame that is oriented outside of one’s own locus of control. No — scratch that. Blame in any facet will cause the whole thing to crumble. Because blame is an admission to lack of control, with control being that ability to align behaviors and actions toward a goal or desire, means that the one aiming is off the mark. Blame lays bare the admission that one is not aiming properly.
Of course, examples abound of people who have things we want who seem to do little to get them. But what does that prove? For one, are we certain of the efforts the person is putting in? Are we certain that their aim actually matches our own or what we think it is? What of the writer who writes books in the hopes only to get a singular person’s approval? They might gain all the financial success or popularity you or I could dream of. We see that and yearn to have what they have. But that one person whose approval they seek? They never get it, dying instead in abject despair. They die poor, as the wealth they sought was not materialistic.
Jordan B Peterson talks of this a lot — about aim and purpose. What is it we truly want? We often don’t even ask that question of ourselves. Why is it I wish to be a writer? Why do I wish to be a writer? Sometimes that is a difficult answer. For me, it is a drive that I cannot wholly explain. Writing is something I not only enjoy doing; it is an activity I am driven to do. The financial success part of it? I know why I wish to have that. A very cursory answer is that it will allow me more time to truly focus on it. And maybe it’ll allow me more free time. Ultimately, it really is the having more time to dedicate to writing is the ultimate goal, something I cannot guarantee in my current circumstances.
Too often, we are vague in our desires. Or, in fact, misdirected. We think that we simply want to be rich, but other than for material matters, we can’t truly answer as to why we want to be. Then there is the question that the desires we express, thinking that there is some great external force to render to us, actually requires grit and dedication from ourselves. Perhaps the desire for wealth is so that you worry less about finances. Yet, if you simply curb frivolous spending and then focus that money on debt and savings, you might find that you achieve the desires. For debt is truly an evil temptress and will lure even some of the most savvy among us into ruin.
But it is that idea though of what is within our control and what isn’t that is behind a lot of this. Blame scrambles all of this. Sure, it might be that circumstance has it that certain things are outside of our grasp. Changing it may be completely out of control. What good does blame do then in that circumstance other than simply point out the circumstances? Does it change anything? Nope. All it does is place our focus away from what we should be looking at and put it onto something we have no control over. In turn, all the energy and time that we spend in that blame spiral is wasted, whereas it could have been used to focus on the things that are within the scope of our control.
How do we get out of it then? It really revolves all around aim and focus. I know this, even as I spent much — no, most of my writing life with my aim all over the place. My focus was on the things that were outside of my control rather than the things that I can do. Instead of cultivating my style, I instead focused on how my style wasn’t like [insert author/writer I admire here]. Maybe since I know that I am weaker on the marketing front, I could take some time to practice in that area and look into materials to learn about it rather than decrying how is “seems so easy for some people” or that it is “hard for an introvert” to do so. Find the paths that we can traverse and move to them.
Or we can keep blaming circumstances, crying about how that path we wish to walk on is blocked from us and going nowhere as a result.
More can be said on this topic. A lot more. I could go into endless cycles on how using my energy to blame something else — or even myself — for things gone wrong. I could explore how each of these times blame has throttled my ability to grow. Where could I be today had I learned long ago to set aside this behavior in favor of action? Who knows… Whether that is even a worthy question is something I am no longer willing to explore.
It will take time to change, as most things worth doing are. Either way, it is time to let go of pinning the results of my writing on anything other than the energy I put into it. Let’s see how far I can go from there.