Last month we explored the Seven Virtues every successful writer should have. In keeping with the theme of virtue and vice, this month, we examine the seven deadly sins every writer should avoid.
It's okay to lust after the written word and to cherish the process of weaving sentences, paragraphs, and pages, but don't get overly attached to your work. Lust for your own writing can result in a blind eye toward purple prose and unnecessary flourish.
Readers care more about the story and the characters, not how many esoteric vocabulary words you learned this past year. Lyrical passages and descriptions can be nice, but not when they're overdone. If an editor suggests changes to your work, don't bristle and complain. An editor's job is to make sure our work shines bright. Quite often, that means your editor may have to snip and prune to present your work in the best light possible. Let go of unhealthy word lust and trust in the editing process.
Gluttony, as it pertains to the writer, is related to creative hunger and not losing sight of it. All too often, writers have to remind themselves why they first began to write. Most of the time, it's not because they wanted to get paid or get published – that desire came later. As a child or young adult, most writers wanted to express themselves creatively and share their story vision with readers.
Stay hungry for the right reasons, but avoid crossing the boundary into unfocused gluttony. How many times have you heard a reader proclaim she didn't read a certain author anymore because she felt the author was phoning it in instead of genuinely caring about the work? Writers who lose the taste of creative hunger and become gluttonous and overfed with fame and fortune may have committed the biggest sin of all. Hunger is essential for a writer's spark; gluttony is detrimental to a writer's creative survival.
Don't be afraid to give as well as receive. Maybe you have a hot tip on some freelance jobs for the upcoming year. Will you share that information with others, or will you hoard it, hoping to get a jump on the perceived competition? If you answered with the latter, you've been infected by greed.
Networking is the lifeblood of any successful freelancer. By sharing opportunities and new information on a regular basis, individual writers – and the community as a whole – will benefit. Every industry goes through cycles, and freelancing is no different. Some day, not too far in the future, it may be you who needs a helping hand or a hot job tip. Remember that next time you're tempted to keep valuable information to yourself. The person from whom you withheld information could be the same person you need for future assistance or advice. Greed doesn't pay off, but networking almost always does. Practice being gracious, not greedy.
Some days it's easier to plop down on the couch and read or watch a movie than write – especially when you're struggling with a chapter or your characters aren't behaving. It's not that you don't want to write, it's that you're feeling blocked or trapped on your current course. Why climb that painful hill when you can relax, kick back, and not worry about it until tomorrow? The answer is that if you let sloth get under your skin, tomorrow may turn into next week, next month, or next year. These are the times when writing can be the most difficult and also the most rewarding.
Nobody ever said writing was easy – it's not. You know that, and I know that. The general public doesn't know that; many of them believe books pop onto the shelves in a magical, painless way, when the rest of us know most books are birthed in the most deliberate (and often painful) sorts of ways. Giving in to sloth is the easy way; it's anything but the Writer's Way.
If you find yourself stymied in your quest for the next scene or sequence, or your characters are misbehaving, don't give up and give in. Instead, work on another project for the time being. Get your creative juices flowing, and then switch back to your main writing project. Work for at least 30 minutes, and then take a break if you're still making no progress. A little forward movement, however small, is always better than no movement. No movement = sloth.
Working with human beings on anything creative can have torturous moments. You may encounter a writer or editor who will not only rub you the wrong way, but who'll scrape your nerves raw. When you're dancing on your last nerve, it's easy to lose your patience and risk lashing out in inappropriate ways – but don't do it.
The publishing industry is a small microcosm of people who know other people who know other people. Editors change houses frequently, and the one editor with who you lock horns at one house may turn up at the publishing house you're querying six months from now. Before you unleash your wrath upon a fellow writer or editor, remember the folly of damaging or destroying bridges you may have to cross later. Realize there will always be challenging situations to face in working relationships; however, don't give wrath a chance to tank your writing career.
So you've been submitting a manuscript for a year now to no avail. You've received rejection after rejection, yet you've kept your chin up, and you continue to work revisions like a madwoman. Your friends have been supportive and your writing buddies have commiserated with you
You get a phone call one day: Your closest writing buddy sold her book. Indeed, you are happy for her, but you can't stop asking yourself, "Why her and not me?" You feel the slimy green tentacles of envy creep into your gut.
Envy is a poison, and once it infects your soul, it tends to fester. Cut envy off at the source before it takes root and sours your writing relationships. Realize you're not in competition with anyone except yourself.
Be gracious and genuine in your happiness for your writing colleagues, and know that when your time comes – and it will – they will return positive energy to you threefold. Envy, when unchecked, can lead to bitterness and lost friendships. Don't give in to envy!
Authors are expected to help market and promote their work. Publishers look for marketing plans in nonfiction book proposals, and editors want to know how you, as the writer, plan to get the word out about your work. You are not only selling your words and your writing, but you're also selling yourself.
Beware of lurking pride as you travel the road of self-promotion. No matter how long you've been a scribe, you can always learn from others, regardless of how many decades of experience you have under your quill. Ignoring readers, bashing other writers, penning mean-spirited reviews (for the sole purpose of bringing other writers down a notch) and developing a snobby, diva-like attitude are quick ways to make enemies and wreck your reputation.
When it comes to the seven deadly writing sins, it's easy to be led astray by their seductions. It's a challenge to step outside ourselves and regulate our habits. Keep a small group of trustworthy friends and writing colleagues around you for occasional reality checks, and don't be afraid to serve yourself up a slice of humble pie when the situation is warranted.