As I told you last week, I got my ego bruised by someone who was unimpressed by my literary achievements. For some people, if you haven’t been profiled in The Times, draw thousands to your readings, and appear on TV at least once a month you just can’t be that good.
About an hour after I posted last week’s blog, I had a call from someone I’d met a few months ago. She had read my first two books and was crazy about them. “Please tell me there are more,” she implored. She’s now bought book number three and I hope she’s enjoying it. “I’ll read anything you write,” she said. Her comment reminded me that she is my target audience, and as long as I keep her, and people like her, happy then I’m doing my job.
It goes to show, doesn’t it, that we cannot change people’s perceptions of us or of our work, but we can change our own attitude.
So how do you do that? I mean, it sounds very wise: “Adjust your attitude,” but actually doing it is a lot harder. I’ve been mulling about this over the past week and I’ve come up with a seven-step plan.
1. Focus on the work
That’s the bottom line always when you are an artist. Too many other things are beyond your control. The weather, interruptions, the stock market, the tastes of the reading public. Depending on how high your need for control is, those things will irk you a little or a lot, but you might as well get over yourself because you are never going to be able to do anything about them.
The work, though, you can control that. You can write the best prose possible. You can write bravely and honestly. Not everyone will love it, but that’s their problem. There is satisfaction in producing a story or a novel that you believe in, whether other people get it or not.
2. Decide who you want to be
Decide who you want to be and be that. If you want to write mystery stories, then go for it. If you’re drawn to literary short stories that take you years to write, then that’s what you should be doing. There are no right or wrong choices here, only what’s right or wrong for you. Embrace who you are and forget what other people think.
3. Don’t be complacent
Try not to get caught in a rut. Artists do not thrive in stagnant environments. We shrivel with too much status quo. Embrace your discontent. It will spur you on to ever-greater achievements. And even if you fail, so what? If you’ve learned something from the experience it’s not a waste.
4. Have a goal
Know what you want to achieve. Be specific. “Make a sale” is not specific. “Make a sale of a literary short story in a prestigious journal with a readership of at least 50,000” is. Goals should be realistic. If you’ve never published before, expecting your first sale to go to the New Yorker may be a stretch. Start with achievable goals. They’ll encourage you to set harder ones when you’re ready.
5. Do your research
You wouldn’t go on a trip without planning your flights and hotels. By the same token, if you want to sell a short story or a novel you should know who is most likely to accept your type of tale. Read widely in your genre. Make a list of twenty or even fifty journals who are publishing work like yours. A site like Duotrope will help you find a market that is most likely to meet your target. Look at things like statistics. What are the odds of success in each of those markets? I made my first sale 45 years ago, and I’m still researching markets. The more time you invest on research, the less time you need to spend re-submitting pieces.
6. Be realistic
Don’t decide you have to write 10,000 words a day of your novel so you can meet some arbitrary deadline. (It’s another matter if you have a contract to fulfill. Even then, try to not over-commit yourself.) Look at how much time you can spend on your task and break it down into manageable pieces. I have to admit, I tend to over-extend myself. I’ll work on six projects all at once and get frustrated that I’m not able to meet my self-imposed targets. I’ve learned that it’s better to set small, achievable daily goals and feel good about my accomplishments, rather than huge impossible goals that will dishearten me. I say I’ve learned, but the truth is I still have to remind myself from time to time.
7. Make a plan
Once you know what you want to achieve, look at ways to get there. My focus is on my new book so that’s what I have to work on each day. Other things like short stories and my play have to take second place, at least for now. What’s your plan?