Monday, March 21, 2011

You're the Writer. Hmmmmm ...

by Jean James
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall,
And baffled, get up and begin again,
So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all.

Robert Browning

You’re the writer. Hmmmmm ...

I’ve not felt much like a writer for the last week and a half. I’ve been lost behind enormous stacks of income tax papers. With three returns to do, each one too complicated for words, my brain barely survived. I reached the bottom of the pile yesterday and, lo and behold, there was my husband on the other side. I’d forgotten all about him.

“Hi, sweetheart. Did you miss me? Are you hungry or anything?”

The fact is, we expected the returns to all come out in the red by a sizeable chunk. After endless calculations, internet searches for loopholes and explanations, and phone conversations with sometimes-less-than-friendly IRS employees, I managed to reverse the expected results and get some dollars back from the IRS on each of them. I’m no bookkeeper or accountant, and I get scared to death if someone even mentions income tax, so it took a ton of effort. I could have just sent it in the way we thought it should be. It would have been simple and quick (and costly). Am I glad I did the work? I’ll say!

Isn’t that how it is in writing?

There are so many steps along the way in a writing career, it’s no wonder we’re often tempted to take the easiest, both in the writing and marketing. After all, mental work is the most demanding work there is, and even if we’re poor, it sometimes seems easier to blindly pour money into a project than to really think and investigate what’s wise.

Does it really work?

I knew a person who developed a complicated mathematical system for betting at the racetrack. They stuck faithfully to their plan, race after race, and lost money. But they weren’t about to change their formula. That would be too much mental work. It was easier to go on losing.

We had a close friend who worked for a magazine. This magazine rarely, if ever, did book reviews, yet they constantly received expensive books for review. Those books were never read or reviewed. They were given away to grandchildren or friends (who probably weren’t interested in them either), or they were dumped into the office’s trash bin. These were pricey items that a publicist or an author sent to them with high hopes – but not enough prior investigation. It was money and time thrown away.

My daughter and co-author is also a musician. At a young age she learned how a great many radio promoters operated. They’d charge their client a large fee for their service, expect their client to supply a quantity of CD’s, and expect their client to pay for all the mailings. They, in turn, would mail the CD’s to radio stations who would, in turn, drop them in their trash, unopened.

Do we toss away our brain and money together?

Aren’t we all mentally lazy at times? We stand faithfully by a plan or decision and pour money and effort into it whether it works or not. We search for the path of least resistance, or the quick fix, because we just want to get it done whether it works or not. We don’t want to have to think. We tell ourselves we’ve fulfilled our requirements and if it doesn’t work it’s not our fault.

Does our manuscript fit the needs and requirements of the publisher or agent we sent them to? Does our first page lure an editor to the second page? Do we write a “letter perfect” proposal but a perfectly boring at the same time? Does our advertisement actually convince someone they want to read our book? Does our back cover blurb entice a reader to buy the book or is it just a well orchestrated paragraph with admirable writing? We love watching our book trailer, but can we see it through the eyes of a possible reader and purchaser? How about our title and our cover? Are we trying to please ourselves when we should also consider what will sell? Did we investigate before we chose a publicist?

What about outside opinions?

What if a friend, or someone in our writing group, criticizes our manuscript or our marketing plan unmercifully? Before we chuck everything we should realize that some people have trained themselves so well in the critique business they feel they must criticize everything. It’s our job as writers to consider all evaluations, but use our own brain to decide their merit.

Maybe it’s just the reverse and our work is praised extravagantly. Again, some people have trained themselves to be complimentary about everything. They’re so practiced in this matter they often believe everything they tell you. Again, you should enjoy the applause, but don’t let your brain get so elevated it looses the oxygen it needs to work properly.

When persistence fails?
Sometimes success is just a matter of persistence and hitting the right person at the right time. We shouldn’t immediately distrust what we’ve done. But if we use our reasoning ability and it tells us we’ve come up short, we shouldn’t hesitate to change our proposal, our letter to the editor, our ads, our publicist, our blurbs, our first page, or our entire marketing strategy. We should do whatever it takes and if that doesn’t work it’s time to think some more.

Yes, all writers can think!

We’re writers, aren’t we? We think for all the different characters we create. Isn’t it time to think for ourselves? There’s no fun or satisfaction in failing, and sometimes it can be downright expensive!

Heaven never helps the man who will not act.


Jean James


  1. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
    ~ Albert Einstein

    Good points, Jean.

  2. Thanks, Jean. I understand the tax story, am in the middle of that now. I also understand how laziness can affect us as writers.

    Great article.


  3. Beautifully written and presented, Jean. I learned a lot from this piece. In today's market we really need to work smarter and just as hard as ever, but if we love what we do, it is an amazing journey.

  4. Thank you, Holly, Vivian, Sheri, and Ginger for your thoughtful comments. And thank you that no one mentioned the word I left out! I wrote this in a real rush yesterday and it needed one more edit. Can I blame that on the income tax?

  5. *laugh* You can blame anything you need to on the income tax ordeal.