1) Old Goal: Submit Work
New Goal: Get Rejected
We’ve all seen the contests and call for submissions. They look so attractive, with money or exposure or cache attached to them. You might think of all the other writers who are also submitting their work and freeze up. I’ll never get in, you might say. My work isn’t good enough, you might cry. Well, that may be true. So prove it. I dare you to prove that you aren’t good enough. That you’ll never get accepted. I fucking dare you to prove it so hard. Show me I’m wrong. Collect as many rejections from as many different places as possible. Get letters from agents, editors, magazines, publishers, contests, residencies, freelance jobs, and any other place that will reject you. Collect as many letters every month as you possibly can. Because the truth is, you might (and probably will) get rejected from many of them. But, just like no one can hit a home run every time, no one can strike out every time, either. Sooner or later, while I’m eating crow reading your rejection letters, you’re getting lucky and making contact with the ball. It might just be a single to get you on base, but at least you’re not still on the bench. Added bonus: you will have written more stuff, and most likely written better and better stuff, which improves the chances of getting accepted. See how you did that? You’re welcome.
But, just like no one can hit a home run every time, no one can strike out every time, either. Sooner or later, while I’m eating crow reading your rejection letters, you’re getting lucky and making contact with the ball. It might just be a single to get you on base, but at least you’re not still on the bench. Added bonus: you will have written more stuff, and most likely written better and better stuff, which improves the chances of getting accepted. See how you did that? You’re welcome.
2) Old Goal: Finish a Book/Story/Whatever
New Goal: Build a Pipeline
Stop thinking of your book as your magnum opus (that’s “big work” for anyone who doesn’t drink wine or speak Latin). Thinking of your book as something that needs to make a difference and be big and important is a sure fire way to make it crash in a fiery ball of anxiety and fear, creating a massive crater of disgust when it hits Earth. Instead, think of your book as a stepping stone. As in, once I finish this, I can start another one. Then another, and another. Then it becomes a flow of books that lead to your other books, all available to eager readers. Bam. You have a pipeline. You’re welcome.
3) Old Goal: Sell Books
New Goal: Connect With Your Tribe
Many of us are trying to make a few bucks with our blood, sweat, and tear-stained pages. But putting pressure on ourselves to be merchants might be getting in the way of connecting. So find a new frame. No one likes a salesperson. So don’t sell. Share. Give. Listen. This is what we do with friends and people we connect with. This is what your goal should be. Find readers (and other writers) that you connect with. This is a more organic relationship than selling something to someone, and it lasts longer. I can buy a car from a guy, but I won’t remember him years later. If I buy a piece of art from someone I know, you bet I’ll be back again later. It’s the difference between a transaction and a meaningful experience. It lasts. You’re welcome.
4) Old Goal: Improve Writing
New Goal: Write Crap
We all want to be better. At everything. All the time. But the truth is, improvement takes time, and perfection is an imaginary thing. So don’t work toward that. Work toward creating a giant pile of pages with stupid shit written on them. Make it big enough for a bonfire. I read a study that divided a pottery class into two groups. Group A had to make one perfect/amazing piece to get an A. Group B had to make a number of pieces that would weigh a certain amount altogether. Who made the better work? Group B, of course. They weren’t concerned with quality, so they just kept at it, practicing more and more and more, all semester long. They weren’t getting in their own way, and as a result, naturally improved. Not every piece was amazing, but Babe Ruth didn’t hit a home run every time he was at bat. You won’t either, but the more you play, the more you’ll run the bases. You’re welcome.
5) Old Goal: Write Something Important
New Goal: Scare Myself.
Nothing good is ever easy, and vice versa. Writing something important or profound isn’t easy, and making an effort to do so is often unsuccessful. Instead of trying to be important, be real. Write something that delves deep into who you are and what you believe. Write about things that are deeply personal. Write something raw. I once wrote a piece about a homophobic character. It was excruciatingly difficult since I would never say the things this character said. But, at the end of it, I had written something that mattered to me, something that exposed a certain pity for those who hate. It was terrifying to read the words I had written for this character. This, of course, was a few drafts in, and this draft captured the essence of the story more fully than the previous drafts when I hadn’t wanted to ‘go there.’ Go there. At the very least, you will have written something that is important to you. You’re welcome.
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