By Brad R. Cook
As writers we chase lofty dreams, but sometimes those dreams warp into nightmares. This isn’t a post telling writers not to write, but rather a road map for what to avoid. There are roadblocks, pitfalls, people out to stop you, or deviate you from the path. Nightmares are tests of your resolve. Writing is not a profession for the weak. Writers take bold strides, and shine light into the darkest of places. Dreams push us to these heights and it is the Nightmares that try to stop us.
The first is the most common for new writers – never finishing the novel that resides in your heart. When asked what is the most difficult, the first line or the last, many say the first line. It is rewritten over and over trying to impress not only the reader, but agents, editors, and publishers. However, I would argue that even though the first line is difficult, just getting to last line can be the ultimate challenge. To pen the last line means you have written, plotted, and honed a story to its completion. Even if it never sells, or isn’t a hit novel, the fact that the last line is written is an accomplishment that many will never reach. So kudos. Hit the period and go celebrate.
The worst nightmare that a writer can face is plagiarism. It is the despicable black market of our business. Passing off someone work as their own isn’t just lazy; it robs someone’s soul, their voice, and their creativity for no other reason than laziness or greed. The saddest fact is that it usually isn’t necessary. A blog can be written in no time, passages can be rewritten for term papers, and movies can be adapted. Mirroring a favorite author’s style isn’t plagiarism, but taking the essence word for word, especially when it’s malicious should land them in a special ring of damnation, but too often this is solved with a cease and desist letter, and nothing more.
Rejections are something that every writer needs to deal with, they are the speed bumps of our careers, collecting enough of them usually leads to publication – but endless rejection wears on the writer, tears at their creativity, and in the end leads to a final killing of one’s muse and never writing again. Rejections are never about the author, they are about the work, but endless rejection strips that old adage layer by layer until only the writer’s fester wound remains.
It doesn’t change for the published author, either. Once the debut novel hits the shelf, the nightmare of the sophomore novel rears its ugly head. Capturing the magic once is hard enough, but now the author has to not replicate this success, but exceed it.
Reviews can be wonderful, and there are points to be learned from negative reviews – If all the reviews ay the novel lacks a strong opening, that probably means it does, but a negative review that only seeks to rip the author or the book for the sake of hating, does nothing but feed the flames of anger (on both sides). Reviews that attack the author, or are plain wrong about the book, do nothing but allow a few individuals to feel better about themselves, and end up as nothing more than the bullies of the publishing industry.
Nightmares don’t always have to be exterior forces, sometimes they are brought on by the writer they seek. The depression brought on by obsessing on rankings, reviews, stars, and comments can lead a writer straight into the mad house. These markers have come to define a writer’s career, they are important, but they lead many down a dark path of constant good reads checking, Google alerts that make one cringe, and a hatred of blogs and social media.
Pitfalls abound, they make writers deviate from what they should be doing which is focusing on their dreams and bringing them to fruition. Blogging, reviewing, volunteering, and so many more literary activities force one to write something other than their dream.
But the dream doesn’t have to warp into a nightmare. Distractions can be good, sometimes writing something else helps keep the dream fresh, preventing it from souring. Blogging gets an author out of their comfort zone which can inspire creativity, reviewers can learn what works well for other authors and emulate it (not steal it), and obsessing over rankings and reviews can show the improvements that need to be made, not to mention it is important to know.
Strike the right balance and all things in moderation. Remember to devote time to your dream – even if it’s only once a week – a book isn’t written in a sprint (that’s flash fiction). Books are marathons, so every little bit pushes the author closer to finishing the dream. Knowing the pitfalls are there and knowing how to avoid them are the keys to success. So never stop dreaming and always remember that nightmares are only terrifying until you wake up.
Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy writer and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit www.bradrcook.com or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook