I came to Texas in 1998 with the intention of teaching Christian students how to write. Since that day, I have found joy in the occasional (read: rare) students who has a burden to write, get published, and most importantly, grow as a writer.
I tell my students that writers never stop being students. Actually, I tell my students a lot of things, some of them repeated here on occasion. And as I teach, and write myself, I continue to learn.
One of the comments I made in class the other day reveals a truth that has come to me in the last few years. And that’s this: once you learn the rules, once you have mastered the tools of writing, it all becomes mind games.
I guess it gets back to why you write and what your expectations are. The bottom line, I believe, is that writers want to be read. Whether we become rich, or famous, is beside the point. But the whole point of writing is to be read by other people.
And that’s where the mind games come into play. What do I mean?
- Dealing with rejection. When I wrote my first book back in 1983, I completed the manuscript, printed it, wrote a cover letter, put it all in an envelope, addressed it, put stamps on it, sealed it, and promptly left it on my desk for the next two weeks. Why? I knew that if I never mailed it in, I would never be rejected. Rejection is like public speaking. Statistics show that more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. Our fear of rejection is that bad. If you are going to be a long-term writer, you have to learn how to deal with—and survive—rejection.
- Procrastination. I tell myself that I would be a much better—must more successful—writer if I would just spend more time in front of the keyboard tapping out stories. But I find all kinds of reasons not to work. And so I don’t get anywhere near the volume of work done that I would otherwise. I get a lot of writing done—compared to most people who don’t write—but compared to the pros, I am woefully behind. So that’s a mind game I haven’t found a solution for yet.
- Focus. It’s not enough to have time to get in front of the keyboard. You have to have vision. You have to see the scene in order to recreate it in your story—and in the mind of your reader. But when your life is filled with countless other responsibilities and worries and stresses, it’s hard to find that oasis of calm necessary to focus on the story. For me, it comes if I get up early. But with a full household, even that time is no longer sacred. So I struggle.
- Am I wasting my time? If they are honest, every writer has asked himself/herself that very question time and time again. The old saying goes, if you can do anything but write, do it. But if you can’t do anything else, if you find that writing is part of who you are, then no, you’re not wasting your time.
- Playing it safe versus taking risks. Last year I committed to trying to get out of the Adventist market with my writing (where I am sincerely comfortable) and explore both the CBA market and the secular market. My writing has never been mainstream Adventist to begin with. Now I am dealing with a whole new market, where I don’t know anyone. I have to meet new people and make new friends. Exciting? Frightening? All of the above? Stay tuned.
A friend of mine—Randy Maxwell—once said that, all excuses aside, if you are going to write, you would find a way. And he was right. Writers—real writers—find a way that works for them. I may not be working on my novel every day of my life. I may not be faithful in getting up at 5 every morning. But I do put words on paper. And that’s what counts.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s all about mind games. I have a running dialog with myself that is about three decades long. And as long as the dialog continues, I know that I haven’t given up.
Don’t give up.