The Viewer’s Perspective: Finding the Freedom to Laugh at Life

When my friend told me my life was material for a 4-star sitcom, I couldn’t decide whether that was flattering or insulting.

“I would watch that show,” he said emphatically. “It sure would be better than some of the stuff out there.”

On the upside, that meant my life’s recent events were interesting. On the downside, it meant they were also somewhat melodramatic—unfortunately something I had no control over at the time.

Can you relate?

Some people go through life actively creating drama wherever they turn. Others wish something dramatic would happen to them. Others try to avoid the drama. And still others sit back and laugh.

While I won’t get into the details of the scenario to which my friend referred, suffice to say it had caused quite the social upset among some people close to me. It made me realize that the reason some sitcoms thrive isn’t because they’re far-fetched, but because they could happen to any of us—even those of us who try to eschew life drama with every fiber of our being.

What I learned was that, while I love a good televised or written drama, those types of events are actually quite painful in reality. We might empathize with the characters in the story, but at the end of the day, it is still entertainment. We are still being entertained by their fictitious tragedies and triumphs. So what happens when we are suddenly the characters in a live soap opera? Does the scenario lose its charm?

Usually. That is, for most of us.

The intrigue of two real-life colleagues trying to one-up each other becomes too stressful.

The drama of a real-life family dividing against itself becomes too painful.

The tension of a real-life love triangle becomes too agonizing.

The repeated rejection of the real-life underdog becomes too disheartening.

All of these elements work their way into film, and yet they are no fun to live out in real life. It’s because they involve real people with real decisions and feelings, whose lives only get one draft—no rewrites if the script goes awry.

That being said, I think there are times when we would benefit from taking ourselves a little less seriously.

There are some moments I remember having during the aforementioned life saga which, although excruciating at the time, I can look back now with a laugh. Conversations that literally sounded like a script. Moments when I knew that the imaginary audience of my life was gasping in shock, pity, or chagrin. Moments when I knew the same imaginary audience was rolling in the aisles with laughter at the irony of my predicaments. While it didn’t make any of those moments easier, the days, weeks, months, and years that followed gave me a clearer perspective (as time usually does) on what had actually happened and how significant or insignificant those events really were.

In short, time gave me the “viewer’s perspective.”

Much of what happened would have been laughable if it didn’t happen to me.

Now, I’m not talking about truly traumatic events or life-and-death situations. Those are not laughable, no matter whom they happen to. I’m talking about the dramatic episodes we sometimes find ourselves in, which seem like the most monumental crises at the time, but which pass and leave us wiser in the end. I’m talking about the stuff of, well, sitcoms.

Every one of us has memories that we would prefer to forget because they were either too stressful, embarrassing, awkward, or bewildering.

It’s all just part of being human. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we won’t forget—and sometimes, if we do forget, we are missing out on prime comedic material. Part of healing can mean learning to take something less seriously—learning to recognize it as absurd or ironic and, instead of languishing over it, laugh at it. If we can separate ourselves from the emotions of the situation enough to look at it from the viewer’s perspective, we might just be able to appreciate some of the humor woven into our tumultuous little narratives.

Maybe it’s a part of maturing. Or maybe it’s just called making the most of a real-life melodrama.

What’s your take?

No need to share embarrassing stories (although they are definitely welcome)… but what are some ways you’ve coped with the drama of life?

Are you the type of person who creates the drama? (Which raises the question of whether drama queens ever know they are drama queens…)

Are you the type to flee drama and dramatic people? Are you an unwilling victim of drama?

Or are you perhaps the invisible audience laughing at everyone else’s drama???

Networking: Making Friends in all Places

You can’t grow up today without having the importance of “networking” drilled into you.

We’ve all heard the adages:

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

“You scratch their back, and they scratch yours.”

“It helps to have friends in high places.”

Now all of the above are true—I’m not here to question that. What I find a bit disturbing, though, is the degree to which this last adage has narrowed our concept of who is worth our time.

In an age and country where artists, writers, businesspeople, and politicians have unprecedented opportunities to climb the ladder, the sociological concept of “networking” can become incredibly self-serving.

We are trained in school, by our parents, by our superiors, and by the media to always be on the lookout for strategic contacts and make sure to latch on when we find them. Who knows? Maybe the person sitting across from you can pull the strings to get you that job. Or that promotion. Or that publishing contract. Or that audition. Or… or…

You get the idea.

But what I find sad about this mindset is that it often leads us to either make compromises that we shouldn’t make or miss out on something entirely:

1) If we are always focused on meeting and pleasing the powerful people, that leaves us little room to be ourselves.

This is beyond peer pressure—it’s superior pressure. It’s when we find ourselves pretending to be something we’re not in order to make a good impression. It’s when we bend our moral code a little to satisfy someone else’s expectations. We can catch ourselves doing this sooner than we may think, if we believe people “in power” hold all the cards.

In short, if we accept the idea that gatekeepers hold the key to all of our success, we may end up chasing our tails or selling out on who we are. Not to mention, we will miss out other connections that may actually prove more meaningful.

2) If we limit our network to people who we think can give us something, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of shallow, utilitarian relationships.

While it’s great when you can get in front of decision makers, most people we meet are not “the decision makers.” Does this mean we should simply ignore them or limit our circle to individuals who can put us in front of decision makers?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think there is a danger in trying to quantify the amount of “value” any given connection can give us, because that means we are reducing other humans to economic terms of profit and loss. If we find ourselves asking, “Is this person worth getting to know?” we are in dangerous waters. How can we possibly know that until we know the person? And what’s more, who are we to measure the value of a new acquaintance by what they can do for us? If that’s the question we are asking, we’re bound to wind up with a bunch of parasitic relationships—symbiotic at best. And if mutual dependence is the main motivator, then as soon as one person no longer needs the other, the bridge will probably dissolve.

This is not to say networking is inherently selfish—it’s not the activity that’s selfish, it’s the mindset behind it.

If we are only looking for friends in high places, we will probably not have very many friends, and even fewer loyal ones.

Which is why I would encourage all of us writers, artists, and career folks to make friends in all places, not just the high ones. Because at the end of the day, real friendships and meaningful connections have very little to do with power and rank disparity and everything to do with what two people share in common.

What has been your experience with networking?

What kinds of pressures have you faced in the process?

How do you go about building meaningful connections that are also strategic?

The Story behind the Story

Recently a contact from my alma mater reached out to interview me about The Exile, my first published novel.

Fellow Hillsdale College alumna Gianna Marchese, the Editor in Chief of the Student Stories Blog and the college’s Social Media Coordinator, took the time to ask the following questions. You can find her full article here.

“Tell us about how this novel came to be. Where did you find your inspiration?”

“As with most stories, The Exile evolved quite a bit since its inception—which is really for the best, considering I started it when I was fourteen. I remember getting the initial idea for a “princess story” as I read C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, simply because I have always found books and films set in far-away, historical cultures fascinating—and again, I was fourteen, so of course, princesses.

“I had actually created a whole mythical world of my own, in whose setting I had been writing little 5-10 page detailed synopses of tales and folklore over the past several years. The Exile began as one such synopsis, told mainly from the perspective of the princess, Clare. But as the story developed and the synopsis ran into 12 pages and beyond, I found myself more intrigued with the character of Clare’s foil, the warrior and ex-slave, Delta. Long after finishing the synopsis, I remained haunted by Delta’s character and the pair’s dynamic. So I decided to start a novel, narrated by Delta, to see where it went.”

“Walk us through your creative process. How did the princess-story-inspired-by-C.S. Lewis evolve into The Exile as we know it now?”

“Over the next four years, what started as a princess story turned into something I still struggle to categorize: an adventure story in which two individuals’ simultaneous diametrical opposition toward each other and need for each other forges a blend of annoyance, respect, and loyalty. While my understanding of both characters deepened throughout the process, the most “sweat” I put into the book was the research. Transforming a mythical world into an actual historical backdrop is no picnic, but because of the obscurity of the time frame, most of my research focused on the details of medieval life and Scandinavian clans. The names of the clans and the cities are all fictitious; however, most of them are taken from Old Norse.

“In general, my stories and scripts begin with three elements of inspiration: a central personality, a relationship, and some tension. This creates what I call “the situation” (shocker, I know), and from there I ask three basic questions:

  1. Who are these people (to the reader and to each other)?
  2. How did they get here?
  3. Where are they going and why?

The rest of the story is basically a progressive answer to all of these questions.”

“Do you think your Hillsdale education set you up for success in this field?”

“My experiences in the Rhetoric and Theatre departments left an enormous impact on my storytelling… we were always examining the multi-faceted, organic nature of every interaction, as well as the fundamental roles of word choice and arrangement of content in giving a written work its meaning. On top of that, learning about induction and deduction gave me a fuller perspective on the different approaches to plot and character development, and why certain stories require one approach instead of the other. Writing, casting, and actually stage-reading scripts for… playwriting classes gave me a chance to incorporate my rhetorical training into dialogue. I now look at every exchange between characters as a game of verbal chess, in which each has their own motives, strategies, and tactics.”

If you are a fellow writer, what steps do you include in your creative process?

Where do your ideas usually begin and how do you go about shaping them into a story?

What specific obstacles do you frequently encounter and how do you move past them?

Hatfields, McCoys, and Mental Issues

For all the attention that political and social issues receive in historical dramas, it seems mental issues are rarely addressed.

That being said, when I started the History Channel miniseries “Hatfields and McCoys,” I had no inkling that this topic would even surface—and was wholly unprepared for what followed.

The series itself features Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton opposite one another as the respective patriarchs of the two families (Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy) whose notorious conflict came to define our understanding of the term “feud.” As I became increasingly captivated with the complexities and plot twists, I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, I’m sure the directors added that to make it more interesting.” Parts like the forbidden love story between Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy. Some of the familial ties to judges and lawyers. Even some of the characters, who I had assumed were fictional additions, were real people with real roles in the feud.

In short, my subsequent research showed me that the History Channel did a certain amount of justice to the actual events and players in the legendary feud.

But the part that I found most emotionally difficult to watch was the portrayal of Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts, a member of the Hatfield family with some apparent mental challenges.

Against the vicious backdrop of the feud, Cottontop appears as one of the few gentle, innocent souls in the narrative. Because of his slowness and childish naivete, he remains blissfully ignorant of the bloodshed between the families until his father (Anse’s brother) is murdered. In all honesty, he was the character I cared about most, largely because of my own inherent sensitivity toward individuals with mental disabilities, but also because of how much time the directors spend framing him as a lamb-like victim—who is eventually sacrificed to end the feud.

During the series, we see Cottontop as the brunt of insults and pranks from non-family members, who condescend on him for his lower intellectual capacity.

Today, we would call this bullying, discrimination, slurring, and a host of other unsavory titles that label such actions for what they are: cruelty.

But in the 19th century boondocks, such things were common, as there was little scientific understanding of mental retardation and disabilities. 

All the same, I had to wonder: was this element of the story added for dramatic effect, or was it historically accurate? The answers I found were somewhat unsatisfactory.

While it appears Cottontop did have mental struggles, accounts vary as to whether he suffered from simply mental challenges or a more malicious form of mental illness.

The History Channel’s background publication on the feud reiterates that Cottontop was in fact mentally retarded, but they do not address in writing whether he was as innocent as his portrayal. Considering that he was hung for murdering a young McCoy girl (which the series portrays as basically an accident), a lot of ethical weight for his character hinges on whether he intended harm or was truly as oblivious as the series suggests.

What I found has some heavy ethical implications for how society treats those with mental disabilities.

According to William Keith Haltfield, a modern-day descendant of Anse Hatfield, Cottontop’s slowness led to a level of social ostracization, leaving him desperate to please his family at any cost. Some have posited that his life record indicates a darker, cruel streak that characterizes those whom we would call mentally deranged. But William Keith Hatfield attributes Cottontop’s overall disregard for his actions to an insecurity and desire for acceptance, commenting,He never really considered the people he hurt or the pain he might cause others.”

Which is still a step above his family, who consciously worked to inflict harm and vengeance.

Even though Cottontop’s innocence and obliviousness was likely embellished for dramatic effect, I still find his involvement in the feud one of the saddest, most disturbing parts of the whole story. Regardless of the degree to which he experienced mental challenges or illness, the History Channel series does an effective job of capturing the contagiousness and tragedy of violent revenge. And I think it’s a reminder of the fact that, although everyone is responsible for the choices they make, we have to be mindful of how society influences those who are more mentally vulnerable.

Does withholding of social acceptance drive outcasts to desperate measures? Sometimes.

Does condescension on those with specific challenges lead them to de-value themselves? Sometimes.

But at the end of the day, there is still individual responsibility. Social pressure does not relieve people of their personal accountability. And yet the way we handle people who are vulnerable can play a huge role in their life trajectory—and it can either exculpate us from their poor choices, or incriminate us for exploiting them.

And that is something that holds true in every generation and culture.

The Secret Recipe to Great Blog Posts: what the experts never told you

WARNING: If you have no palate for satire, read no further.

What you are about to read is a collection of the four unspoken, yet ubiquitous, components that are essential for writing unrivaled, mind-blowing posts.

As someone who has been blogging for a little under a year, I wish the experts had told me this sooner.

Yet, as I scoured and studied the habits of the Greats (meaning those who have thousands of followers), I began to recognize several common factors underlying many.

These Greats trumpet the merits of well-known and oft-proclaimed strategies such as writing solid content, planning, revising, and citing other bloggers. But the dirty little secret ultimately responsible for their success far outweighs these pedestrian practices: it is the four objects subliminally present in every idyllic blogger photo.

For my readers’ benefit, I shall identify each of these four mystical objects, without which one can never hope to write a truly great blog post.

Glean what wisdom you may.

1) The coffee mug.

If you don’t have a mug sitting within reach when you begin writing, you may as well give up.

No great work was ever written without the presence of coffee, tea, or some other fluid poured into a cozy-looking mug (preferably cradled in a saucer). Research has yet to prove whether the actual fluid itself is of any importance—so far all that can be verified is the positive correlation between aesthetic drinks and content quality. Those seeking exceptional posts should consider swirling some white, creamy substance into the surface of their drink to enhance its beauty and subsequently their own brilliance.

2) The MacBook.

No one with a non-Mac laptop can advance beyond amateur status.

To purchase any other brand is folly; to use said device for blogging is creative suicide. Only the MacBook, with its slender, silver body and minimalistic keys can fully transmit your message to the screen. While the magic of the Mac is not an ability to conjure ideas (coffee mugs and Components 3 and 4 do that), its inherent powers of Chic infuse raw ideas with unequaled, hipster-level eloquence and efficiency. 

3) The pen and notebook.

These appear frequently beside the obligatory coffee mug, furthest from the MacBook itself (although the precise location is not known to impact their effect).

Whether or not you use said pen and notebook is irrelevant—the key is simply to keep them within reach, as these objects are known to channel the elusive forces of creativity. Their necessity is actually rather controversial, considering that their wanton use of paper has been decried as wasteful; however, this social ill can easily be remedied by the perpetual reuse of a single, blank notebook for every blog post.

4) The succulent.

Of all the critical ingredients for great blog posts, this object holds the most mystique.

When the succulent emerged as a commonly photographed blogging asset is difficult to pinpoint—however, it likely took place in conjunction with the rise of the MacBook. The specific power of the succulent remains relatively unidentified, unlike its three counterparts, whose influences boast extensive scientific verification. What has been discovered, however, is that bloggers whose photos feature only the first three objects experience less predictable success than those who regularly incorporate a succulent into their photos. The location of the succulent, unlike that of the notebook, does seem to bear some significance.

As a symbol of sophistication, the succulent’s success-inducing powers seem to thrive most when positioned subtly in the photo, rather than prominently.

This could mean applying a selective focus to the camera lens and placing the succulent in the unfocused zone, or one could simply sneak the succulent into the background (e.g. partially hidden by the MacBook). Consistent with the theme of subtlety, it is also recommended to choose a small succulent, lest it unwittingly attract too much attention and sabotage the creative forces it helps to summon.

END SATIRE

I have compiled these four blogging gimmicks both for a laugh and for a point I think is worth making: When we take all of our cues from what other people do, we often become followers of a fad. I have actually learned a good deal from following certain other bloggers (who truly do put out great content), and what makes them great isn’t their conformity to a specific aesthetic, vibe, or trend.

Moushmi Radhanpara writes heartfelt poetry, among other things. Pooja shares a combination of her thoughts, poetry, and six-word stories. Ailish Sinclair posts gorgeous photos of Scotland with sneak-peeks at her historical fiction novels. Kamal offers poetic analogies and insights into otherwise mundane aspects of life. The list goes on.

I hope you enjoyed reading this little snarky entry as much as I enjoyed writing it. And more importantly, I hope you continue to create according to your own gifts, interests, and “aesthetics”—not someone else’s idea of what the idyllic blog looks like. 🙂

Drop a comment and let me know if you’ve noticed other blogging gimmicks! Or if you simply agree with this list.

Or… if you yourself have identified the mysterious power of The Succulent.

When We are History

Today I was caught in a hailstorm.

Well, not by the time you read this—the storm happened on April 7.

And obviously I survived it. In fact, within two minutes of making it in through the back door, I looked out the window and saw that the pebble-sized chunks falling had turned to rain, and those on the ground were quickly dissolving.

I’ll probably remember the incident for a while, until the next time the sky decides to throw ice at me, and then that will be “the hail storm” I remember.

It’s similar with history.

People say every generation is known for something. That may be true, but what was your grandparents’ generation known for? Or their parents? Or the generation before them?

Every generation may be known for something at the time, but not every generation is remembered.

Even the greatest generations have a way of dissolving with time, leaving only a few key political or cultural figures in the contemporary memory.

Some people find this disturbing—even frightening—and so they spend their entire lives striving to do something that will leave them a legacy.

The thing is, unless you manage to overthrow an entire political or social system, start a cultural movement (which everyone seems dying to do these days, so please let’s have no more), win (or start) a war, or create some physical or literary masterpiece, your chances of being remembered past your grandchildren’s generation are pretty slim. And yet we still try.

Why do we do this?

Some simply want to achieve fame, little realizing that a window of glory in their lifetime does not translate to lasting renown and notoriety. Others think they can become immortal by cementing their names in the history books. And in most cases, the underlying motivation for wanting to be remembered is quite selfish.

As someone who has long romanticized the idea of creating a work that will outlive me, I’ve given this subject some hard thought, and this is the realization I’ve come to:

The greatest legacy most of us will have is the impact we left on those around us.

Not on unreached generations, who will one day read with fascination the words we wrote or behold in awe a statue of us. But the people who see us every day, who call us every other month, who ask for our advice and give theirs in return, or even those who receive one kind gesture from us—those are the people who constitute our legacy. Oh yeah, and your children are also kind of significant too. They are the people singularly most shaped by your words, actions, and attitudes, who will inevitably bear some of your characteristics into the future.

This doesn’t mean the world will remember our name, but if we can think beyond ourselves in any capacity, we should realize that our name is not the important thing to remember. It’s what we stand for that counts.

That being said, there are brilliant novelists whose personal lives shot their story’s message in the foot– at least for those who knew them. They may have publicly championed great causes and beliefs in their books, but in some cases the only people who could appreciate the book were those who didn’t know the author. That, fellow readers and book nerds, is a tragedy.

 So even if we do go on to achieve some master accomplishment that makes the history books, we should take care that our private legacy doesn’t undermine the one we’ve spent a lifetime trying to build.

But for most of us, our names will be forgotten with time. So let’s spend less of of our time building an empire, and more of it building into others.

The Reluctant Screen-Writer

Whether we like it or not, most of us today are screen-writers.

Not that we all compose scripts, no, not that kind of writing. What I’m talking about is the fact that, regardless of what medium we are writing for, we have been compelled to do it through a screen.

Personal diaries aside, I would bet that the vast majority of creative writing that happens nowadays begins on a screen.

There’s a number of reasons why this makes sense.

1) The necessity of revision makes the use of computers more practical.

Simply put, it’s much easier to edit a virtual document using “copy,” “paste,” and “backspace” functions than it is to scribble out, erase, and rewrite entire paragraphs on a physical sheet of paper. Not to mention, it will save you from all the paper-shaming you’ll get from the green culture for wasting trees!

2) Using a computer is actually a shortcut.

Starting your creation in virtual form also saves the step of typing it up later, which is inevitable for those who want to publish. (Side note: my first novel started off as handwritten. In pencil. Yup. Needless to say, transcribing 250 pages into a Word doc was no picnic.)

That said, though, there is a substantial amount of science that suggests the act of using a screen can actually decrease our brain’s creativity.

Does this mean that starting your story or article on a computer is shooting yourself in the foot? Well, the research (as usual) is not complete on this, but it shows some pretty consistently adverse effects on the brain development of children. The lack of research on adults could mean that, scientifically speaking, using a screen to write doesn’t inherently cripple the quality of your work.

All the same, I find myself increasingly frustrated with the amount of time I am forced to stare at a screen. Aside from the headaches and eye strain, I find it difficult to get “in the zone” for any given story when my stare is fixated on a glaring white screen. It seems to tangibly impair my imagination and ability to visualize scenes and settings—especially those in historical time periods.

While some things may not require the same level of sensory immersion or focus in order to get the creative juices flowing, I do wonder how much of writers’ block these days may be because the very tool we are using to write impedes our ability to imagine.

Is this the case for you? Do you find creative writing difficult while using a screen and keyboard?

Do you ever handwrite first drafts of something, and later transcribe it during the editing process?

If you yourself write historical fiction, how do you handle the distraction of a screen? How you mentally overcome the deluge of technology in order to stay in the zone? Please do share your thoughts on this, I am extremely eager for input!

A Curious Perspective on Coronavirus

“What is going to happen?”

“How will this virus affect the economy?”

“How many people will die?”

These are the questions we are deluged by on every side during this pandemic.

Countless mavens and prophets are spouting off their opinions and predictions via every imaginable outlet. They may be right, they may not. Some may be way more off than others, but we’re all stuck with the same desire to know what’s coming.

I’m not here to make any kind of prediction. First of all, I’m not qualified, and second, I don’t think there’s anything to contribute at this point.

What good can a blog centered on stories offer people who are simply craving answers?

The world of storytelling rarely gives answers—but it always offers a perspective.

While there are usually better analogies to draw from literature, the closest one I can think of for the present situation is this:

We have to keep turning the pages, whether we want to or not—and there is no “skipping to the end.”

Plenty of people are afraid, because they have seen what this virus can do. They’ve experienced firsthand either the loss of a loved one or the effects of the illness itself, and there is pain in that.

Others, though, are afraid because of the unknown.

At this point, most of us have not yet experienced personal loss or illness from COVID-19, and yet mass panic seems to have taken hold of our country. (Why else does the toilet paper keep vanishing from the shelves???)

The analogy breaks down, of course, because we each have a role to play that can either alleviate or exacerbate the spread of this sickness—unlike a reader, who has no influence over the story itself. In this sense, we are more like characters than readers. But we also have our limits. We cannot single-handedly master the situation and establish control over it. Things will take their course, and we can neither foresee nor fix the future before it happens.

But again, like a story, the past, present, and future all have an author who has foreseen and mastered the entire plot.

An author who is not surprised by any of this. Is this comforting?

The fact is, this really can’t be of any comfort to us unless we personally know and have confidence in the author. Have you ever persevered through a book because you’ve come to have high expectations of its author? Because you trust his ability to bring the loose ends together?

It still doesn’t show us the future. It still doesn’t give us our answers.

But maybe that’s because we are asking the wrong questions.

So I ask you:

How well do you know the Author?

A Writer's List of Virtues

Everyone has a theory of what it takes to be a successful writer.

That’s all well and good, but first we have to define “success,” don’t we?

I mean, one person may churn out melodramatic teenage vampire novels, while another compiles decades of life experience into one heartfelt story. Two very different ideas of success.

But I’m not going to propose a step-by-step formula for how to become a “successful” writer of any kind. Frankly, we should be skeptical of those who do. What I do want to share are three virtues that every writer must possess and practice in order to stick through the publication process and be rightfully proud of the outcome (be sure to check out my video on this too):

Passion.

If you don’t care about what you’re writing… then why are you writing it?

Well, some people write because they are passionately proud of themselves first and foremost, and they want everyone else to think they’re great too.

Here’s the kicker: unless your passion centers on something bigger than yourself, no one else is going to find the book worth reading. Or the poem. Or the song! Not that we shouldn’t let our personal experiences inform our writing (we absolutely should), but our motivation to write needs to come from a belief primarily in the story itself—not in ourselves.

If we write because we like to read our own words, it’s like talking simply to hear your own voice—and the readers won’t be able to hear the characters’ voices over the sound of ours.

There is a place for believing in your writing ability, but first you must believe in your characters, or there will be nothing interesting for those reading the book. (See my post on developing compelling characters.)

Patience.

While it is important to write regularly, we must never be in a rush toward publication.

Stories and characters take time to develop and mature, just like us and our writing skills. This is one reason why revision is so crucial. Not only will you catch mistakes in the manuscript, but by the time you finish the first draft, you will no doubt have sharpened your word choice, flow, and character voices. It’s worth going back and making sure the first half sounds as good as the second. And when it comes to publication, whether you go through traditional or self-publishing, TAKE YOUR TIME.

In talking with one of my fellow novelists, Brendan Noble, author of the Prism Files series, it’s refreshing to hear another self-published writer who believes in thoroughness first. It’s exciting to see his series taking off—and not at the expense of the quality. Like many things, I think it comes down to a fundamental understanding of love. Do you love your story and its characters enough to help them reach their best? If submitting to publishers, do you believe in the book enough to keep sending query after query after query after query (think I’ve done this?) until finally someone takes it? Or if no one ever does take it, do you believe in the story enough to publish it without the help of the professionals? Either way, give it every ounce of the time and effort it deserves.

Humility.

You probably expected the third virtue to be “pride” or something similar. Nope.

The only kind of necessary pride in this context is passion for the story, and the eventual satisfaction over a job well-done.

All other forms of pride can get in the way when crafting the manuscript into a masterpiece. We absolutely have to be able to take and actually seek out criticism. (See my post on revision.) I remember holding an audience feedback session after the debut staged reading of my latest play… and some of those comments stung. But you know what?

The audience was right. The script I thought was pretty near perfect had a long way to go yet, and it ended up undergoing three extensive rewrites before it was production-ready.

I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we enjoy criticism, but most people don’t like open heart surgery either.

And yet it saves lives. The fact is, every first manuscript just about needs open heart surgery before it’s ready for publication. So at least we know it’s nothing personal!

Do you agree with this list of virtues for writers? Which ones did I miss?

What are some things you’ve learned throughout your own writing process?

Perfectionism and Publishing

If any writer knows that revision is necessary, then he also knows the final product will be imperfect.

“Final” draft does not mean “perfect” draft.

This becomes especially (nay, painfully) clear when you see one of your works in print.

Take it from me—I published a novel last summer, later to find that there were several errors in the printed manuscript. While I still believe self-publishing was the best choice for this particular novel, I learned first-hand the value of multiple editing rounds and critical eyes.

Part of me winced when I found these. I’d given it countless pre-publication read-throughs. How could I have missed these mistakes?

I have to admit, it’s humbling to share this publicly. And it doesn’t mean I’m not proud of my book—I still am, and thankfully I’ve been able to update the manuscript with the necessary edits.

But the reason I share this is because I think it’s important for us writers to get comfortable with our own imperfection without using that as an excuse for laziness.

(See my post on revision for more.)

Having known the excitement tainted by surprise as I paged through my first published novel, I understand on a whole new level the value of extensive (astronomically extensive) editing. But I also understand that the world didn’t end because there were a few typos. People still liked the book. The characters still had their own voices. The professionalism of the book, however, could have benefited from more close read-throughs.

And happily, I can now say that it has!

While perfectionism may not be the struggle of every writer, it’s worth reminding ourselves that as long as we are imperfect, our creations are going to be imperfect as well.

And that’s okay!

While we shouldn’t let the fear of failure stop us from stepping out, we also shouldn’t use our natural flaws as a free pass from hard work. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that our best two years from now will be better than our best today—if we go all-in every time and commit to improving at each chance we get.

In what ways have you dealt with perfectionism in your work? Do you think it usually helps you or hinders you?

If you’re a writer, what have you learned from the process of “rough draft to final draft?” What motivates you to try again when something doesn’t turn out as planned?