I did a post the other day on the RMFW blog, about authors being competitive with each other, and why they shouldn’t succumb to that BS.
A flock of evening grosbeaks came through and hit our feeder hard for a couple of hours at the beginning of March. (Sorry – it’s been a busy month.) They descended like a brilliant yellow cloud, here and gone again, the proverbial ray of sunshine.
I grew up in a suburban housing development where most of the summer activities revolved around the pool. Many of my childhood memories involve long hot days – or chilly days, seeing as how it was Denver – swimming and splashing around. We created tricks to learn, like holding breath and doing handstands or consecutive summersaults with inflatable balls as the pivot.
For holidays and special events, the adults organized competitions. One year, for 4th of July, they lined up all the kids on the edges of the pool. Glittering on the bottom, were coins, all denominations, some real money, some tokens for prizes. When the whistle blew, we were to dive in and grab what we could.
You can imagine the chaos.
The water was icy cold and, though, I could dive down, it was difficult to resurface with so many kids in the pool. Flailing limbs hit me in the face. Water went up my nose. Scrambling hands seized the coins before I could reach them. I felt like I was drowning.
When I think about competition, this is the kind of visceral response I get. My heart strains, my chest clutches. I’m drowning again. Just to grab some quarters.
Today they’re announcing the finalists for the RITA and Golden Heart awards. The phone calls are going out this morning, rolling out to the east coast folks first and following the sun across the country. And yes, Sapphire could maybe be a finalist.
There are good reasons why it likely won’t be. Strongly erotic novels usually don’t final. I’m not sure one ever has. And the finalists already listed are BIG NAME authors. Nora Roberts is up there for one of her J.D. Robb novellas – a series that continues to be my favorite – so for Sapphire to final would be like a newbie actress being nominated for an Oscar along with Meryl Streep.
Or like me trying to grab that dollar coin from the bigger boys.
So, I really try not to dive in. I try to save my swimming for another day, when it’s all about the fun and not about striving for prizes. I realize this makes me the too-skinny girl sitting on the side of the pool. There are other ways to get shiny dollar coins.
For example, last week this gal tagged me on Twitter about a blog post she’d written. She discussed the phenomenon of the self published, formerly Twilight fan-fic BDSM book Fifty Shades of Grey. She also recommended two of my books – Petals and Thorns and Sapphire – instead.
Better than a shiny coin any day.
And I didn’t even have to half-drown for it.
Good luck, everyone!
So, when I was in high school, I was on the Speech & Debate team. Yeah, I know – but you all already knew I was a nerd. But hey! I lettered in speech. Got my green and gold O. Of course, I had no jacket to sew it onto, so I stuck it on my bulletin board with the Octagon Club awards and horse-show ribbons and did I mention I was kind of a nerd?
At any rate, I competed mainly in dramatic interpretation of drama and poetry, plus a memorable stint in duet acting. Overall I did okay. I qualified for the state competitions a few times, but never the national ones. One of the things I noticed, though, was that I was absolutely incapable of knowing when I’d done well in a round. Usually we’d compete in three rounds of 5-6 people, then, if we did well enough, advance to semi-finals and finals. Inevitably, when I thought I’d done badly, I’d won. And when I thought I was great, I’d actually bombed out.
I have no idea still, why this is.
But I’m noticing it with writing, too. Blog posts give pretty much instant feedback, compared to other kinds of writing. Often when I think I’ve posted something clever or interesting, I’ll get bupkis response. And frequently the posts that I fear are muddy, or when I’ve maybe ranted or whined excessively, end up being the most popular and passed around.
I’m seeing it with the stories, too, some. Petals and Thorns was loved in a way that Feeding the Vampire wasn’t as much. Early responses to Sapphire are different than I expected. Not bad – just different. I’ve heard other authors mention this, that sometimes the books they love languish and some of the less-heartfelt books end up selling spectacularly well.
Clearly there’s just no saying.
In speech, I used to try to predict given the reverse logic, but that was never a sure thing either. Sometimes I knew a bomb for what it was. Sometimes I nailed the round and felt it.
This is why I believe in editors.
When I was starting out as a writer, my friends and I noticed the tail-sniffing right away. We were fresh and shiny-enthusiastic, delighted with ourselves, our work and thrilled that other people read what we wrote and talked about it. What had been a hidden desire became public identification. It was a giddy time, full of possibilities.
It soon became apparent, however, that some writers worry more about their position in the pack.
What do you write? is how they evaluate you. Really they want to know how prestigiously you’ve published. It’s not about the money; it’s about the attention. Unfortunately, this kind of professional jealousy just never quite goes away. Someone gets a great publishing contract, then worries that someone else is getting a better deal. You start out as shiny-enthusiastic friends and, after a few years go by, that bonding built on possibilities wears down under the weight of reality. After, we can’t all be the queen-diva. So the friendships fall away.
Some do, anyway.
What’s funny is, I don’t see seminars on dealing with professional jealousy in, say, environmental consulting. Or banking. Or software development. I think this is because those aren’t attention-based fields. The currency is money, not acquiring fans.
The thing is: I don’t think writing should be attention-based either.
So, how do you avoid professional jealousy? Start at home. Here are some rules I’m making for myself.
1) People who read my books are readers, not fans. Fan is from fanatic, which is “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.” That doesn’t say reading to me.
2) I wanted to become a writer because I thought that would be an ideal way to make a living. I can tell stories and be paid for it. If I wanted to be a celebrity, I could have chosen another career.
3) The writing isn’t about me. It’s about the story. If it becomes about me, I’m doing something wrong.
4) Jealousy is a sign of insecurity. If I feel jealous about someone else’s deal, editor, agent, etc., I need to look at myself and at why I’m feeling insecure.
5) Focus on controlling the things I can. I can control what and how much I write. I can make it the best I can. Pretty much everything else is up to the winds and how they blow. There’s a freedom in that, if I let it be.
I’m working on more rules, but what about you all? Any more to offer?
Now I’m in Philadelphia for a few days. The buildings are pretty. I imagine pictures of them will be forthcoming.
It’s always interesting to me to be on the east coast, especially down around the D.C. area. At least I notice it more there than in cities like Philadelphia. The competitiveness. Most of it from the white men.
I know, I know. I’m not supposed to say stuff like that.
But it’s like they’re all still shooting for herd buck. They talk about power. They play little mind games of withholding information and discuss retirement salaries like they’re analogous to another, more intimate masculine part. When I wonder about D.C. politics, I should remember these men, for whom the stock market is everything and their personal wealth takes precedence.
On Saturday, I took a walk on the beach after lunch. The fog kept everything soft and shimmery grey. I wore a sundress and walked barefooted in the surf, carrying my sandals. As I climbed the steps to the hotel deck, a woman bundled up in sweatshirts, with a little dog on her lap, asked me how it was out there, if it was cold.
I said no, It’s warm. It’s lovely. And I laughed, for the loveliness of it all.
And the guy next to her nodded and said, Yeah, see? That’s why I make sure never to laugh.
I realized he meant that I’d blown my lie by laughing. I contemplated the levels of that as I walked up to my room. That he thought I’d want to lie about such a thing. That laughter is a sign of weakness. And that he thinks about these things, even sitting on a hotel deck watching the surf, that you must govern your responses, in order to win interactions between people.
It exhausts me to contemplate it, frankly.
It would be interesting though, to have a character who makes sure never to laugh, who thinks this way.
Who loses all his money and ends up working as a clown in a three-penny circus.
Bwah ha ha ha ha!
This is not how Baltimore looks this morning. No, Baltimore is moist and grey. I can’t see the rain, but people are going by with umbrellas. I’m missing my Santa Fe blue skies.
(Yeah, okay, we had a couple weeks of not so blue – here’s my photo contrasting with the same flowers against a stormy sky from a few days ago.)
So, as long-time blog-gobblers know, I’ve been a proponent of the 1K/day. It worked for me to try to write 1,000 words each day, which I do before I start the day job. On Twitter, someone started the #1K1hr, where write either 1,000 words or for an hour, whichever comes first. That’s kind of fun to do, because groups of people sprint together. However, I find that the time pressure interferes and I don’t enjoy the storytelling as much. Then this one gal had to start bragging about doing #2k1hr, saying that 1K is for wimps, which felt all competitive and awful to me.
There’s a reason I didn’t do team sports in school.
Um, besides the fact that I was a klutz and no one would have me. But, funny, no one ever yelled at me to read more books! Faster!
(Now I’m picturing the librarians like the football coaches, with track suits and whistles, veins bulging in their temples. “You’re just not putting effort into it, Kennedy! I want to see 100 pages in thirty minutes – now, go!”)
At any rate, I think I mentioned at some point here that I’ve changed my approach a bit, with drafting The Middle Princess. When I was in my long spell of revising, it naturally didn’t work for me to shoot for 1K and the then switch to the day job. So I was revising for two hours. That worked fine. And I did it long enough that working for two hours became a habit. (And habit becomes ritual which becomes sacred and then you’re golden.) So I started drafting for two hours. My goals are all set up (on spreadsheets) for 1K/day, but now, once I reach my 1K, I keep going until my two hours are up.
I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve been amazingly productive. Like 10,000 to 12,000 words per week productive. Plus it feels good and not draining or exhausting. I’m at over 60K on Middle Princess and closing in on the Act II climax. I’m a week ahead of my self-imposed deadline.
Which is good, because I’m braced not to get anything much done while I’m on day job travel.
But, maybe that will change, too.
Oh, I sometimes have fun. And I like them, I really do. Love to host them.Hand me a glass of wine or champagne and a few snacks and I’m a happy kitty cat.
But I don’t do well with competing conversations. Part of it’s because I’m a Western girl. The pauses in East Coast conversations go by so fleetingly that, by the time, I’ve heard the opening, someone else has taken the reins and run with the topic. By the time I get a chance, the moment is gone and my comment no longer relevant. It’s like I’m forever running behind the big kids, jumping up and down, shouting wait for me!
It’s a funny thing, because I’m generally an assertive person. I think it’s more that I don’t like competition. I don’t like struggling for the conversational ball. If someone talks over me, I’ll back off rather than fight for it. I easily fall into my preferred writerly habit of listening and putting together the stories behind the people.
It only occurred to me the other day that I have a lifelong pattern of avoiding competition. David and I were talking about our childhoods and how we were both kind of sensitive kids who were shocked to hit the bigger world of school, where people yelled at each other and did mean things. We grew tougher hides over time, but I realized that my dislike of sports (please don’t yell at me because I ducked instead of catching the ball) all the way up to my avoiding the rest of the Pre-Med crowd in college (no, I really don’t want to tell you my grade on that exam) reflect that I don’t like competing.
I’m sure many would say this is a fear of failure.
But it feels more like I just don’t like being in the mosh pit.
I’ll hand you the conversational ball before I elbow you in the eye-socket to keep it.
Sometimes the social media world feels like this to me. It’s a great big cocktail party and I love the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. The support network is a fundamental part of my life. But sometimes the party gets really loud. Some people are trying to stand in the middle of the room and talk over everyone else. Others are gathering people around them, relentlessly counting how many there are, yanking them back when they try to wander off. Some spend the whole time trying to get people to go off to their private blog-party room. Have you been there yet? Lots of people like it. Go there and see!
I find myself standing on the edges of the room, retreating to the comfort of listening. My mother taught me how to make social conversation by asking people about themselves, but then I sometimes get trapped near the potted plant with the guy who wants to tell me how much money he’s made self-publishing.
I think the trick – as with all parties – is to mingle freely and find the people you want to talk to. I find myself avoiding the loud talkers, the big groups, the ones running around, flailing their hands in the air yelling Look at Me! Look at Meeee!!!! I want people to read my books because they enjoy them, not because I talked them into it. I don’t want my writing to be about competition, any more than I want the rest of my life to be about it.
Yeah, I know this means that the bigger boys, who throw the ball hard and sneer at my timidity will rule the game. This is why the James Frey’s of the world not only get away with their shit, they profit from it. Nice guys might not finish last, but they don’t necessarily finish first either.
Still, what it comes down to me is not that I have a fear of failure, but that I don’t think winning is all it’s cracked up to be. It certainly isn’t worth sacrificing happiness or what I believe to be a generous and loving way to treat other people.
If you want to find me, I’ll be over on the sofa in the corner, sipping my wine.