Spiritual Pride and Dangerous Newbie Writer Traps

I’m repainting the master bedroom and started with the kiva fireplace. It was the same white as the walls before, so I’m happy with how it stands out now. The walls are next, in a creamier shade. Will try to post pics!

As some of you may or may not know, I used to study with a Taoist martial arts school. We trained in internal Chinese martial arts, but also in the corresponding mental, emotional and physical work it takes to clear your mind enough to grow as a person.

Our teacher was forever reminding us to be wary of spiritual pride. It’s easy, when you finally begin to get somewhere in this really difficult transformation of self, to feel like YOU ARE THE SHIZ. There’s a great temptation to feel better than everyone else. You can see this in people of all religions – where the phrase “holier than thou” comes from. Taoism is all about finding the middle path and part of that balance is feeling good about what you’ve accomplished, giving yourself well-deserved credit for hard work rewarded, while avoiding going too far into hubris and overblown ego.

What does this have to do with writing? 

As if none of us have seen those successful authors who are all ego and no sanity. In fact, I think some of the recent #metoo outings of Big Name Authors who’ve sexually harassed *many* people are partially a result of this entitlement. I can see it between the lines of their “apologies.” They thought they were special and untouchable and could take whatever they wanted – and often did. 

Those are extreme cases, for the most part, and can happen to anyone who reaches that level of fame and fortune (if they’re not careful).

But there’s another trap I’ve been seeing a lot of newer authors fall into that’s just as, if not more dangerous. That first Big Success. 

Now, for a lot of us, that never happens. Or it happens so late that we’re so thoroughly humbled by then that we’re not in danger.  That’s how it was for me. By the time I won my RITA® Award for THE PAGES OF THE MIND, that was my eighteenth published book. I was *really* used to not being much of a deal at all. In fact, it’s still surprising to me when people treat me like something special. I think I was lucky that way, as much as I hated slogging through all that, because my career has grown gradually enough that I’ve grown mentally with it.

Other authors – and we often know a lot about them because they make that big splash – hit it big right off the bat, in some way or another. Their first published story is nominated for a big industry award – and they might be nominated for a “best new writer” type award. They get a snazzy debut book deal, maybe even six figures. They might win a high-profile contest that gets them that book deal. All of these things are wonderful! I sure wished they’d happened for me.

At least, I did then. Now I’m grateful I didn’t have to go through that.

It’s a dangerous place to be, after that first big score, because they feel proud, excited, and giving themselves major strokes for succeeding in a difficult business. And they should, because it’s well-deserved. But it’s easy to stray too far to the other side of the path. Writers I’ve known – and didn’t know, but observed – tend to think that they have it down. That they know the “rules” and succeeded because of that. They think they are the shiz, when really they’re still brand-new authors with one or two publication credits. With this tremendous validation, however, they proceed as if they possess all the wisdom, often handing out advice.

This advice tends to be terrible in a very standard way. “Just write a Really Good Book.” “Follow these rules.” “Use this method.” This is because they don’t really know how they did it. And that is because a whole lot of it had to do with luck, not their craft. Learning and wielding our craft comes in with writing the second book. And the fifth. And the eighteenth.

Perhaps this is the cursed face that every great gift brings – and those writers will find their way through it. I don’t really have advice for them – and not only because they’re unlikely to listen to me, when they’ve done what I didn’t – but my caution is for everyone else. It’s tempting to look to these superstars and give what they say more weight. After all, who doesn’t want what they have? So we hear them say things like “Just write a Really Good Book,” (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this one from a writer with a snazzy new book deal) and we come away half exhilarated and half in despair. Because how the hell do you DO that? And we stare at our blank computer screens – or our list of publications that didn’t get six-figure deals – and we wonder why we didn’t write “a Really Good Book.” Maybe we’ll listen when they say to follow this rule or that, or we’ll slavishly use the method they recommend. 

Don’t do this. If you need advice – which we all do – get it from the authors who’ve been around the block a few or thirty times. It’s pretty much universal advice not to be distracted by the New Shiny, and that includes publishing’s newest darling. Congratulate them – they should enjoy the ride – and then put your eyes back on your own work. 

In the end, that’s the only way to write that Really Good Book. 


The Right Words at the Right Time – Supporting Newbie Authors


THE CROWN OF THE QUEEN will be available as a stand-alone novella on November 22! (You can preorder now at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.) If you already have FOR CROWN AND KINGDOM, this is the exact same novella in that duology with Grace Draven. You can get mine alone for $2.99 or both of us for $3.99. A deal, either way!! If you haven’t read it, THE CROWN OF THE QUEEN takes place between THE TALON OF THE HAWK and THE PAGES OF THE MIND. It’s told from Dafne’s point of view and bridges the events in the aftermath of TALON and sets up her book, which is PAGES.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “The person(s) most influential on my early writing career.” Come on over to find out who made all the difference for me when I needed it most

The Critical Step

Sometimes I wish I could make the photos really big, so all the subtle variations stand out. Guess you’ll just have to come sit on my porch. I’ll give you a blanket and a mug of mulled wine.

My waxer is a lover of sexy books and an aspiring writer.

Isn’t everyone’s?

I know, I know – it kind of sounds like an episode of Californication. My waxer – I’ll call her Angelica – is the polar opposite of Marcy. Angelica is an Amazonian redhead, with this very glam look and an incredibly sweet heart. She has a thing for firemen and runs her salon with style and aplomb. She once wrested my Kindle from me and wrote down the title and author of every book I had on it. She’s read my books and asks me questions about writing hers.

She’s at that stage where she’s still playing with it. She’s done the thing where she’s read the really awful book and thought “I could write something way better than this.” She asks me questions about my process, like if I write a book from beginning to end (I do) and how much I go back to revise (easily a month’s worth of writing time). All of this in the approximately ten minutes it takes her to give me a Brazilian. She’s not only skilled, does a perfect job – she’s also really fast.

I see her about every six weeks and two appointments ago, she told me her sister suggested that she take a one-week course on romance-writing at the Iowa Writer’s Program. I had no idea they were offering one now – go figure. I do know a fair number of writers who graduated from that program though and I have a pretty good idea that it wouldn’t be cheap. I told her it might be a great experience, but that there’s so much available online and through local RWA chapters, that she should consider starting there first. In fact, I said, the New Mexico local chapter, LERA, is having a one-day conference in November (now this Saturday) where we’re bringing in a gal to teach deep editing techniques. I told Angelica she should come; I tried to get her to mark out the day in her appointment book.

And she totally balked. She didn’t really have five opening chapters. She wasn’t ready to learn to edit. Her work isn’t at a place where anyone else can look at it. It didn’t matter that I told her she had three months to put those five chapters together, that only she would see it and that learning to look critically at your work is a huge step.

She wasn’t ready and I let it go.

So, then, the most recent appointment, she said her sister told her she’d read about all these people who self-published their books and made millions and what did I think of that? Could that be a viable option for her?

I tell you, these stories about the Amanda Hockings of the world are attaining the level of urban myth.

So, yes, I tell her – things like this have happened for people. But they are isolated cases (I didn’t mention that they’re also regularly and wildly distorted) and that the people who seem to be doing the best with self-pubbing are those writers with either established audiences or backlists of already polished work. I asked her if she’d encourage someone to open a salon who’d never worked in a professional capacity before and she got my point.

Now, I hope I don’t sound negative about self-publishing here, because I think it’s becoming a great option for many writers. But it’s disturbing to me that some people are seeing it as an option to skip the critical step. Not the crucial one, though it’s that, too, but the many-layered process where you learn to critique your own work, to assimilate the criticism of others, to incorporate editorial input that shapes the story and to view the work in light of the readers’ expectations and the marketplace.

Yes, this is the painful and awful part of being a writer. I really don’t blame anyone for wanting to skip it.

It would be a lovely world if we could write our stories and they would emerge full-fledged and perfect, ringed by rainbows and escorted by white ponies with ribbons in their tails.

This is not that world.

So, what I tried to get her to see is that she needs to apply all the work she put into becoming a terrific aesthetician – and she’s one of the best I’ve ever encountered – and to building her business and creating a well-run salon, and put that into becoming a writer. You don’t need a certificate from a fancy writing school, but you do have to work at it.

And, if you’re not ready to show it to people for critique, you’re not ready to publish it.

No golden tickets to fame and fortune, alas.

Though I wouldn’t mind one of those white ponies with the pretty ribbons.

"Keep your temper," said the Caterpillar

Advice is a funny thing. You have to be careful who you get it from. Or perhaps, it doesn’t really matter who you get it from, as long as you know which advice to pay attention to and which to jettison. Of course, the advice givers all seem to whole-heartedly believe their advice is the best. They’d like you to think so. As I grow more cynical over the years, I’ve come to believe that some people deliberately give bad advice. Maybe it would be kinder to say: advice that they’ve tailored to match what they think you should be doing.

There’s an art to knowing who to listen to. Maybe an art to knowing who to ask and a craft to knowing who to listen to. On a writers loop I receive, one gal asked for advice from pubbed authors on a contest she was considering entering for unpubbed authors. It was clear she’d mistaken the rules and several other unpubbed authors chimed in helpfully, because they also intended to enter the contest and pointed out her misunderstanding. The original questioner came back that she had asked only the pubbed authors and would only listen to their advice.

The best part of this is that “pubbed” in this context refers only to romance novels. RWA recognizes you as a published author only if you’ve published in the genre. So my university press essay collection aside, my years of short stories, essays and articles in magazines, journals and anthologies aside, within the genre halls of RWA I am once again unpubbed. Or, as the more unkind say, a wannabe.

This is ironic to me, because I can only imagine a scene in which a “literary” writer informs a romance author that she’s unpubbed because she has only published genre fiction. While many may believe that, it seems unlikely they’d take a snobbish enough stance to make it a rule. Which makes this a form of reverse-snobbery.

All of this is by-the-by. It is what it is and I really don’t mind. But I do think the newbies (on the kindness scale, this falls somewhere between unpubbed and wannabe — never mind the ghastly euphemism “pre-pubbed”) should take advice with a grain of salt and a hunk of magic mushroom.

Just because someone is willing to give you advice doesn’t mean they want you to succeed.

Now THERE is some good advice for you!