Avoiding negativity: transforming writing travails into solutions.

“We’ve all heard stories of people who’ve messed up relationships or jobs by making silly mistakes on Facebook or Twitter… It’s scary how vulnerable social media makes us. It’s just so easy to hop on and brag, or complain, or otherwise say the wrong thing…”  —Rachelle Gardner, Beware the Perils of Social Media

“Beware the lollipop of mediocrity" – Reconsidered.

“Beware the lollipop of mediocrity” – Reconsidered
During my lunch break last Tuesday, I read Rachelle Gardner’s daily post quoted above, along with all the resulting, insightful comments.

And I felt my heart stir with regret over last Sunday’s post, “Beware the lollipop of mediocrity,” where I wrote about a tough situation I was in with a fellow writer. Yes, this blog is themed, “The Joys and Travails of the Writing Life,” but I never want it to have a negative tone.

Travails should not lead to whining or complaining or in any way dissing another author, even if her writing goals and values do not match my own. Doing so makes me guilty of taking one lick of that lollipop. So I promptly took down my Sunday post.

Instead, I want any writing travails to take this route:

Travails > Opportunities > Solutions

But first, here’s the definition of “travail” —  a : work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil b : a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort c : agony, torment

Travail
I found myself in a time-consuming, painful situation after assuming that my definition of writing for the purpose of publication matched another writer’s definition. Misalignment of goals between writers = serious angst.

Opportunity
Learn from it! The next time I find myself in a similar situation, I will practice communication skills and establish boundaries by asking these questions:

  • Do you want to be a writer or do you want to be published?
  • Is your goal to find an agent and get published traditionally or do you want self publish?
  • How long do you anticipate it will take you to get published?
  • What is more important: your personal writing style or writing expertise?

Asking these questions will help me ascertain how seriously the other writer is taking this writing thing. Do they want a vanity book that they can share with family and friends? If so, then I need to decide if I really want to spend my time editing and critiquing their project – especially when it takes time away from my own writing.

Solution
Determine the goals of the other writer before making a commitment to work with each other. If our goals don’t match, I’m going to do both of us a favor by saying “no.”

Here are a couple of recent situations I’ve encountered. In scenario 1, I blew it. In scenario 2, I did pretty well. Scenario 3 is just a blessing.

Scenario 1:

A friend asked me to read her novel. She begged me to give her “honest feedback.” She wanted her book to be the best it could be and she really, really wanted my input.

I read some of the novel. It was clear that the she needed to take classes or read books on the basics of writing: grammar, punctuation, point of view, dialogue, character development, plot and structure. Then she would need to practice her craft for years before her work would be publishable.

With that in mind, I spent many hours on her manuscript making comments and providing her with as much positive and negative input as possible.

The next time I saw the manuscript, there was only marginal improvement. She decided she was going to self-publish; she was already uploading the novel to an online self-publishing vendor. She may “think about” making my second round of changes.

Here is my “aha” moment: My friend isn’t settling for second best – a.k.a. mediocrity – by self publishing her book before it is ready. Having a printed book in hand to share with her large family that reflected her personality and creativity was the goal all along. There’s nothing wrong with that – and I’m a snob if I think otherwise. I just didn’t know that until it was too late.

I consider myself to have failed in this situation. I didn’t get a clear view of her goals or expectations ahead of time; therefore, I have no right to be frustrated with the outcome.

Scenario 2:

One of the ladies in my critique group approached me after our second meeting last February. She asked if I would be interested in editing a collection of short stories about motherhood written by her Mommy and Me group.

“How many short stories will there be?” I asked.

“18 or 19.”

“Have the stories been written yet?”

“No. They are going to try to have them finished by May.”

“Have any of the moms been published before?” I asked.

“No.”

“What’s the timeframe?”

“Nine months; you know, like the gestation period for a baby. It needs to be completed in September.”

“Are they going to try to get published through an agent?”

“Yes. They’re going to query a dozen agents and they figure they will narrow it down to three by September.”

“So, they want it written, edited, agented, published, and in their hands in 9 months?”

“Yes.”

“Do they have an editing budget for the project?”

“Well, no. They don’t have any money for that. But they will thank you in the opening acknowledgement pages. You’ll be able to add it to your publishing credits. It’ll give you good experience.”

I grimaced. “I don’t think they have realistic expectations for how much work this will be or how long this will take.”

“I know. I just told them I’d talk to you because you’re the only editor type of person I know. Can I give the project leader your email address?”

“Well… okay.  But I’m not promising anything. This project sounds like a lot of work and I’m not sure they will be happy with the outcome.”

I never received an email, and forgot all about the conversation until right now. Whew. Dodged a bullet there. I feel good about how I handled it.

If I hadn’t experienced Scenario 1, would I have fallen for the “you’ll be able to add it to your publishing credits” line and been flattered into providing a lot of work for free because “it’ll give you good experience”??? I hope not.

Scenario 3:

I joined a writing critique group in January. The relationship with each writer is mutually beneficial and balanced. The expectations are clear on both sides. We are each working hard to learn the craft and do it right. There are no shortcuts. It’s how it should be.