This isn’t the post I set out to write. I was going to do a piece on the query process and how to avoid giving possible future agent nose bleeds, but I decided to hold off until I had more experience (of the query process, to the best of my knowledge I’ve never directly harmed a literary agent).
Instead I thought I’d talk about the type of toughness it takes to be a writer. Funnily enough I learned a lot about it while I was training for my first MMA fight, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
There are a lot of parallels between writing and fighting. Both are hobbies that will make polite people look at you strangely. Both require discipline, dedication and insanity in equal measure. Both require that you take hits in order to improve.
I was never a particularly good fighter, nor was I ever particularly tough. I trained with some truly terrifying people though, and the top fighters I knew all shared a single minded toughness that kept them coming back for more. More training, more fights, more punishment. But that’s not what made them special, instead it was the type of toughness that they possessed that made them stand out.
Yes, they were hard enough to endure all the punches, kicks, submissions and slams that MMA can hand out, but the real challenge came for them when it came time for them to take a loss and then come back. They had to be determined enough to force themselves back into training, but smart enough to adapt to what the loss had taught them.
It was a toughness of the ego that let them acknowledge that they had done something wrong, fix that wrong thing and then jump back in the ring or the cage for another lesson.
It’s the same thing as a writer. You hopefully won’t have to endure physical pain while you write, but the hits to your ego are going to start as soon as you begin to take your writing seriously, and they won’t stop.
There are a lot of reasons writers quit writing, but one of the main ones I’ve seen is that most writers aren’t prepared for just how hard a bad review or feedback can hit your ego. Even the most well intentioned critique can feel like a personal attack if you’re not ready for it.
It’s very similar to the reason a lot of people end up quitting MMA or jiu jitsu, it’s not so much that they get badly hurt, but getting through the hundreds and hundreds of losses it takes before you start to get better requires that you leave your ego at home.
For writers the equivalent is getting through the early critiques and rejections that you will get if you’re doing this writing thing right. It doesn’t matter if you’re self published or not, you will have other people look at your work and sometimes they are going to say it isn’t good enough. And it’s going to hurt. A lot.
This is where that special kind of toughness comes in. You need to be flexible enough to change but tough enough to keep writing and improving. If all you do in response to quality critiques* is holler about your artistic integrity and refuse to change anything, that’s not being tough, that’s being stupid.
But if you can be tough enough to change, then you’ll find yourself getting better. It’s not that there will be less in the way of hits coming in, because as you get better new problems start to show up, but you will be far better at dealing with them.
So, since our unofficial theme for this month has been about goal setting, I’d like to suggest this goal for 2015. It’s the one I’m setting for myself:
To be tough enough to take every hit that writing sends my way as an opportunity to improve.
I do have a secondary goal, which is to make so much money that I can turn up to book signings in a helicopter, but that seems unlikely. I might have to settle for a limo with a pool in the back.
* Critiques from people who know what they’re talking about: avid readers, other writers you respect, agents and editors etc. You don’t have take advice from everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can get by without advice from anyone.