Last week, I was pondering how I move forward, particularly through big changes. I’m a slow and steady type when it comes to transitions. I suspect this is a lingering “potato famine” outlook that’s partly family culture (both parents grew up during the Depression), and partly my nature. I have done some really stupid things in my life because I threw caution to the wind, relied on dodgy characters, or otherwise shut down my warning systems. So I’m more cautious now, I hope.
I have also come up with a few Shoulder Angel Commandments as I’ve walked the author walk. These come under the category “advice to myself,” which I haven’t always taken. The first one ought to be obvious: Never criticize another author’s work in any venue that could possibly, possibly become public. That means I don’t review another romance author’s novels, don’t comment on them on Goodreads threads, don’t join the kaffeeklatsches that can arise at conferences. Firstly, I haven’t time read everybody else’s books (and commenting on a book without having read it is a no-no for me). Secondly, my opinions would not be, or be viewed as, disinterested, so why go there?
Another rule of thumb for me is to trust my gut when it comes to my stories. Editors are trying to craft a book into the most commercially appealing product it can be, in hopes that approach will sell the most copies. I disagree with that philosophy (politely, I hope). My approach is to create stories that are the highest possible quality and the most authentic to my brand. I figure if I start trying to pump extra humor into my stories (humor sells!) or up the action level (action sells!), I might find a few new readers, but I will lose old friends, who love the kinds of stories I can write from the heart, without contortions intended to appeal to a shifting market.
Another well worn chestnut is: Rejoice with those who succeed, commiserate with those who struggle. In other words: Don’t compare. Writing is such a peculiar business, with mediocrities hitting the big time, and geniuses toiling in obscurity. To get too attached to outcomes, (beyond can I please pay my bills?) is the road to misery. This is unlike lawyering, by the way, where the most highly skilled lawyer usually–given reasonable facts and a sane judge–wins. It’s unlike music, where the most skilled musician usually gets the gig. It’s more like health–where you do the best you can, and genetics, chance, bad luck, and environmental factors that arose twenty years before you moved to town, can all affect your fate.
Which brings me to my writerly prime directive: Stay focused on the work. Write the books. Write the best books I can. Write another best book I can, and another. Ignore to the extent possible the industry gossip, the reviews, the who got a bigger advance, the who topped the charts, the who is having a flame war on social media. Readers pay me to write books, and I love to do that, so I write the books. Networking, promotion, my cyber footprint, my social capital…none of that supposedly necessary stuff gets any of my attention until after I’ve done my allotted writing (and often not even then).
Has your chosen path resulted in some Shoulder Angel Commandments? How did you come up with them? Do you ever ignore your own advice? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon e-gift card.