Five Deadly Sins

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.

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11 comments on “Five Deadly Sins

  1. I’m not going to discuss my own shoulder angels. I just want to congratulate you on listening to and following yours – on staying true to yourself. It has made for some really enjoyable reading for me. I feel that is true of all of the authors I love most.

    As for critics, I prefer to decide for myself what I like. Every now and then I will write a review on Amazon to support the authors I like. I not a good reviewer. I can only tell people what I like, and I’m not real good at articulating it. You will never read a bad review by me because if I don’t like a book, I don’t finish it. Why would someone read something they are not enjoying? Just so they can write a nasty review?

  2. I write a weekly blog for my professional society about something I call *choral ethics*. People write in to me and I try to help them with uncomfortable situations. Much of the advice you give yourself about writing, I give to other choral directors about our profession.

    *Never say anything bad about another local director in public because it will often come back to bite you. And the same holds true to others ensembles–never bad mouth another choral group in public.
    *Treat your accompanists the way you’d like to be treated (or the way someone you care about to be treated).
    *Always be (or appear to be)fair in auditions.
    *Be kind if you are able; it is never is a bad choice.
    *Trust your gut.

    There is other advice but these are my mainstays. You’d be surprised how many folks need someone to remind them to behave honorably;sometimes I feel like I write the same advice over and over again. 🙂

    We all think there is a magic way of behaving when it comes to what we are passionate about, whether its writing or choral music. There isn’t; we have to do what we’ve been taught by parents, teachers or mentors and that’s to behave honorably.

    P.S. I would have to disagree with you about music–sometimes it’s who you know that gets the gig, not the most skilled. I tell folks it’s okay to be a little upset–but ya gotta move on. And never forget NETWORKING is as important in music as training and talent.

  3. Bravo. I have no shoulder angels, other than listening is better than talking, and try hard not to judge. Everyone is struggling with something.

  4. Never underestimate others. Besides being unkind and judgmental, it is never in your power to know someone else’s story or strengths/weaknesses and you really just expose your own self as a jerk. I find that in most instances I don’t have trouble with this but it always says something (unflattering) about myself in the circumstances in which it is a struggle. Insecurities, biases etc. are never fun to have to face but at least if I can keep it in my head and not express it in public it is less awful.

  5. This is a great list, Grace. The only one I would add is something that builds on the “Don’t compare.” Remember that everyone has different goals for their careers.

    Our personal career goals dictate the steps we take and drives so much of our actions. It is wrong of any writer to openly tell another writer that they’re going about their own path in the wrong direction, because to do so, you impose your own goals on that person, ignoring the fact that their goals may be completely different to your own.

    I have been subjected to this goal-imposing concept myself, so I know how it feels to be on the receiving end. As such, whenever I encounter a writer that I feel are taking steps that I would never take, I have to step back and remind myself that their goals are completely different to my own. Their actions are dictated by their goals.

    We define our own measures of success, and no one has the right to tell you that your measure of success is wrong.

  6. My Angel commands are simple. 1) Think before you speak, always. 2) Pick your fights….this most applicable to raising my sons! 3) Be kind 4) Try to remember that people may have problems that you don’t know, be patient. I’m not always able to give these 100% but I try!

  7. I don’t consciously have any commandments but I do give myself advice sometimes and sometimes I ignore it. I try (except in political discussions) not to say anything if I cannot say anything nice. If I do say something not nice, I try to put it in words that express that I’m trying to improve something (I frequently tell Technical/Customer Support people what’s wrong with the website/product/whatever they’re trying to help me with, but I always make it clear that I know they’re not the ones who made the bad choice and I’d just appreciate them forwarding the comment to someone who might be able to do something about it). Having said that, I am an eldest child with 4 younger siblings and admit that I have somewhat “bossy” tendencies, and a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to life. But as I get older, I have found I’m less compelled to tell everybody everything that I think they’re doing wrong (aren’t I a peach?). I came up with that one mostly because I was accused of hurting other people’s feelings when I never meant that at all but was just trying to be helpful.

    I like your commandments.

    • OOPS! I just realized that my “except in political discussions” comment may be interpreted as being directed at people with whom I’m in discussion. I meant I might very well say something not nice about a public political figure and/or that person’s awful policies. I would not attack someone with whom I was speaking but would more likely walk away if the discussion deteriorated to that point.

  8. I have a few Shoulder Angel Commandments and after reading the blog & comments I am adding a few more.

    At work, I do not point fingers or toss someone under the bus. Part of my job is to review & problem solve others mistakes. Often it’s someone in my department. I stay focused on my work

    At home, I do my very best to stay
    out of family drama. I mind my own business. This is difficult and is a work in progress.

    At dog events, I congratulate everyone I am a good sport.

    I need to come up with a few strategies for a new group I am working with. Pushy opinionated people UGH!

  9. I am eternally grateful that you won’t cave in to demands to make your works more commercial, or whatever it is that the public supposedly wants from you. Grace, you write from the heart, you write exceedingly well, and having read a vast amount of HR books, I can state with certainty that you are one of the best writers in this genre. I have other favorite authors as well as you, but if I was only able to read one author’s works for the rest of my life, they would most definitely be yours. The Windham series is outstanding, and your vast collection of other romance series and collaborations are, as well. I’m sure all of your fans would agree that your retirement from the law, and your full-time devotion to writing (and other happy pursuits) is most fortuitous for us! Thanks for sharing your most amazing gift.