Ol’ Blue Eyes. Swoonatra. Chairman of the Board. The Sultan of Swoon. Frank Sinatra had a lot of nicknames throughout his life and storied career, but the thing that sticks with me is his rendition of the Paul Anka-penned song “My Way.” (I like Elvis Presley’s version better, but that ‘s neither here nor there.) I don’t intend to make the song my motto or anything, but I’ve decided to ditch
some a lot of the “rules” and do it my way.
One thing I won’t quibble with (and yes, that’s grammatically incorrect, but I’m doing this my way) is that those of us who write for a living must keep learning how to make our words the best they can be. I’m a firm believer that you can break the rules of writing, but only if you know the rules first. I’m also a firm believer that too much reading about the craft of writing can kill your productivity.
You should have seen my email inbox last week. It was full to the brim with emails from writing blogs and newsletters to which I’d subscribed. Each of them contained the implied promise that the information included would help me: become a better writer, write a bestseller, market my books so they would sell a thousand copies a day (well, maybe not a day, but still…), and the biggest eyeroll of all, manage my writing time more efficiently. You know what they really did? Suck up my time, present conflicting information, and, ultimately, sink me into despair and make me stop writing because none of that crap worked for me. I got to a point where I thought, “Why bother?” None of the things they touted as being the optimum way to write or market a book was a good fit for me, and if I couldn’t do it the way the experts said to do it then I should just give up. Right?
Two of the most often stated “rules” were that I must write every day, and that I must publish a minimum of four books a year. Anything less and I was just a laughable amateur, destined to a life of obscurity, only allowed to look in at the real authors as they dined on their successes. You know what? I can’t write every day. I don’t want to write every day. When I worked in broadcasting I sure as hell didn’t want to get up and go to work every single day. I needed time off from that job, and I need time off from this one. Writing every day is not a magic bullet that will propel an author to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. It’s a rule that worked for someone somewhere sometime, and is now touted as gospel. Well, it’s not. It doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m one of those everyones.
The “rule” that I must publish no less than four books a year is one that will pretty much guarantee that I will publish no books that year at all. I don’t do deadlines. I hate them. Every single time I set a deadline (or am given one) I freeze as that deadline runs over me and flattens me. I’m probably the reason that “dead” is part of the word, because it kills my mojo. I work best when I don’t have those dreaded deadlines in my life. Here’s proof:
My first year as a published author I had three books come out. Now, I did have a deadline for Crimson and Clover, but it didn’t bother me much because the book was completely written already. All I had to do was make some minor tweaks my publisher wanted. No problem. After the book came out I started on Song Without Words, but it mired down almost immediately. That book did not want to be written at that time. So I started on Athena’s Daughter. It practically wrote itself, and I published it myself after my then-publisher wanted me to turn the main characters into serial-cheaters. (No, I’m not joking.) Song Without Words then let me get to work on it, and I published it that fall. I had no deadline for either Athena’s Daughter or Song Without Words, and I was able to write and publish both of them in the same year Crimson and Clover was published. If I’d had a deadline that Song Without Words had to be published in May of that year then I probably would never have published another book. Not having a deadline allowed me to put it aside and write Athena’s Daughter, and I was able to come back and finish Song Without Words later. To tell me I must put out a certain number of books a year? You might as well break all the fingers on both my hands and tell me to type 100 words per minutes. Ain’t gonna happen.
Hey, it’s just the way I’m wired.
So there those writing blogs and newsletters were in my inbox, telling me I must do things their way or I was wrong. And the ones about marketing? They wanted to sell me things. “Here is today’s marketing hint: Connect with people who would like your books! And hey, I’ve got a course to show you how to do that. For just 12 easy payments of $70…” Shoot, I even took one of those courses, and you know what it taught me? Nothing. Book marketing is nothing more than trying to make people aware that your book is there, hoping they’ll read it, and then tell other readers how much they liked it. That’s the way it’s always been, and nothing that’s been tried over the past ten years has changed that.
So this past weekend I spent a chunk of time hitting the unsubscribe button on almost every single writing blog and newsletter that had been hitting my inbox. I kept my subscriptions to newsletters put out by authors, because that’s the best way to keep up with what your favorite writers are up to these days. I love getting author newsletters! I also kept my subscription to two or three writing newsletters, and that’s because those are written by people who have actually been successful as authors. Yeah, as I was unsubscribing I finally noticed that the majority of those “how to be an author” blogs and newsletters were put out by people who hadn’t had a bestseller themselves. Some of them weren’t even published, yet. I got really irritated with myself for not realizing that sooner. I mean, I’ve had a book hit a bestseller list. Sure, it wasn’t NYT or USAToday, or even Amazon, but it was a bestseller list and it was a book people paid to buy, not a freebie.
That led me to question why I was interested in anyone else’s definition of success in the first place. The day Crimson and Clover was published I was a success. I wrote a book, an entire book, and it was published. Each and every time I publish another book I am a success. Every time someone reads my books I am a success. I’m not going to lie, I’d love to make enough money from my books to put me into another tax bracket, but that’s not my definition of success. Being able to do what I love and have other people love what I do is my success.
So except for those two or three writing newsletters, and buying books on bettering my craft that I find helpful, I’m D-O-N-E with that other stuff. Instead of wasting time listening to others tell me what I must do, I’m going to do what I should be doing. Writing. And I’m going to do it my way.