Aspiring Authors… Be You, Not Them!

I’d like to take a quick break from updating the latest in my personal news, and revisit one of my old bugbears… social media.

When I first embarked on a serious effort to transition from part-time hobbyist to a full-time fiction author, I did what anyone else would do in my position… I read every piece of advice on the Internet. Author’s blogs, publishing blogs, magazine articles, Facebook groups… my brain was awash in the prescriptive advice doled out like bucketfuls from front-end loaders. It was overwhelming.

Fun fact: to “overwhelm” is the same as to “whelm.” It’s like “flammable” and “inflammable.”

Anyways, part of the life as an aspiring author was the daily consumption of social media. This involved the search-and-follow scavenger hunt for the best and brightest. My social media of choice has been Facebook and Twitter. Twitter, in particular, suited my love for brevity-as-wit.

It wasn’t long until I realized that the usual wash of updates, photos, celebrations and new book launches had begun to grind my self-worth into a fine paste. WHY, THOUGH? These people are doing well. You’re taking their advice. You should go and do likewise.

Which was the problem.

It’s far too easy for an aspiring or struggling author to replace reasonable and meaningful personal goals with the lives of the successful and prolific authors on Twitter… especially those who spend a good deal of time crafting informative blog posts for public consumption. And this can suck the wind out of your sails without your realizing it.

It’s not that we authors view one another with some Machiavellian sense of mutual suspicion.

It’s that we see WhatsHerName posting a group selfie of fifty people at her latest book signing… and we think back to last Saturday when we sat at a table for two hours, and the only person who stopped at the table was just looking for the bathroom.

We see WhatsHisName Tweet out about some recent political faffery, and the thread goes on for days… while we Tweet something marginally clever, and we receive crickets.

We see the author/agent love on Twitter, and we wonder what we’ve done so wrong.

We read the latest How to Write blog post, and we recognize that these people put out four books a year… and we’re struggling to find two hours a night just to get some word count in between screaming infants, barfing poodles, and lather-mouthed political in-laws.

Here’s the problem… WE NEED TO BE THE BEST VERSION OF OURSELVES, NOT ANOTHER VERSION OF THEM.

These NY Times Bestsellers and six-figure indie publishers are at a different place in their journey. It’s all too easy to succumb to human nature and hold ourselves up to their particular limelight. But you, dear author, are at your own place in your journey.

I urge you to return your focus to the manuscript in your hands. Eyes on your own paper. Attend to your craft, and where you are here and now. Don’t try to be Scalzi or Wendig or Stiefvater or Howey or Dawson or Schwab.

Be you… where you are.

And most of all, don’t despair. The more advice you hear, the more you come to feel that you NEED that advice. Comes a point, however, when you need to stop planning and start doing. Get those words down. Finish those rough drafts. Then read and re-read and re-re-read. The only way to get better is to write more and read more.

Which is really the point… writing better stories. Not gaming the Amazon algorithm. Not finding the magic bullet or fantasy formula. Focus on the story in your head. Focus on the craft of getting that story down in the best vehicle for the reader.

If the rest comes… the awards, the street teams, the sales numbers, the reviews… then they come. And guess what? If you don’t allow the Twitter machine to grind you down?

They will.

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