83 – Defying the Echo Chamber
If you are like me, you probably listen to a number of podcasts about indie publishing. There are a ton of them. Dozens of them are great. Some of them are considered absolutely essential listening for all indie authors.
But, the podcast-o-sphere, like the blog-o-sphere and the 24-hour-cable-news-…o-sphere… are echo chambers.
“The Audience” is a vague, amorphous entity and it hungers for content. It needs its regular feedings or it will turn and feed on the only thing it can find. Your soul.
So, we give it content…
That isn’t inherently bad, in-and-of-itself. The danger comes when we, as “the audience” forget to analyze everything we hear. We forget to use our own minds to determine if something is worth accepting into ourselves or not.
Letting something become part of you without making a conscious decision to absorb it is the single most dangerous and destructive habit humans have as a species.
We all do it. We can’t help it. It’s human nature.
Fortunately, I think writing is probably the best way to gain insight into yourself.
“Writer, know thyself.”
You can’t do this for long without starting to be able to recognize patterns in your behavior. You gain a certain kind of clarity. Almost like stepping outside of yourself and seeing your traits as you would one of your characters.
And, if you have the will and the strength, you can start to make positive changes through conscious decisions.
Or, you can be like me, and just feel smug about your self-awareness while you go back to being a despicable example of what appears to be an almost functional human being.
Either way, the experience teaches to recognize the things our fellow authors, and especially our fellow indie authors, tell each other for what they are. Dangerous, toxic axioms passed down through the centuries.
Recently, I’ve caught myself dwelling on one of the all time biggest and one of the current hot trends.
If I’m going to survive them, I’m going to have to steal their power. Like any good nerd, I only know one way to do that:
Debunk the crap out of them and make the jocks feel bad enough they forget to dunk my head in the toilet.
Sure, it’s a defense mechanism, but I need it in my life right now.
So, that’s what I’m going to do.
Dangerous Soundbyte Number 1: Writer’s Block Doesn’t Exist
“Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block.”
I hear this all the time. Usually from well-established authors with enough published work under their belt to qualify them for the incredibly fluid and elusive title of “prolific.”
But, here’s a little secret: If writer’s block is defined as “not knowing what to write” it definitely exists and under a similar definition of “not knowing what to do” plumber’s block exists, too.
I think both are a matter of experience and skill.
There is a reason the master’s of the craft don’t believe in it anymore. They have gained the abilities needed to overcome it through hard work and training. They’ve learned how to solve all of the problems. They’ve got all of the tools they need. That’s why they are masters.
But, like all humans, their minds favor remembering the positive things and banishing the bad. It’s one of those tasty neurological survival things. We forget when things suck and it causes us to live in a revised personal history.
Most of us, myself included, are apprentices in this craft. We’ve learned some of the skills we need, but we just haven’t ever encountered something a master finds old hat.
We’ve never seen a metaphorical clog caused by He-Man underoos being flushed down the drain.
So we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to fix the problem. We get stuck. We get discouraged. We give up.
And that, my friends, is writer’s block.
There is hope, though. We can do like the apprentice plumber does. We can get help from an old pro. That’s why mentors and collaborators are so important. That’s why, despite the occasional dive into self-doubt, depression, and unreal expectations caused by listening to people miles ahead of us, we still should.
Just think of it like this: If writer’s block wasn’t a real problem, why would there be so many techniques developed to overcome it?
And here’s the secret sauce for all of those legitimate techniques: They all come down to one thing. Not worrying about it.
If you don’t get this pair of underoos out of the toilet, you can keep working on it until you figure it out. Even if the ultimate solution is smashing the toilet with a sledge hammer to free the underoos. You learned a lesson. You accomplished your goal. He-Man is free.
And at the next clogged toilet, you’ve got a new experience telling you what to do or not do. Last time you smashed a toilet open to get the underwear, the homeowners didn’t appreciate that. So maybe, this time, we try something else.
And we keep trying until we can fish everything out of that tiny, stinky hole like an old pro. Because experience and practice have given us the skills.
Writer’s block is real and it is usually caused by trying to rush because we see how fast and easy it is for the masters.
But, they have experiences behind them we don’t. They’ve figured out how to work faster and better because of a long time ago, they sucked, too.
Give yourself time to suck and maybe, in a few years, you’ll be one of those old pros claiming writer’s block doesn’t exist because you’ve forgotten what it’s like, too.
Dangerous Soundbyte Number 2: Write to Market
This is a very popular phrase at the moment. I hear it being thrown around all the time. But, it is also hokum.
No, the concept is not BS.
The idea of giving your audience what it wants and using the tropes and conventions of a genre to create a commercial appeal is not a misguided concept. It’s what popular writers have been doing since the first scribe sat down at a bar and decided to try a new phrase to get the bartender in the sack and “Oh, I’m a writer” was born.
The danger of this one, though, is what people actually think when they hear it:
“Writing to market is a magic bullet to get me extremely wealthy!”
But, that’s stupid and we’re all stupid for believing it.
There is a reason Chris Fox wrote two books. Writing to Market is only half of the strategy. The other half is Launching to Market.
I am here to assure you, 100% of everything Chris tells you in those books is probably going to work the way you want it to.
For that book. And, if you’ve actually followed the advice and written a really good book that meets the market’s expectations, it’s going to get you fans, which means it will be that much more successful next time around.
But, if you’ve written a bad book rushed to market just to make money… well, unlike the good old days of the pulp authors, there are too many of us on the playing field putting out good work for that to fly.
You can be successful from advertising alone. That’s not even a question. You spend enough money and you’ll be able to push yourself into momentum, but, you won’t get the magic bullet of gaining fans.
And, that’s the real magic of the market. It’s driven by consumers. Yes, they want their tropes and conventions. But they want them done well, too.
Take your time and do it right.
Which brings me to my moment of epiphany. That moment of writer’s clarity that comes from sitting at a keyboard, organizing my thoughts and examining my assumptions…
Absolutely positive soundbite of the week: It’s a marathon, not a sprint
I’m going to credit Sean Platt with this one. He’s probably not the originator, but I hear him say it almost as often as I’ve heard him say “know your why.”
Looking back at my own mind drippings, I realize the lessons above both come down to the same, single idea:
And, no, that doesn’t mean I think writing fast is bad. We all have a speed setting. I think that speed setting gets faster the more we work and learn, too. Fast isn’t bad.
But rushing is.
Rushing is when you push yourself to work faster than you’re capable. It means focusing on the endpoint and not the journey.
Rushing leads to mistakes. Rushing leads to poor work.
Rushing is getting the underoos from the toilet with a sledge hammer.
And, it isn’t sustainable. It doesn’t give us what we want. It doesn’t give us satisfaction.
And it won’t make success come any faster.
So, I guess what I’m saying is relax and enjoy the ride.
And maybe be a little more critical about the advice you take and what works for you.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the New Writer Podcast. I would really appreciate it if you would head over to iTunes and drop me a review.
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Now, go out there and marffle your garthoks.
I’ll see you next week