Competition and writers


My friend, author Jennifer Lawler, tweeted something this morning about an agent’s blog, and I started looking at his site.  He made a comment in there about writers who read agents’ blogs as having an advantage in the writing world, and his blog site lists a whole bunch of agents’ blogs.  So I thought, maybe he’s right.  Maybe I should start reading agents’ blogs.  So I clicked on about six links and started an “agents/writers blogs” folder in my browser.

But after looking at a few of them, I stopped.  I realized that most of the blogs are really saying the same thing in different ways.  The short version: there are a million writers trying to get their attention, and God knows what publishers (those that still exist) really want.

Of course, this is all true.  Having grown up the oldest of five boys, I learned a valuable lesson about the writing profession and, I usually think, about “everything you really need to know about economics.”  The lesson: life is basically a school of piranahs fighting over one meatball.

You can get discouraged, or at least, wear out on the “we get millions of submissions” messages.  From a psychological perspective, the question is how to keep going, but more important, how to maintain your integrity, develop your unique voice, write your best stuff, and keep on keeping on.

One thing I’ve found helpful in thinking about this is Seth Godin’s little book, The Dip. Godin’s book talks about the psychology of sticking to things versus knowing when to quit.  In a nutshell, he says that the people who do really well at things in life generally have done two key things:

  1. They’ve known what to stick to and what to let go of — in order to excel at something (like writing), you can’t also be doing fifty other things.  I agree.  The absolute worst thing that ever happened to my writing was trying to write and teach simultaneously.  Teaching totally wrecked my writing — uses all the same creative energy and skills, and I ended up not writing much at all during my teaching years.
  2. They survive the “dip,” the period when the going goes from easy to tough, tougher, toughest.  For writers, this would be the time when you feel discouraged, when your work seems to be more flawed than you imagined, when that easy “Hey! I think I’ll write a book!” sentiment has ground down against the awareness that you don’t really have anything here that’s worth writing, or that writing is mostly rewriting and that’s boring, or your agent sends it back (if you’re lucky enough to have an agent) saying “make it more wonderful” and you sit there wondering WTF.

According to Godin, the good news (if you’re the kind who really works up that long, steep slope, who won’t won’t won’t quit ever) is that most people drop out about now.  It’s too hard.  They quit.  They go on to other things, or have too many other things going on. That is when you start, eventually, to succeed.  Because the harder and steeper the slope, the more people quit.  As long as you’re not one of them, as long as you keep on improving, getting more skilled and experienced, the steepness of the slope is ultimately your secret weapon.

So psychologically speaking, in a weird kind of paradox, all the competition may just make you better and better.  You just have to be one of the ones who never, ever quit.



Filed under Books, Writing profession

2 responses to “Competition and writers

  1. Tickled to see you mention my tweet on your blog, Greg. I knew there was a reason I’m obsessed with Twitter.

    The principle of being the last one standing is something I’ve tried to communicate to the writers I’ve worked with over the years, to varying degrees of success. This post is one of the best arguments I’ve seen about getting through the tough slog. It’s hard to keep the faith. That’s why I think we need to care as much/more about process than about results. If I’m learning and growing as a writer, then that should be rewarding and satisfying to me irrespective of whatever the publishing gods decide about my fate.

    • gregkorgeski

      Love that phrase, being the last one standing. Though I suspect that neither that nor the “piranahs and meatballs” analogies are the whole story. I mean really, the key to success as a writer generally seems to be creating a unique story, world, characters, universe, or something nonfiction that nobody else has quite come up with, because it’s you, who you are, what you know that nobody else knows. What the marketers call a ‘unique value proposition’ or something stupid and market-y like that. The trick, I think, for a writer is learning to tap that vein.

      But you learn to do that mainly by writing, trying new things, finding new things in your experience or self that you realize need to be written, that nobody else has written them. I guess…

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