Do you believe?

I have failed many times. Still do. 

In fact, I may be in the middle of one of the biggest failures of my life. And what am I facing? A lack of belief that I can succeed. What I’m doing I believe (today anyway) is what God has called me to do. But it doesn’t appear to be working. 

I can’t help thinking about the scene from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when Yoda is teaching Luke how to use the Force and suggests he use it to raise the X-wing out of the bog where it has crashed. Luke sighs and says he’ll, “give it a try.” 

To which Yoda says:

“No. Try not. Do … or do not. There is no try.” 

 So Luke makes the attempt—and he fails, sinking the ship even further into the swamp. As he wanders off to sulk in his failure (you ever do that?), he accuses Yoda of asking the impossible. 

Then Yoda uses the Force himself to raise the ship. As Luke looks at the resurrected X-wing, he says to Yoda in amazement: “I don’t … I don’t believe it.” 

Yoda replies: “That is why you fail.” 

Why we fail

Is this ever you? Or is it just me? 

Why do we so often not believe in our ability to succeed, but subscribe strongly to the likelihood of our failure? Certainly it has something to do with the “tapes” that play in our minds, as author Lena Nelson Dooley says (see “Comparisons Equal Discouragement,” ACFW Journal, Winter 2012). 

But where do those tapes come from?

They come, Dooley suggests, from our past failures, from things we’ve said about ourselves, and from things other people have said about us. But where do those comments come from? 

Jesus tells us in The Gospel of John. In Chapter 8, he is debating with the Pharisees about Who He is and trying to get them to see the truth. But they refuse. Finally, he says to them:

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (John 8:43-45, NIV)

Because of our fallen nature, we are more prone to listen to the words of our enemy than the words of our Savior—Who will always speak truth. It has been so since the Garden of Eden.

Do you feel you’re failing at what God has called you to do? Who are you listening to? Who am I listening to? 

Who should we be listening to?

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

The Story We Bring to the Story

Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has
been in the book industry for over 31 years, first as a bookstore manager where
he was awarded the National Store of the Year by CBA. He then spent over a
decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year in
2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 700 new books and was
named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona. (www.stevelaube.com)
With all the discussion about the
craft of fiction and the need to write a great story there is one thing missing
in the equation. The one thing that is the secret to great fiction. And
it is the one thing the writer cannot control.
That one thing is the story the
reader brings with them to their reading experience. As a reader I have the
life I have lived, the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, and the places
I’ve been that I bring with me into the world your novel has created. This
makes the reading of every story unique. No two people can read the same story
the same way. This is why one person’s favorite book is another’s thrift store
giveaway.
In the new memoir The End of Your Life Book Club author Will Schwable writes about the books he read with his Mom
during the last years of her life. In his introduction he wrote something
profound:
We all have a lot more to read
than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things
I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the
opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without
thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some
of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those
readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own
version of what she did in the world.
This is the secret to the greatest
novels of all time. They were written in such a way that my story, the essence
of who I am, merged with that story and it became something new. Something
unique. Something inexplicable. A new story. And then became a part of who I
am…and a part what I bring to the next story I read.
That’s the story I want to read.
Can you write it? I can’t wait to read it.

The Paradoxical Commandments for Writers

You’re probably familiar with the Paradoxical Commandments, often attributed to Mother Teresa. (See below*.)

As I pondered what to talk about in today’s Novel Rocket post, my wife suggested I think of Paradoxical Commandments that would apply to writers.

So while realizing I won’t come close to the brilliance of the original, I submit for your perusal a few commands I need to keep in mind on this journey called publishing.

  • Editors, agents, and other writers can sometimes be unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. 
  • If you tell others about your stories because you can’t keep your belief in them inside, people will call you self-absorbed and self-serving. Keep telling the world about your stories anyway. 
  • Your closest friends and own family might say your desire to write is a dream of fools. Keep dreaming anyway.
  • If you share your writing secrets and mind-bending plot ideas with other writers, some people will steal them. Share them anyway. 
  • The story you spend years creating, others will mock with scathing reviews, and tactless critiques. Create your story anyway.
  • If you find sales success and are given awards for your writing, some may be jealous.  Celebrate your success anyway.
  • The networking connection you make, or pivotal career advice you give, to an aspiring writer might be forgotten and unappreciated by them. Make the connection and give the advice anyway. 
  • Pouring every ounce within you into that manuscript might not be enough to get you a contract and you’ll be left broken and discouraged. Keep giving everything to your manuscripts anyway. 
  • In the final analysis, your writing career is between you and God.  So write for Him and let all else rest slip away. He is more than capable of handling the anyways. 
James L. Rubart is the
best-selling, award winning author of four novels. Publishers Weekly says this about
his latest: ““Readers with high blood pressure or heart conditions be warned: [Soul’s
Gate] is a seriously heart-thumping and satisfying
read
that goes to the edge, jumps off, and “builds wings on the
way down.” During the day he runs Barefoot
Marketing which helps authors make more coin of the realm. He lives with his
amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dirt bike,
hike, golf, take photos, and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a
madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com
* The verses below reportedly were written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta, India, and are widely attributed to her. 
Some sources say the words were written on the wall in Mother Teresa’s own room.  In any case, their association with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity has made them popular worldwide. There is evidence they are based on a composition originally by Kent Keith, but much of the second half has been re-written in a more spiritual way. 
  • People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
  • If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
  • If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
  • If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
  • What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
  • If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
  • The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
  • Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
  • In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway. 

Are Unrealistic Expectations Killing Your Writing Career?

I published my first ebook, Winterland, as an experiment. That was a year ago October. Recently, I received my third quarter royalty check from Smashwords for Winterland and was pleasantly surprised.

It takes a lot to surprise me. Which, I think, is good for a writer.

Anyway,
I have made significantly less money from Winterland than I have from
my two trad published novels. However, the money I’ve made from The Resurrection (2011) and The Telling
(2012), has all come by way of advance. I have yet to see a royalty
check (authors must earn back their advances before they can receive
royalties). Hopefully, that will change in 2013. I don’t know. Either
way, I’ll keep plodding forward in my writing. With or without fat,
rewarding, regular, career-affirming royalty checks.

Several months ago, my literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted a rather motivational article entitled There Is No Time for Despair. She begins by listing a host of things writers can despair about, things like

  • Many authors who have published numerous books are finding their advances going down, not up.
  • With self-published books now plentiful, there are more books than ever before for readers to choose from.
  • A book’s potential sales are highly unpredictable.
  • Many
    authors’ books don’t live up to the publisher’s sales expectations,
    meaning the publisher might not want to renew their contract.

It
may be a coincidence, but I personally know at least a half dozen
authors who’ve recently been dropped by publishers because they didn’t
“live up to the publisher’s sales expectations.” It’s one of those hard,
but commonplace realities of the writing biz. And it always produces at
least a twinge of despair.

But one of Rachelle’s points particularly hit home:

  • The publishing journey often doesn’t live up to an author’s expectations.

I’m a pessimist at heart. Frankly, my pessimism has saved me many times.
It’s been said, “A pessimist is never disappointed.” Which could
explain why I rarely get down or disappointed about my writing career.
You see,

  • despite the slog
  • despite some bad reviews
  • despite not being re-contracted by my first publisher
  • despite not being a marketing expert
  • despite having to do the bulk of my own marketing
  • despite not cracking the royalty threshold on my published novels
  • despite
    having to keep my full-time job, write whenever I possibly can (which
    usually means 4 AM and lunchbreak), and feeling constantly crunched for
    time

despite all these difficulties — I rarely despair, get moody, or vow to bail on writing.

And a lot of this comes down to “author expectations.”

I keep mine very low.

Please,
don’t mistake my low expectations for mediocrity, a concession to poor
sales, disregard for conventional wisdom, low self-esteem, or a
defeatist attitude. In a way, it’s a survival skill. I’ve seen too many authors crash and burn because they had unrealistic expectations.

  • They expected to be agented and contracted.
  • They expected all their friends to be thrilled and intrigued by their writing pursuits (instead of looking at them cross-eyed).
  • They expected to sell books.
  • They expected to make some money. Maybe, a lot of money.
  • They expected to generate buzz.
  • They expected to get good reviews.
  • They expected to get a lot of good reviews.
  • They expected to gain a reading audience, a lively base of fans who can’t wait for anything they write.

Is it any wonder they succumb to despair?

Of
course, I can rightly be charged with being a pessimist and having too
low of expectations. You’re right. The thing is, I’m just trying to keep
expectations in their place.

  • I have low expectations for what I CAN’T control.
  • I have high expectations for what I CAN control.

That’s a huge distinction. Which is why Rachelle closes her post with these words:

You
need to refuse to spend time worrying about things over which you have
no control (the publishing industry at large, for instance) and focus on
what you CAN influence.

Writers don’t have control of a lot of things. And if you tie your expectations to things you can’t control, despair is inevitable.

  • Expecting everyone will love your stuff.
  • Expecting to sell more books than you do.
  • Expecting that people will automatically respond to every marketing effort.
  • Expecting mostly good reviews of your novels.
  • Expecting a writing career to be easy.
  • Expecting to find your niche and sail off into the sunset.

Listen,
these are the kinds of unrealistic expectations that can kill a writing
career. At the least, they will drain you of the joy, imagination,
camaraderie and appreciation for the business and the craft that is so
desperately needed to keep plugging away.

Call them low expectations if you want. But these are the things I have control over and build my expectations around:

  • I expect to improve as a writer.
  • I expect not everyone will “get” me.
  • I expect to have to work hard to make a name for myself.
  • I expect to have to motivate myself.
  • I expect to have to learn more about the industry and stay on top of trends.
  • I expect to expand my circle of writing friends.
  • I expect to have disappointments and letdowns.
  • I expect to have to change direction, eat crow, and stay flexible.
  • I expect to make mistakes along the way.
  • I expect my writing career to not go as planned.

Yeah.
I’m a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy. I purposely keep my expectations
low. This doesn’t mean I don’t expect a lot from myself. It means I
don’t expect a lot from anyone else BUT me.

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea  You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.