Writers have a lot of problems (let’s face it). These are the most common – so common that they’re stumbling blocks for artists of any kind. Musicians, painters, sculptors, jewelry-makers, etc.. I have seen all of them struggle with these issues (Heck, I’ve fought them personally in different art forms!). That’s why I consider these 5 major problems for writers.
5 Major Problems for Writers:
1. Accepting “Good Enough”
There are two ways this hits people: stalling out and not knowing when to stop.
Some people stall out by telling themselves they’re not good enough. So they never start. Occasionally, they talk about trying to write a book or take up painting again, but they never do. If you really, honestly want to write the book or start painting, kick this idea out the door.
Start writing! Start painting! Start whatever – you’ll never actually become “good enough” until you do.
Here’s another example of stalling out, one that’s far too common with writers: the person who keeps working on the same project forever but never finishes.
At your 10-year high school reunion, Jim says he’s writing a novel. At your 20-year reunion, he’s still writing a novel – the same one. Same for your 30-year, your 40-year, and so on. He’s only a few chapters in, but every time he reads them, he finds mistakes he has to fix. So he rewrites the same chapters. Over and over again. Because it has to be perfect!
Your first novel is not going to be perfect. Your 54th novel is not going to be perfect. Accept that now, and move on. Don’t rewrite the same few chapters for the rest of your life: move forward. Finish the novel.
Not Knowing When to Stop
Another perfection-driven problem. This is the writer who has a finished manuscript but keeps editing and editing. Re-writing and tweaking but never finishing.
I’ve seen artists with fabulous stuff keep picking and poking at it instead of stopping. Sometimes, they keep toying with it so long that they ruin the whole thing. Don’t do that. Learn when to stop.
2. Taking Criticism Well
It’s not easy. Oh, no. Especially since some people don’t know how to critique constructively. Not that that stops people from tell you what they think. And in today’s society, neither does politeness.
Even with an editor or someone you’ve asked to look at the book, it can be hard not to be a diva. It’s your book. How could they possibly know better than you? (They can. Whether or not they always will, I don’t know, but they definitely can.)
Worst case scenario, try for a polite expression, say “I’ll think about that,” and then get out of the room before you explode. Rant for a while at home and then do what you said you would – think about it. It might be total crap or not. It’s hard to tell until you calm down.
Or you can forget that option and tell them exactly what you think in that moment. Not the best move career-wise, but you won’t be the first writer to do it.
3. Responding to Compliments
For some people, this is harder than taking criticism well.
Audience: This is crap.
Artist: Yeah, I know. I messed this up, and I didn’t get to fix this. Oh, and this part is awful! I’m so sorry. Here. Have one for free!
Give those same people a compliment, and they’ll list the same flaws. Like you must’ve missed them, and they’re being dishonest with you if you let them think your work is actually good. If you’ve ever had someone react that way to you, you know exactly how awkward it is. Sometimes, you can even get drawn into an argument, trying to convince the artist that you really, honestly like the piece. Until, finally, you get PO’d and walk off (You callin’ me a liar?).
Humility is all well and good, but there are limits. When someone gives you a sincere compliment, smile and say, “Thank you.” Whether you believe them or not.
4. Dealing with Society’s Attitude
No one likes dealing with a ‘tude. And society has a big, ever-changing one when it comes to art. Especially as a career. No. I take it back. Society has at least two big, not-changing-fast-enough attitudes when it comes to art as business: it’s not smart and that’s free, right?
It’s Not Smart
Smart – A.K.A. safe. This often falls under the ok-in-theory-but-not-for-my-child category. Lots of people claim to support art, but when they find out you’re trying to make it your career, they give you doubting looks.
Are you sure? That’s risky, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you rather be an accountant or something?
Yeah, no. You would think that with all the companies closing and letting people go (from “safe” jobs) a few years ago, people would’ve softened on this a bit. Not so you notice.
I don’t know about “smart” or “safe,” but I’ll grant that making a living in the arts isn’t easy. You can’t be lazy, and you have to really want it. On the other hand, if you really want it, holding yourself back from it to do that “smart” job can be even harder.
You can hold onto that when the doubters pester you.
If you want to be a professional writer (or other type of artist), you might want to practice that word. No. No no no no no no. No.
(You can ignore the “I’m Jane” part, but the rest is good.)
Repeat after me: No, it isn’t free. This is what I do for a living.
It’s ok to take it in trade (a few hours writing for an equal amount of accounting or lawyering or whatever), but, no, it is not free. It’s ok to give a family discount (if you want to, and you’re still breaking even). It’s even ok to give the occasional present. But be really careful not to set a precedent of doing work for free. It’s really hard to change once you do.
As Captain Malcolm Reynolds would say, “I do the job. And then I get paid.”
5. Putting a Price on Your Work
It’s hard to put a price on your work. It’s exceptionally hard to put a fair price on your work. Especially when society is constantly trying to get it for free, and you’re constantly telling yourself how bad it is. (See how the problems work together against you?)
Why are artists more worried about overpricing their work than they are about underpricing it? I don’t know! They don’t include their time. They don’t include overhead costs (websites, credit card rates, business cards, booth fees, etc.).
I know that just because you’re good at writing, that doesn’t mean you’re good at the business side of it (believe me, I get it). So. Find someone who is good at the business side of it. Get advice. Have them represent you. Take classes. Google it.
But if you want to make a living at your art, you’re going to have to get a handle on pricing. One way or another.
Watcha gonna do?
Well? Are you gonna let these problems kick your butt, or are you gonna tell them to kiss it?