Friday, September 17, 2010

Top 5 Habits for Writers

(Read the past editions of my TOP 5 series HERE.)

Top 5 Habits for Writers

1. BIC.
I can't remember which writer first said it, but BIC stands for the #1 most important rule for any successful writer: BUTT IN CHAIR. If you don't do that, you'll never get anywhere. A blank screen cannot turn into a published anything. (And as an addition to this, remember what Heather said in the comments last week, if you don't SUBMIT, you'll never get published.)

2. Be curious.
My level of curiosity is rather funky compared the average person, but probably not compared to the average writer. Once it even got me the question, "Are you a nurse?" The answer: Um, no. I'm just weird and like reading about ways the body can die or get ill . . .

(I blogged about that one HERE.)

I say that if you're going to write, you need to have a bit of that child's wonder left in you, the part that goes, Why? How? Where? What if . . .

No matter the genre (serious non-fiction, personal essays, fantasy, whatever), you need to think about life in new ways. Mystery writers may listen to a news story about a crime and not just think that wow, how sad; you can see the wheels in their head turning. What was the victim thinking and doing? What the heck was going on in the perp's head and what made him snap? Did he plan the crime? How will the cops will proceed with the investigation?

Mystery writers will have curiosity about different things than fantasy writers, who will use a different lens again than a romance writer. But the idea is the same: ideas are everywhere, and we just need to pay attention.

Here's a wild idea: What if your hair color could change with your mood?

(One possible answer: check out Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker.)

3. Thicken that skin.
Easier said than done, but oh, so necessary. If I can't handle honest (useful!) criticism, such as the kind I get from my critique group, I can't progress. I can't see the holes and missteps in my work. And when I get an editorial letter or have a call with my editor . . . pull on that skin!

Bad reviews are another animal; somehow they can wriggle under the toughest skin in spite of our best efforts. I know of a few authors who refuse to read reviews, even if they know they're positive. They just can't go there, or they'll drive themselves crazy.

4. Play nice; help others.
I cannot count how many people have cheered me, supported me, pointed me in the right direction, and more. This industry is one where the idea of "pay it forward" is huge. One big reason for that is the size of the industry: it's pretty small, relatively speaking, and the Internet has shrunk it considerably as far as how connected it is.

That means playing nice in the sandbox. Help others when you can. Don't be a diva. Don't talk smack about someone who upset you. If there's an industry where karma is alive and well, giving you exactly what you already gave, it's right here.

5. Enjoy the ride.
Another one that's hard to do, YES, even after you get that contract. No matter where you are on your journey, the road will have bumps and jolts. The trick is remembering to look up at the scenery and enjoy the ride in spite of the potholes.

Sometimes, part of that is stepping back and simply having fun with words and forgetting about that deadline or the next promotional thing you're supposed to do or whether you'll sell well.

It's remembering to have fun, oh, writing. Remember that little thing? When you drafted and made up scenes and characters and dialogue? Oh, yeah.

Sometimes it's important to simply let the other stuff (queries, rejections, edits, deadlines, promotion, and oh, so much more) get in the way of that single joy that got you started in the first place and remember how great it is to CREATE.

What are some of the most important habits in your trade?


Lara Neves said...

Your list translates rather well to my own trade:

Butt in Practice Room (self explanatory)

Be curious (learn about technique, why certain things work the way they do, play with your own voice and sound to discover what happens, read the theory, ask questions, etc.)

Thicken that skin (also self explanatory...lots of critique is going to happen. Get used to it and learn from it)

Play nice and help others (I hadn't ever thought about it before, but it's definitely important. Some of my best friends are people who I originally felt threatened by because they were "better than me" and then they helped me instead. I try to do the same for others.)

Enjoy the ride!

Great list, Annette! Made me think!

Kristina P. said...

I think these are great rules for blogging in general, even if your goal isn't to be a writer.

Susan Anderson said...

Great rules! As for enjoying the ride, I always have...with the possible exception of the promotional part. I've never been much into that.


lesa said...

Your list transfers well for me too.

Butt on piano bench.

Be curious. Learn and play new songs and composers.

I'm trying to help others.

I always enjoy the ride except for those times I have to adjust my attitude.


Laura said...

While the BIC applies in a serious way to my life, the out of chair experiences have to happen or I can't choreograph or learn new things to teach... in clogging. Not writing. Although, I read while I workout on my EFX. And that's probably the only reason I get on my EFX- so I have a perfect excuse to read for 30 minutes uninterrupted. You can't break that aerobic workout, I mean reading time...

InkMom said...

I have that curiosity thing DOWN, let me tell you.

What I'm struggling with is the BIC. Should I sacrifice sleep or eating? I'm not sure, but one of them has to go.

TisforTonya said...

I think I'd love it if my hair changed with my mood... but I'd probably end up wearing a lot more neutrals...

and apparently my first step is to change BOC (butt on couch) to BIC... it might help my discipline level!

Unknown said...

You, Lara, and Lesa pretty much covered all of my list.

Except, as the homemaker in this sorely neglected and often UN-made home, I have to learn the art of:

1) Butt OUT of chair. The laundry isn't going to move itself.

2) Forget curiosity. Assume EVERYONE smeared peanut butter on the computer screen, and discipline accordingly.

3) Thicken others' skin. Life isn't fair; might as well learn that at home first.

4) Play nice, right up to the moment that every word that pases your lips is considered open for debate. Then play "Because I'm the Mother".

5) Yes, definitely, enjoy the ride. My favorite is that ride taking my bored, sassy me-clone back to college every September.

Angie said...

Love the rules. Especially enjoy the ride. Well, I like curiosity, too. I am intensely curious about things. (I loved Warbreaker, BTW. I think my hair would be totally out of control all the time and I'd never be able to hide what I was feeling from anyone.)

Anonymous said...

Okay, I had a great comment but DeNae's just blew it out of my head because I laughed so hard. =]

Someone once told me BIC-HOK is the only way to write. Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. Because I can have my hands on the mouse and end up doing nothing. ;)

One of the things on my list is to remember to believe. In myself, in my story, in others.

Jenny P. said...

Butt in Chair is a good one for me right now... I keep wishing that I was one hundred pages in to my next project. Page 101 is so much easier than page 1. Typing those first words... gah! I need to just sit down and do it, but it just feels like the time doesn't exist right now...

it will though, soon. very soon.

Stephonie said...

My first experience with #3 was when our editor sent the readers notes to us. One of the comments was something along the lines of: A good story, but a pity that it's a fairy tail.
I was pretty darn mad! It is NOT a fairy tale! There isn't magic, or mythical creatures. Yes, it is set in a fictitious country. So what if there is a step father instead of a step mother. Yeah, there's a ball, and someone who brings a magnificent gown. And there is the handsome prince and there might possibly be an unsuspecting Shetland pony turned unicorn. But it isn't a fairy tail.... is it?

It wasn't until my sister pointed some of those things out that I realized, yeah, it is somewhat fairytale-ish. Since then I have been more open to suggestions and changes. Jennifer is much better at it than I, but this is just my first book. She is in the process of finishing up book #3.

Excellent list! About #5, I just have to say that this is

Alison Wonderland said...

When I started writing I read advice from someone (I think Janet Evanovich) that you have to treat writing like a part time job. You can't just decide you don't feel like it today, you can't blow it off, you can't hit the beach instead (but you can go to work in your pajamas). I think that's right on.

And what do you mean "what if your hair color could change with your mood?" Mine does.

Annette Lyon said...

Hah! Alison, you crack me up. Yes, your hair color is the exception. :)

Kim Bauer said...

I am so happy when I find bloggers who take their writing seriously. The more I write, the more I am learning to accept the critics.

I figure even in the most stinging critique, there is something to be learned. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Brilliant post Annette! I just read one on a similar theme by Sarah Eden and I'm I being sent a message or something?

Now excuse me while I play another round of Tetris instead of working on chapter four...


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