2/23/16

Your Micro-Focus Is Killing Your Writing Career

Image by jrovig: tagsecond.com
Writers are always one Pinterest binge away from conflicting advice. "Keep your goals a secret!" they say.

"Tell the world what you want to do with your career!" they say.

"Put applesauce in your hair to make it shiny!"

That last one is true. Sometimes the first two are also true. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool advice follower. (Also a frequent user of garment cliches.) After a while, all that advice builds up in my brain and starts to give me anxiety about which is "correct".

Do I tell people what I'm working on or keep it a secret? Do I express what I hope for as a writer or would people think that was grandiose?

My solution to any career confusion in the past has been to get very specific with my goals. I'll make a short film specifically to enter into one festival or write something to submit to one magazine. Last year, I didn't just want to write a play, I wanted to write a play that would be accepted into Orlando's PlayFest.

I had zero plans for it after that. None.

Which is permissible. Sometimes finishing an idea is it's own reward. You learn a new format, try a different medium or get a story onto paper where it belongs so you can move on to your next brainchild. There are benefits to all these.

But...that's the best goal I could come up with?

Remember the episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer where everyone loses their memory? (Yes, everything does come back to Buffy, thankyouverymuch.) Shortly before the Scooby Gang gets zapped with a memory-depleting spell, Xander Harris lends his jacket to his best friend Willow Rosenberg. When she wakes up wearing his jacket with his last name stitched across the left side pocket, the first and best idea Xander can come up with is, "Hey, maybe I have a brother and you date him!"

Even without his memory, that character's self-esteem is so low he can't imagine having a girlfriend.

Guys...that's us. I spent months of my life drafting and re-drafting an entire play and it didn't occur to me to dream of it being staged? I just wanted it to be accepted into the contest. It was. I made it past the first round. That's as big as I could dream. I never did anything else with it. (Here's Scene 1 if you want to read it.)

Which brings us back to the fact that writing is honestly it's own reward. That's still true. Plus, I doubt my first attempt at a play would take the theater world by storm. But that's not the point.

The point is, my micro-focus and super specific goals are putting limits on my creativity. Sometimes limits are good. (See: Oulipo.) Sometimes, they're unhealthy. Why didn't it occur to me to enter another contest? To stage a table read with some friends so I could hear my dialogue read aloud, which would inevitably help me re-draft?

I set the bar too low. Lots of writers do. In doing so, we can pat ourselves on the back for things like writing for twenty minutes a day. I'm not knocking you if that's where you are and that's what you need right now.

But you guys....maybe she dates us.

I don't know about you, but I write because I'm compelled to do so. I want people to read or see what I've created. I have something to say. Maybe I want to pass on a life lesson so someone out there can read a story about a dumb thing I did and avoid the same mistake. I write because it makes my heart light up like a sankara stone. I write because I love to feel my fingers flying across the keyboard.

I always knew I'd be a writer. I'm talking way back. So far back I was afraid to walk through my living room in the dark because I was worried Slimer was real and he was going to "get me". Not just so I can say I made it past round one of a single contest. (Which is still cool and which I do still tell people. Pride in your work and accomplishments is allowed.)

I'm saying, maybe you don't have to keep your story a secret. Don't hide your ideas because of what it might make people think about you. You have just as much of a shot at getting an audience as any other writer. Act as if your ideas are good and worthy of your time and attention and re-drafting. Maybe you'll get that big freelance contract or that exciting gig. Maybe you'll be published or produced.

Maybe. She. Dates. Us.

#NeverTheSame #HotDogs

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