Like everyone, I make mistakes. Big ones, small ones, you name it. Recently, I was thinking about my biggest mistakes as a writer and I came up with two whoppers, both of which are actually ongoing screw-ups. Both have held me up and cost me opportunities in my writing career. I need to address both if I want my career to progress. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as waving a wand and saying, “Fixed!”
So, dear reader, I’m offering my idiocy to you in the hope that you won’t repeat my stupidity.
I wish that my biggest mistakes were as simple as spilling coffee on a manuscript, or typos in a document. Ha! Mine are actually much more on the order of self-sabotage and I’m sure a therapist would have a field day with me. I think a good bit of these mistakes stem from being a huge introvert. It’s just not that easy for me to glad-hand and strut my stuff. I’m much happier curled up on the sofa with a book. Anyway, in no particular order, my two biggest train-wrecks as a writer.
Mistake #1: Not keeping up with contacts.
Years ago I had an agent for a non-fiction project. That book didn’t sell and after my agent admitted defeat, I lost touch with him. (There was a long period between that project and my taking up fiction which partially led to the separation. I just didn’t have anything to give him. Not coincidentally, this is related to Mistake #2, below.) The kicker is that he also represents fiction in my genres. Had I kept in touch, I might have an agent for my fiction. But now it’s been so many years, it would be incredibly awkward to approach him. (Or at least it would be in my mind, which is likely half the problem.) I should have at least sent him a card every year or something, just to keep my name in his mind.
This isn’t the only time I’ve done this. I’ve squandered contacts in my freelancing, as well. I’ve lost touch with people I used to work with only to later wish I still had them on speed dial. I excel at meeting people at events and not following up. I’m not a bridge-burner. I never intentionally say, “That’s it, I’m never talking to you again!” I’m more of a bridge neglecter. Somehow, some way, too much time always passes and then, when I need that contact, it seems like it’s been entirely too long to approach them again.
It goes back to the introvert thing. I’m so uncomfortable with calling people out of the blue, or sending them what equates to a, “Hi, I’m not begging or anything, but could you please remember me,” email. Unless I have something relevant to say, I don’t make contact. To do otherwise feels like I’m being intrusive. I’m learning, though, that I have to get over it. The agent thing was the one that brought this home. How different might my career be right now if I’d stayed in touch with that man? No way to know, but the regret kills me.
Mistake #2: Not being fast enough to capitalize on opportunities.
I’m a sloth. Not because I’m lazy, but because I move too slowly for a world that moves at hyper-speed.
Opportunities come up and I’m too slow to capitalize on them. As noted above, had I moved much quicker between that non-fiction project and fiction, I might have been able to keep my agent. Had I quickly written the book I thought up about ten years ago, I might have been able to ride a lucrative publishing trend. If I had written a book much quicker, I might have been able to nab the agent who said, “Contact me again if you write something else.”
The world moves fast and people are quick to forget you. You have to jump on everything or miss out. I’m not much of a jumper. I’m more of a, “Stand back, analyze the situation, and then proceed with caution,” person. And by the time I’m done with all that, the moment has passed.
I’m also famous for generating ideas and then not following up on them as quickly as I should. I can’t count how many times I’ve come up with a book idea, shelved it for months, and then discovered that whatever the idea was, it’s now the hottest trend in publishing and now over-saturated, so now it’s too late for me. This mistake comes from a fear that whatever I’m thinking can’t possibly be good. I’m still guilty of thinking that all of my ideas are stupid. “Who’d want to read that?” should be on my coffee mug.
I’m a work in progress so I don’t really have any advice for overcoming these mistakes. For me, just knowing that I’m making them has been a huge first step. At least now I can try to stop myself before I ignore a contact or toss away a book idea because it seems stupid. I still don’t know how to make myself more comfortable being what feels like “pushy” to me, so I may never completely overcome some of my problems. All I can do is try to be better, faster, and more communicative and keep working at it.
If you recognize yourself in any of my idiocy, I’m sorry I can’t tell you how to fix it. All I can do is tell you that you’re not alone and encourage you to work on it. And if this isn’t you, do everything you can to make sure you don’t make my mistakes. You’ll be much happier.
(Photos courtesy of stevepb, mikewink, WikiImages)