Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Solitary Mindset That Might Be Holding You Back

by Lucia Zimmitti

Honestly assessing your writing temperament can help you be more productive; you'll learn to work with your natural strengths and navigate around the spots that give you trouble. We continue in our exploration of the most common types of temperaments (and you may see yourself in more than one) with a look at "The Island." The others (discussed in separate articles) are:

-Sir Starts-a-lot

-The Perfectionist

-Fool for a Deadline

-The Tofu Artist (a.k.a. The Feedback-Dependent Writer)

Writing temperament: THE ISLAND

Writers need other writers. Trust me: there's nothing like the support of fellow writers to keep you going. But even beyond that, writers need other people - they need first readers, people to offer them feedback before the manuscript ends up on a editor's desk. The Island type of writer doesn't believe that and never passes off the work to anyone else for review.

Among Islands, there are two subsets:

a) The Over-Confident Island The first type of Island doesn't bother sharing his work with others because he "knows they just won't get it." You may be picking up a note of disdain in that statement (and you'd be right). He often believes the failure to connect with his work is the fault of the reader's stupidity and not in any flaws in his writing. Of course what the over-confident Island fails to remember is that editors and agents are readers, too, and they won't slog through something that the Island's bowling league or critique group won't.

Even though it manifests as over-confidence (and sometimes that's exactly what it is), this "They just don't get it" attitude might be a defense mechanism that protects a deep vulnerability. Whatever the root cause, the Island hampers his chances for breaking into print when he rejects the perspective of others and overnights his manuscript directly from his palm-treed acre to a New York publishing house. We're all too close to our work to see it objectively. That's where others come in.

For confidence to work for the writer, it must be balanced with humility, which allows for an openness and willingness to learn, to listen, to grow.

b) The Fearful Island (a.k.a. The Under-Confident Island or the Overly-Humble Island) This Island subset doesn't keep her work close because she mistrusts others' abilities -- she doesn't have faith in her own. She's driven to write, often she really enjoys writing, and she dreams about holding her very own published book in her hands. But when it comes time to push her words off the safety of her island, she balks.

She doesn't think her work is good enough, and unlike the perfectionist who labors in the hope that it will feel done at some point, the fearful Island isn't so sure any of her efforts will transform her work into something dazzling. And so she finishes it and keeps it locked away. And finishes something else and locks that up, too. She blushes and changes the subject when someone asks her about her writing "hobby." If someone asks to see something she's written, she drops the Martini tray she's holding, oblivious to the little toothpicked-olives bouncing along the parquet floor.

The sad thing: there are heaps of Fearful Islands out there, which means there are brilliant works out there, doomed to locked drawers, that we'll never get to explore and enjoy.

Take heart: Like all of these temperament classifications, the Fearful Island is a mindset, and mindsets can be changed. You can consciously change the way you think. It takes work and commitment and persistence, but it's quite doable when the will accompanies it.

If your goal is publication (and it is for all the writers I work with), you must balance humility with a healthy dose of confidence.

Benefit: For either Island type, you are spared rejection, spared the discomfort of a lukewarm reception of your work. You will never hear the sting of, "Huh. That just didn't work for me. What were you shooting for?" (Although we often need to hear that, it hurts -- no matter how tactfully the message is sent.)

Cost: You know you can't get published unless you throw your manuscript in the ring. But it's also true that you can't get better unless you revise, and you can't revise fully and meaningfully unless you get outside feedback. That's one of writing's immutable laws. And although rules can often be broken with success, not that one.

And remember: If writing is important to you (second only to a select group of humans), you can succeed with the right attitude, no matter what writing temperament you are.

To discover other ways to make your writing habit more efficient, satisfying and fun, visit and sign up for "Write Through It," the FREE monthly newsletter that offers practical writing advice and anecdotal wisdom.

Lucia Zimmitti, a writing coach and independent editor, is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Editorial Freelancers Association. Her fiction and poetry have been published in various national literary journals, and she has taught writing at the high school and college levels.

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