In his book, Awaken The Giant Within, Anthony Robbins writes, ‘It’s not the events of our lives, not our environment that determines who we are, but what we believe about our experience.’
That got me thinking…What do I believe about writing and creativity in general? What have I taken from my years of working as both a musician and a writer? The good and the bad, the realities and the misconceptions.
1. Perhaps my number one belief when it comes to any creative endeavor is that talent is greatly over-rated.
I learned long ago from studying violin that consistent practice is far more important. If you say it all comes down to talent and you either have it or you don’t, you’ve surrendered all control of the situation.
Even when it’s there, talent alone is never enough. I’ve seen dozens of gifted people give up when the going got tough because they never had to work for anything before.
2. I believe I haven’t wasted my efforts if I write a book that doesn’t sell. I put it aside and start a new one knowing I can return and revise it later after I’ve honed my skills a bit more. But even if I never revisit the work, I know that writing it moved me closer to my ultimate goal of being the best writer I can be.
3. I believe books sometimes – perhaps even often – get rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. The publisher might already have several authors writing books in a similar style. The topic or theme of the book might not be particularly trendy at the moment. Or just the opposite could be true and the market is saturated with books in that genre.
4. Following on from the above scenario I believe it’s possible to submit the same book to the same publisher a year or so later and get a completely different result. (Which – without going into details – has actually happened to me.) A topic that wasn’t marketable last year is hot today. A slot opens up in the editor’s stable when one of their authors moves on or changes genre.
5. I believe luck plays a factor in the success of an author/book but not enough to significantly alter my approach to writing. Yes, there are things you can’t control once your book is ‘out there’. But the same factors determining my book’s success are effecting other books that are successful. So if my book isn’t selling that well I just need to write a better one next time.
6. Having said that however, I believe a good book can be overlooked for a time. What’s more, I believe it’s possible to ‘resurrect’ such a book at a later date so it does find a measure of its deserved success. Some world event suddenly makes the book’s topic more relevant or interesting. (How many more books about viruses were sold during the Covid pandemic I wonder?) World views and market trends change. Themes become relevant that weren’t at the time that book was published.
7. One of my strongest beliefs about writing and the creative life is that passion is contagious – and so is apathy. I love being around passionate people dedicated to their craft. It fills me with hope, makes me consider options I hadn’t thought of, and encourages me to take appropriate risks I might otherwise be hesitant to take.
I steer clear of ‘dabblers’ who only work when they’re in the mood and never stop telling you about the story they’re going to write one of these days. Or the professional who only badmouths their peers and complains about life’s unfairness.
8. In a similar vein I believe there’s something in group energy that affects creativity. I’ve been running writers retreats for twenty years and I’ve had this experience over and over. Eight people sitting in a room together, each hard at work on their own story somehow create a wave of energy that all of us ride. It’s a buzz I look forward to every year. (And our next one’s coming up in 8 weeks! I’m already packing!)
There’s really only one belief I’ve come to have second thoughts about over the years. For a long time I believed that if an author writes a great book, a story that truly touches the hearts of readers, everything else will fall into place – a publisher will want to publish it, readers everywhere will want to read it, it’ll get great reviews, go to multiple printings, etc. All the things writers often worry about take care of themselves.
Though I still believe this to a certain degree I realize that, with so many books on the market these days, it might take a bit in the way of marketing for even a great book to find its readers.
I’m still refining my view on this one. But, for now, that’s my list of writerly beliefs.