When I bought The Art of War for Writers a few years ago it was because I’d entered a sort of manic stage in my writing life. I was bound and determined that would be the year I finally broke out as a writer, and I wanted to have every tool at my disposal to do so. I was familiar with The Art of War, and Jim is a writer whom I really admire and respect, so I couldn’t wait to see how he adapted Sun Tzu’s methods for writing.
I made it a point to read one chapter each night before bed so I could mull the words over in my sleep. To say it gave me a lot of food for thought is an understatement. However, of all the advice offered, one piece has stuck with me the most: Whining will not help you win the battle for publication.
Why? Because Whining (and it’s favorite companion, Worry) warps the imagination and steals our joy as writers. Instead of focusing on our own work, we obsess over the work of others. It’s a classic case of the “Have’s vs. The Have Not’s.”
I know this because these are both activities I’m an expert at. There was a period of time not too long ago when I would go into bookstores, take a book of the shelf, start reading it and then ask “How is it this book got published and no one will look at mine? My writing is way better than this!” I’d particularly complain when I’d hear an announcement about a celebrity or reality star releasing a children’s book
“Of course their book would get picked up! They’re famous!” I’d tell my family and friends. “They cheated, cut in line some how. Did they even write it, or did they just offer an idea and a name for some ghost writer to do all the work?”
Chapter 7 of The Art of War for Writers gathers its focus from Christina Katz, author of Get Known Before the Book Deal. Jim wisely chose to include a statement from Katz’ book for writers to sign that would change all that. It pledged that the writer would keep all grousing to oneself for the course of a year. It took me all of a minute to decide this was something I needed to do.
I decided to modify the oath a little to state I would not grouse at all for a year — not to others, and certainly not to myself. Wanting it to be official, I opened up my word processor, selected a certificate template, typed in my statement, and hung the signed copy over my desk. That was two years ago.
Looking back, I am amazed at the change I’ve noticed in my perspective. I still have my off days, but instead of feelings of jealousy and ineptitude, I’ve been able to truly rejoice when I learn a friend’s book has been picked up. It has also spurred me on to continue improving my craft through reading and, more importantly, writing, thus preparing me for the day my name is finally called.
It’s the start of a new year, which means many of us are making new goals for ourselves. I’ve decided to resign my Writer’s Oath, renewing the contract for another year so to speak. I’d like to invite you to do the same.
Let’s make 2012 the year we as writers put aside all that which will drain our creative energy in exchange for that which will inspire us. Let us start this year with a fresh and unsullied purpose.
My friends, may this year bring you much inspiration, joy, and a bountiful harvest for your labors.
Happy New Year!