I’m cat sitting this week: two dear 18 year old ladies called Winnie and Millie, both of whom know and like me. Apparently these old girls have been together for most of their lives, and as they’re the same breed and size you’d think there would be some similarities in personality, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Winnie, the paler of the two, is like a timid little mouse. She makes no sounds at all, runs behind lounges when you want to pat her, hides out in the back shed during the day, and often misses out on food because she hangs back. Millie on the other hand is like a force of nature. She’s loud and proud! The darker of the two, she meows around the house in the middle of the night (in a Kathryn Hepburn voice) if she’s either lonely, hungry, bored or a bit achey. She stands beside the milk bowl until you put milk in it. She stands beside the sliding door to the upstairs deck and waits until you open it so she can sun herself – in both cases meowing if you don’t attend – and generally going through life with this amazing sense of entitlement.
I was having breakfast on the deck this morning, watching the two cats: Millie rolling around the deck admiring the ocean view, watching the Willie Wag Tails flit about, and warming her coat with some gentle morning rays. Then there was Winnie, hiding under a chair in the dining room, looking like she’d love a pat or a bask in the sun but not game to come out. What happened to her sense of entitlement? She’s just as deserving of love and sun and food as Millie. But she doesn’t get any because she’s scared.
As a writing mentor and author myself, I’ve met hundreds of writers, both published and unpublished, and I’d be an idiot if I hadn’t noticed patterns of behaviour in those who get published and those who don’t. Unfortunately it’s very much a Millie and Winnie situation. Talent is definitely not the deciding factor.
Millie writers are distinguished by a sense of entitlement. They stand at the milk dish or the sliding door expecting to get what they want (read: submitting to publishers, agents & competitions and believing in their right to be published). If they get a rejection or are ignored, they don’t walk away, they meow louder (submit to more competitions, agents and publishers) knowing that sooner or later their needs will be met. Millie writers will eventually get published.
Winnie writers, however, are usually crippled by self-doubt and hide behind talk about how hard things are, how few people are getting published, how fickle the industry is, how crappy their writing is. Winnie writers don’t submit their work confidently and regularly because there’s a soundtrack in their head that says What’s the point. and how can they become published if no-one sees their work?
Now I’m not suggesting that any old rubbish will be published if you only persist. Of course you have to learn your craft and continue improving. This conversation isn’t for beginner writers, it’s for those who should be published by now. Beyond talent and writing skill, how do you develop a sense of entitlement? Firstly, work out why you think you deserve to be published. Have you been writing for ten years and have worked damn hard? Are you innovative? Talented? Fabulous at editing? Stir your ego up. Get it on the job. Be a little grandiose in your own mind. Then write that down an put it where you can see it all the time. Mine is:
I’M THE MOST CREATIVE WRITER I KNOW
Purely my opinion but I believe it, and it gives me a sense of entitlement, particular in the fantasy genre. Of course I don’t usually advertise that because I don’t want people to think I’m a tosser. But I’m sharing it with you because defining why you deserve to be published will motivate you to write, to submit, to weather rejection, and to ultimately succeed in your career.
Don’t take no for an answer. When I was unpublished I had the Apollo 13 rescue statement pinned to my computer: Failure is not an option. Get cranky if that’s what it takes, but beyond the anger define why you damn well deserve to have a book with your name on the cover. Get a little Millie swagger happening (in your own mind, don’t share it with others or they’ll think you’re a tosser too!). You’ll be surprised by the results.
And if you have twenty minutes to sit with a coffee and watch this amazing TED talk, I promise it will show you practical ways to become more like Millie and less like Winnie…