Clarifying values is first step to becoming a writer

There’s a big difference between being a professional writer and being an amateur. The amateur chooses the safe path and gives himself an out when it comes to writing. Often when the moment comes to choose between writing and to do something else he will choose to do something else.

The amateur does not have his heart into his choice to become a writer.

This isn’t an easy choice nor is it one that you make by simply declaring to the world “I am a professional writer.” Really it’s a paradigm shift that may require you to change the way you approach the decisions that you make.

I say this because you don’t make the choice to become a professional writer one time. I make it perhaps hundreds of times in a week. Writing is a choice that I make every day that isn’t motivated by paying the bills or making an honest living for myself. It’s the simple fact that I have something to say and I believe it’s worthwhile to share it with other people.

The reasons I write are important to me and the only way to show that commitment is by doing.
John Wooden, the great UCLA baksetball coach had a saying “Little things done well.” The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the pro makes the right choice on all the little decisions that they have to make.

Consider all the decisions I have to make each day: Sleep in or get up early and read, watch television after breakfast or write this post, plod around on facebook or start writing this short story, Watch a movie after work or spend an hour or two plotting my novel.

Those are all very small decisions, ones that are made every day without much thought, but they are important because they are  choice to act.

The first step in becoming a writer has nothing to do with learning any particular skill or taking a specific class. It comes down to making that choice— are you a professional or an amateur?

The Personality ethic

I’m a big fan of success literature and a big chunk of my reading time is devoted to books on personal development. What I’ve found is that the true mark of a professional is the same whether you want to be an artist, writer or the head of a Fortune 500 company.

Professionals are people that let character dictate personality. To be clear,  character is the way we truly are while personality has to do with perception.  Indecision, regrets and negativity— all the things that hold you back— stem from trying to live based on perception rather than character.

The emphasis these days is on the personality ethic meaning we strive to project a certain image of ourselves based on the way we want people to see us.

The basis of a job search is selling your potential to prospective employers. So you acquire skills and learn specific techniques with the idea of becoming attractive to future employers. Employers looking to hire the type of personality that fits in with their company.

We project that image of ourselves in several ways. The obvious one is our cover letter and resume.  Others include personal websites, blogs and social media. Even certain face-to-face interactions are often done with an air of projecting a certain personality.

When you go in for a job interview or meet with a client there is a certain decorum that is expected that is different from meeting with friends or family. When an employer asks you for an interview what they really want to know is if the person you exhibit on paper is the same one that is standing right in front of them.

The personality ethic does not just apply to your job search.

Marketing campaigns are built on selling you on the fact that their product fits in with the specific image you have of yourself. Social media like Twitter, LinkdIn, Pinterest, Facebook and many others are built on the principle of sharing your personality with others.

Personality is just the tip of the iceberg though and where people miss the mark is not taking the time to figure out who the real person is underneath all the layers of personality.

Living from the inside out
Personality is easy to fake. The easiest way to lose credibility among your peers is to expose yourself as a phony. The best example of this is Tiger Woods. Think about the way you viewed him 10 years ago then now.

It’s almost like looking at two different people, but really what happened is that his character came to the surface in a very public way. He was an untouchable personality for nearly a decade–at least that was the image fans and the media came to know.

The error was ultimately believing that he actually was untouchable in all aspects of his life.
Woods could not live up to the personality other people created for him and ultimately that wasn’t necessarily the man he was or wanted to be. The results speak for themselves.

Think of character, or the person we really are, as a series of concentric circles much like a dart board. At the heart of it are your values, which is the relative worth you hold for yourself.

The values you regard highly form the core of your character. Love, hard work, perseverance are positive values while on the opposite end are greed, selfishness and laziness. These values in turn drive our beliefs, which is the next ring on the circle.

Beliefs are our opinions and convictions about ourselves and others. If you value hard work, then you will believe that others are hard working as well. If you love yourself then you will believe others are loving as well.

Beliefs lead to the next ring, which are our expectations. If you really believe that you will persevere through anything then you will expect that out of yourself in every situation. Contrast that with the person that believes that they will fail, chances are they will enter a situation with the same expectation.

The outermost ring are our actions, which is the one that we ultimately judge ourselves and others by. What we do is a reflection of our expectations, beliefs and values.

In the end, character is the basis of personality or the image we hold of ourselves and others. Anytime we are dealing with other people, what we are really doing is taking it on good faith that personality and character are one in the same.

When we say one thing and do another then we are violating that basic agreement that who I think you are is the same as who you really are. Once that happens it’s very hard to to get that trust back.

Negative emotions happen when what we are doing is not in line with our core values. When somebody is not happy with their job, what they are really saying is that deep down the work that they are doing does not have much personal value.

Clarify, Clarify, Clarify
The professional strives to be clear about every aspect about their lives. If they don’t know something then they strive to learn about it so they can be clear about what they are getting into. This is what people call being solution oriented.

If you are thinking about switching careers or making a life altering decision, the best place to start is within. Clarify your values and figure out what is really important.

Love, perseverance and hard work are just concepts, but what do they really mean to you? How do they apply to your work?

Choose the values that are important to you then apply them to your own life by working outward on each ring of the character circle. Inevitably you will reach the outmost ring. At that point you will be thinking of actions that will embody the things that are most important to you.

Clarifying your actions is the process of planning and goal setting. If you’ve worked from the inside out then this is the process of constructing a personality that is in line with your true character.

If in the end this means you need to change careers or pursue something different, then you have a decision to make. If not, then at the very least you will feel much better about the job that you are doing right now. Gaining that kind of clarity over your work situation is enough to give you peace of mind and in turn you will do your current job better.

Measuring success

Clarifying your true values is ultimately fruitless if you don’t take the steps necessary to achieve them. The steps you come up with may not be easy and ultimately it’s your decision to do them or not.

Perhaps what you truly want is to pursue a career in writing, but quitting your current job would make it difficult to support your family. That is a difficult choice and one you would have to think very long and hard about.

This is different from choosing not to do something out of fear. This kind of resistance is mental and stems from worrying more about the perceptions of others then what we truly want. If you truly seek to live from the inside out then your actions will be the measure of the values you hold dear.

That might mean standing up to your parents who think that giving up a steady job is foolish, or making the decision to give up a certain lifestyle in order to make room for the career of your dreams.

Sacrifices and change go together, but the professional is an expert at dealing with failure.

Our current culture equates success with winning and that goes hand-in-hand with our obsession with personality and image. If that is what you truly value then in the end you will never be happy or content with your life.

The moment money, fame and glory are gone then what is left for you? Only amateurs strive to hold on to things that that are beyond their control. The real professional measures success by the quality of effort they put into their actions at that moment not by winning or achieving the end goal.

When I sit down to write, my goal is to put forth maximum effort in the time allotted. Whether that’s a 15 minute session or six hours of straight writing I am happy and feel successful at the end.

The reward is in the process and in the end that means I never really fail.

A day at FogCon

I’m an admitted convention newbie. My first experience was Animation on Display in San Francisco this January and now FogCon at the Walnut Creek Marriot yesterday. FogCon is a convention that brings together genre fiction writers (and their fans) of different of types together to talk about issues that surround this field.

I heard about this really late after my teacher at the The Writing Salon Nick Mamatas told me about it a couple of days ago. It was a great experience and worth the money. This won’t be the last convention that I go to this year.

The biggest things that I got out of this were the contacts and also some inspiration for my own writings. So often writing is an individual task, but writers need to commiserate with their own kind and network. I felt inspired just hearing people talk about the things they are passionate about and that made me want to write a lot more.

I went to three panels on Friday. The first was a 75-minute writing session. The writing session was fun for the idea-generation exercises, but the biggest benefit was meeting other writers with the same goals as me. I’ve met a few people with stories similar to mine that have agreed to exchange their work with me.

The first Panel I went to was called “Apple Pie, Rayguns and Galactic Ovelords,” which dealt with the tropes that show up in genre fiction. The panel featured talked about how writers use different tropes and how readers view them. It’s something I knew about before, but I’m now a lot more aware of them when I read. I’ll definitely research this issue a lot more

The second panel was “Equal time for Non-Vampires” which dealt with the prevalence of vampires in genre fiction and other monsters in mythology that have shown up in writing. This was particularly interesting for my story Goddess INC, which deals with a variety of spirits so now I have some new myths to research and possibly incorporate into my story.

The third panel was on the “The Redefined Body” which dealt with body modification, cybernetics and how non-fiction and fiction authors deal with that issue. One of my favorite anime and manga shows is Ghost in the Shell, which deals specifically with the issues that come of from this. This panel certainly sparked a few short story ideas that I want to pursue.

There a still a couple days left in the convention so if you want to go check it out here.


The Inner critic

There are those inevitable moments that I finish a piece of writing and wonder “why the heck would anybody like this?” That tiny voice is my inner critic and a big part of my job is to make sure it has no influence on my writing life.
I avoid writing because it can be hard and scary. Not in life or death jump out of a plane scary, but the self examination and not liking what you see kind of scary. Putting down words offers them up for judgement and I worry that people will think my writing is poor. Sometimes that feeling is so overwhelming that kill a story before  it’s even written down. Being preoccupied with what other people think about your work is normal and natural for a writer.
Perhaps that idea was a piece of crap and showing it to anybody would have been a mistake, but it would not have been a waste of time. Judging work is not an author’s job and the needs of an audience should never factor into the decision to write something. I’m not saying that the audience doesn’t factor into my writing at all, they matter at a certain point in the process. When it comes to developing an idea though, the audience should be furthest from your mind.
Write what you know, write what makes you feel good and don’t worry too much about where it is going to go. Figure out what you’ve got first and appreciate anything born from your fingertips. If you feel this is a piece of writing worth sharing with the world then invite that audience into your psyche and listen to their input with clear eyes and a full heart. If not then simply file it away and appreciate it for what it is—your idea.
The true motivation to finish anything for publication is having personal stakes in the outcome or else it is going to become a chore to finish. If I feel comfortable with an idea then it will be an easy sell to an audience.
This isn’t a garauntee that everybody will love what you write— far from it. I’m just saying that it is not my place to judge whether something is good or bad. It’s my job to do to see every one of my ideas to their full potential.