1. Use your editing eye.
You have to. Yes, you could throw everything you’ve ever thought into that story, but should you? No.
This is a lesson that applies to every creative discipline. You can always do more, and you can always do less. But there’s a balance, and the only way to hit that balance is to experience your work from the outside and use your editing eye.
The perk of this is that when you do it frequently, when you build a habit of self-critique, you become better at what you do. Hands down. Writing, music, painting, baking, whatever it is you do: you improve when you analyze the results of your efforts and adapt accordingly.
2. The world owes you nothing. And no one cares how hard you worked to get here.
Seriously, we all work hard, schmoe. You know some lazy assholes? Good for you. So do I. But are they here right now? No. Everyone standing here has worked their ass off to get where they are. And I’m guilty of doing this–I’m guilty of looking at people churning out 3k porn stories thinking, Hey, must be nice, but some of us have to work for a living.
But that’s bullshit. It’s bullshit across the board. Some folks get something for nothing. Truth. Who the fuck cares? Work your shit, put your whole self into it, and don’t, whatever else you do, think that you’re fucking entitled to a goddamn thing.
Do you hear me?
You haven’t earned the riches and adoration of millions. Nope. You know what you’ve earned? The money sitting in your bank account. Maybe some jackass who isn’t as gifted as you are has earned more money in their bank account. Good for them. What you’ve earned is what you already have. You haven’t earned the shit that might be in the future. It’s in the fuckin’ future! The stuff you’ve got is what you earned; the stuff you will have is what you’re working toward. And all the sweat and tears in the world doesn’t entitle you to more than other people have, yo. Nooooope. That ain’t how it works. Or I’d be making way the fuck more money than E.L. James, because bitch, I’ve been writing forever.
(True story: I’ve never read E.L. James and I’m stoked she’s making loads of money off soft core porn they’re selling down at the Walmart. I’m not even joking. I get off thinking about all the good Christian ladies in my community, who warn their daughters against the dangers of the flesh, who have dog-eared copies of Fifty Shades buried deep in the linen closet for reading when they’re alone in their houses. I love that. Dominate, E.L. James! Or, you know, submit. Whichever.)
3. Take risks. (But don’t forget to use your editing eye.)
Maybe you’re writing the novel version of avant garde. (Wait, are you? Because rad.) Maybe you’re writing the hundred and thirteenth book in your series Stories of Vampire/Shifter Lovin’ in the Middle Ages. Either way, this rule applies.
Take risks, man. All the risks. (But don’t forget to use your editing eye.)
One of the observations about romance as a genre–and I’ve heard this from derisive onlookers, as well as readers and writers in the community–is that it’s predictable. You can’t expect it to take that many risks, because after all, we already know how it’s gonna end.
I call so much bullshit. SO MUCH BULLSHIT. I wouldn’t be writing romance novels if I really thought that, and I can’t fathom how other people are writing it with this as a basic tenant of their understanding of the genre.
Take risks, man. Write characters who aren’t white, able-bodied, cisgender people. Write characters who are poly, or old, or who have weird-ass food allergies that affect their whole lives. Write settings you’ve never been to. If you always write contemporary, try fantasy on. If you always write mysteries, try historical.
Are you a painter? Use a new medium, or a new technique. Are you a sculptor? Man, I wish I was a sculptor. Carve something new. Or if you carve, build instead. Is the kitchen your studio? Find a new ingredient at your grocery store and fucking google it, learn a new dish with a new flavor.
“Romance is predictable” is like saying “dinner is predictable.” Stop being so fucking predictable! Stretch your muscles! Do new things!
4. Don’t be douchey to your colleagues.
You know this. You know you know this. Don’t be a fucking jerk to the people who share your profession.
Do I love everyone who’s publishing books right now in the world? Nope. And I’m not super ethical about this, either; I have a few confidants whom I entertain with exactly how I feel about other human beings.
But I don’t say that in public, yo. Not ever. Because that just ain’t classy. And because shitting on other people in your field is a good way to cut yourself down. And have no effect on them whatsoever. So don’t be a fucking jackass, okay? At least in public. You’re still a jackass if you’re doing it in private, but it’s a smaller bubble of jackassery.
5. Surprise the judges! (In a good way.)
This will feel like #3 redux, but it’s slightly different.
I write a lot of books, and I write a lot of different characters, different dynamics. But that doesn’t mean I constantly surprise my judges. When I get an email from one of my constant readers, one of the folks who drops me a line three hours after I’ve sent out a new release email to tell me they’ve already finished the book, and they congratulate me on surprising them? Man. That is so good. That’s the best fucking serenade ever.
When General Wendy leaves a comment (and this doesn’t happen that often) saying she appreciates some little twist of mine, that she didn’t expect it, that’s when I know I’m doing my job. (I’m hoping that happens in QofLV book four when the killer is revealed, but I bet she’ll figure it out.)
You should always endeavor to not just to go beyond your usual baseline, but to blow it out of the water. Every fucking time, man. No excuses. I don’t care how tired you are. That’s your business. When you put art out in the world, it better be the best fucking thing you can do.