Nurturing the Vigilante-Author Attitude

One of the most important things you’ll ever do in life is to develop the right attitude. There’s an old saying that “Your attitude determines your altitude.” And it’s true. Nobody flies higher in life than their attitude — at least, not consistently or over the long haul.

We all face challenges. Sometimes, we can change unpleasant situations. But often, we can’t alter the facts of reality around us. All that we can control is our perspective about those facts, and thus, how we’ll respond to them.

We writers know that we can control what we put down on a blank page or screen. After spending years learning our craft, we strive to do the best job we can in weaving a compelling and powerful story. But ultimately, we can’t control how people are going to respond to what we write. Communication requires a transmitter and a receiver. As writers, we can control only the transmission, not the reception.

I love indie-publishing guru Joe Konrath as much for his feisty, maverick attitude as for his sage advice about writing and publishing. Joe is the personification of the hugely successful Vigilante Author. If you want to sample a bit of Joe, try his recent blog post titled “Not Caring.” Some excerpts:

Do yourself a huge favor, and don’t listen to the public.

This goes for more than your literary endeavors. If you blog, or speak in public, or tweet on Twitter, you are a Public Figure.

That means some people aren’t going to like you.

And you shouldn’t care.

You shouldn’t care about people liking you, either. Praise is like candy. It tastes good, but it isn’t good for us.

The opinions of strangers, good or bad, should have no power over you….

If you’re lucky enough to be read, you will attract detractors and sycophants. You will be ridiculed, celebrated, roasted, venerated, criticized, analyzed, and talked about.

You have no control over what people say about you.

You have full control over how you react to what people say about you….

The world is filled with a wide variety of people. But only a few of them should really matter to you. The rest are just white noise. They can amuse. But don’t give them more power than that.

Do yourself a favor and go read it all.

Another Vigilante Author whom I greatly admire is Dean Wesley Smith. Also a hugely successful indie author, Smith posted a recent blog that concretizes the kind of attitude that Konrath is expressing, in the form of some basic rules for writers:

Every writer is different.

Let me say that one more time:

Every Writer is Different!!!!

And what makes your books interesting to readers is YOU….

But then you go trying to imitate some other writer, try to write what is “hot” because some editor or agent told you that is what is selling. So what do you do? You take the YOU out of your work and it becomes mundane and just like everything else and won’t sell….

Kick all the editor and agent voices out of your writing office and write what makes you passionate or angry or excited….

Some basic guidelines on how to do this:

1) Never talk about your story with anyone ahead of time.

Their ideas, unless you are very experienced, will twist the story into partially their story.

2) For heaven’s sake, never, ever let anyone read a work-in-progress.

Totally stupid on so many levels I can’t even begin to address. If you want to collaborate, make sure you have a collaboration agreement, otherwise, keep your work to yourself until finished. And wow does this apply to workshops. Never show a work-in-progress. Ever. Trust yourself for heaven’s sake and learn how to be an artist.

3) Never think of markets or selling when writing.

Enjoy the process of writing and creating story. When the story is finished, then have someone read it and tell you what you wrote and then market it.

Smith lists three more rules for writers to help them maintain their independence, integrity, and unique voices; but to find out what they are, you’ll have to read the rest of his blog post.

If you follow both the advice and the example of successful indie authors like Konrath and Smith, you too will nurture the Vigilante-Author Attitude. And that attitude eventually will determine your altitude — your ultimate level of success — as an author during the coming tumultuous years in the world of publishing.

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  • http://twitter.com/van_wu Vanessa Wu

    Great extracts, Robert. Thanks. It is very refreshing to see a writer saying “Trust yourself and learn how to be an artist.” I couldn’t agree more. The first sign that a writer isn’t good enough is when he or she whips out a manuscript in progress and asks eagerly “What do you think?” I think, “Go away and finish writing it.” Or something like that. In order to write well you need first and foremost good judgement. Good judgement at every stage. A good writer is by definition an independent thinker.

    • Anonymous

      Great comment, Vanessa. You’re right about authors desperately seeking validation for their manuscripts-in-progress.

      During the writing of HUNTER I had doubts only about the effectiveness of my opening scene. I showed it to a few friends, just to see if it was an effective hook. Their underwhelmed reaction confirmed to me my intuition that it wasn’t.

      I didn’t ask them what to do about it; I knew. I made the changes necessary — which entailed moving the planned “Prologue” much farther into the story, as a flashback chapter. It worked like a charm. In other words, I was seeking feedback on one technical point — not validation of my adequacy as a writer.

      Only after the manuscript was finished did I let anyone read it. At that point, the story itself and all its elements were already set in stone; all I wanted by then was to determine who constituted the tale’s market, and whether I had made egregious errors that could be fixed before publication. So I enlisted a host of beta readers, aiming for a good demographic cross-section. They served as a “focus group” and also as de facto proofreaders. Their intelligent feedback was simply invaluable; they caught a lot of errors and typos, but offered substantive comments that pointed to a few areas that I was able to fine-tune.

      But as gratifying as their positive responses were, it wasn’t their validation that I sought. I had written the story I wanted to write. I didn’t intend to change the story; I simply wanted to know who might want to read it.

  • Victoria

    That is one of my favorite ‘Konrath posts’. You have to be confident in your own writing if you desire to be independent. No one else is going to feel good about your work of you don’t. I like his maverick attitude as well – it’s what appealed to me in the first place, but then I’m a maverick too! Great post!

    • Anonymous

      Amen to that, Victoria! And welcome to “The Vigilante Author.”