by Peggy Blann Phifer
Well, it's a brand new year! What's in store for us as writers? Good question, huh? Of course, we can't know, but there are a few steps we can take to help us achieve our 2017 writing goals.
I was browsing some old files over the weekend and came across an old article I wrote about fourteen years ago that struck me as worth repeating. See what you think.
There’s an old, old song from which we, as writers, could learn self-discipline. It goes like this:
“You’ve got to ac-cen-tuate the positive,
E-lim-inate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between!”
Some of you of a 'certain age' will recognize those lyrics and are smiling and nodding your heads. They do have something to say, don’t they?
You see, every writer, whether an old pro or a rank beginner, has times when we begin to wonder if we should have chosen another vocation. Those days when sitting in front of the computer staring at a blank screen with blinking cursor can be pretty discouraging. We have no idea why we’re there, what we’re going to say, or how to say it. Been there?
Yes, we all have. I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened to me when sitting down to write this column each week. Today’s is no exception. I avoided staring at the blank screen, though, and gazed out the window for a while, when those lyrics just popped into my head. I thought, well, okay, what do I do with them? As I wrote them, the rest of the idea came right away! Amazing how these things happen.
So, we’re going to talk a bit about ‘e-lim-inate the negative’ part of the song. The old tired-but-true axiom that “can’t never did anything” is as apt today as it was when it was coined. If we say “I can’t” then it’s for sure we won’t. Have days when you feel yourself wavering, wailing “I’ll NEVER be a writer! I just can’t do this!” Um-hum. Deadlines don’t always help, either. Although there are some writers who thrive on them, deadlines do seem to push that panic button that causes us to doubt ourselves and lose faith in our abilities. Here’s something I’ve used before:
‘It would have taken about a year to finish the book at this point, but reading it had depressed Peggy severely. The work to be done was tremendous, and if she completed it—then what? How could she submit it anywhere when she feared lawsuits and dreaded professional criticism? And when she compared her work to that of
Glasgow and Fitzgerald and Benet—how could
she dare to think of herself as a true writer? She had worked hard and long
hours, but that was not enough to qualify her as a literary figure. And she was
sure that the authors she admired had no need of someone like John at their
elbow, helping them all the time. Someday, perhaps, she would go back to the
book, but at the moment, the entire project seemed to her like little more than
a waste of time.’
Peggy, in the above message, is Margaret Mitchell. And the unworthy manuscript – “Gone With The Wind.”
Interesting? Discouragement, depression, fear . . . all are part of the negative and we need to work hard on them. If we don’t, then we surely will fail in our attempts to become writers.
Almost as counterproductive is “Mr. In-Between.” He personifies apathy, a lack of passion for this profession. And, their writing shows it! Funny thing is, many of them are big sellers, and that’s pretty ironic, to my way of thinking. How many times have you picked up a book with an interesting title, or colorful cover, or because it was by a well-known author—whatever it was that attracted your attention—bought it (or borrowed at the library) only to get it home and find everything was sterile and generic? You know what I mean. There is a no-name setting in a no-name town (or city) with non-description of much of anything. The story-line may be okay, but there’s a great deal lacking . . . it just doesn’t keep you interested. There’s no enthusiasm to turn the next page. You probably didn’t even finish the book. Makes you wonder how it ever got published. And, I’ll bet you sat back and said “I can write better than that!”
Compare that to a book you have read that was so well written, so captivating, that you couldn’t put it down. You kept turning the pages, one after the other, until you reached The End…and realized it was . That book was the result of the ‘positive’ side of a writer. No, the writer wasn’t perfect. Probably had a few of those ‘negative’ and ‘in-between’ days, but, more often than not, decided to ‘ac-cen-tuate the positive’ and ‘e-lim-inate the negative’ and gave ‘Mr. In-Between’ the boot. This writer managed to “Latch on to the affirmative!”
We can all do that, and our greatest advantage and assurance is to be sure we are writing in His will. When you face that blank screen, don’t stare at that blinking cursor. Put your knees to the floor and ask for His help and guidance. I guarantee that you will be able to surmount those negative and in-between times.
Back to the present. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. Can you think of ways you can ac-cen-tuate the positive and latch on to the affirmative this year? Do share!