Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A gift for you, dear weary writer

See that silly picture at left? That is my dog Bailey. The antlers are photoshopped on but believe me when I say my dog is very phlegmatic about letting me dress her up, letting me make a fool of her, letting me...have fun.

Bailey has a lesson for all us writers in this holiday season. We need to lighten up. We need to be good to ourselves.

We beat ourselves up so much. We toss and turn in our sheets (See Tess Gerritsen's blog). We fret over the Writers Strike and our own personal writers strikes (See Lee Goldberg's blog). We pledge to work ever harder at our craft even though we've aleady driven ourselves to hell and back (see Joe Konrath's blog). We agonize over deadlines (see Alexandra Sokoloff over at Murderati)

Whew. I'm seeing that creepy Albino monk in the movie version of "The Da Vinci Code" (yeah, I watched it the other night on cable to cure my insomnia.) This guy was screwing barbed-wire anklets to his legs and beating himself bloody with cat o nine tails. It's a religious zealot thing, I know, but as I watched it I kept thinking of the pain we writers inflict on ourselves. Self-doubt, exhausting promotion tours, crippling envy, three-books-a-year contracts, flop-sweat fear. Hell, we don't need Kirkus. We're killing ourselves.

So here is my Christmas gift to you all. I hope you'll all take a deep breath (me included) and give yourself a break. My gifts to you are the exact things you probably won't give to yourself. But you need them.

This year, dear writer, give yourself:

1. Permission to write badly. This is the one I try to give myself every year because I am one of those "perfectionist" nuts who gets paralyzed trying to make every word sing. It has taken me a decade to understand that to get to the good stuff, you have to well, poop out a lot of crap.

2. The ability to know when you are brilliant. And you are. Even if it is just for one page, one paragraph, one sentence. You know when you've hit that sweet spot. You can feel it. Cherish it. You're not going to do it every time, but you don't need to. Brilliance, like diamonds, shines best when you think quality not quantity.

2. A good night's sleep. No obsessing about the wayward plot. No agonizing over recalcitrant characters. No worrying that they are going to find out you're really a no-talent fake. Because you aren't. Sleep. Take an Ambien if you have to.

3. A friend to celebrate the good news. Even if it's as small as you finished chapter two. Even if it's as big as a five-figure book deal and Clint Eastwood on your speed dial. Success is nothing without someone to share it.

4. An honest critic. Ah yes, that sacred cold eye, that invaluable reader, that one true editor who can tell you when you have lost your way. Your mother loves you too much to tell you the truth about your book. Treasure the one who can look you in the eye and say, "this sucks, you can do better."

5. The courage to question your agent or editor. Blind loyalty is dangerous. In politics, love...and publishing. A great agent or editor can be your biggest ally. But it is YOUR responsibility to steer your career.

6. A week off. Leave the laptop. Abandon the Blackberry. The cell can go to hell. Find someplace to which you can truly retreat, where the world cannot intrude. St. Barts is great if you can afford it. But your backyard deck will do. Drink good wine. Read trash. Eat too much. Make love. Dance in the snow. Breathe in pink...breathe out blue.

7. The courage to talk to a writer "bigger" than you and know you have something to offer them. The first time I found myself standing next to Lee Child I turned into the third verse of Janis Ian's song "At Seventeen." Years later, I still cringe. But now whenever I see Lee, I just picture him naked....

8. A few extra bucks to attend a conference so you know you're not alone. You need to get periodic infusions and if you approach cons right, you come away replenished and eager to work.
9. A long drive to nowhere or a walk in the woods to clear your head. You've got to quiet those shouting voices of doubt in your brain. This happens only in quietude. Or maybe driving down I-75 with "Bohemian Rapsody" blaring.

10. The clarity to recognize the seed of inspiration in the smallest things. You're stuck. You've painted yourself into a corner with the plot. Take a step back and look for small things. Open your brain and all your senses. You never know where the answer will come from.

11. Time to appreciate your family for appreciating how hard you work. Your people are important. Tell them. Often.

12. Kindness to reach down to someone who admires you. No matter where you believe you are on the writer food chain, no matter how low you think you are, someone is looking up to you.
Karma, baby, karma...

13. Permission to spend some of that advance money or royalty check on yourself. Buy a great bottle of Meursault. Rent a red convertible. Get botox. Splurge on Celtic tickets. My friend Rhonda Pollero just got a new agent, signed a fabulous six-book contract with a new publisher -- this after years of bad luck. She bought herself a diamond ring.

14. Courage to venture out of your comfort zone. This is a tough one because sometimes you can get slapped on the wrist or wacked alongside the head for your trouble. But there is no growth without chances taken. You just have to believe you are right. Even when everyone else -- and maybe even the sales -- are telling you otherwise.

15. And lastly, we give you the gift of Faith. Faith that....someone will love your book enough to buy it. That you have another good story still inside you. That no matter how tangled your book might feel, you will find the way home. That you are....brilliant.

Peace, dear friends.


Blogger Mark Terry said...

Excellent, excellent gifts there. Thanks.

And I would suggest, on a philosophical note:

Learn the differences between excitement, euphoria, happiness and contentment. How they're different and why.

Your life will be better for it.

Happy Holidays & A Great New Year!

2:33 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Kris. Thanks for all the reminders, especially FAITH.

Happy holidays!

5:41 PM  
Blogger NL Gassert said...

THANK YOU. I will print this out to remind myself of it periodically as 2008 progresses.

12:23 AM  
Anonymous liz lytle said...

Many thanks for the kind gifts, as I sit surrounded by notes and print-outs intended to aid in finding a literary agent, they are greatly appreciated.I am probably the newest member of South Fla. MWA Chapter, but have not had the pleasure of meeting Kristy yet....perhaps at Sleuthfest?

12:07 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Hi Liz,
Definitely come up and introduce yourself at SleuthFest. And best of luck with your agent search!

4:01 PM  
Blogger Kim Smith said...

I am so thrilled to find your blog ! I am so bookmarking you!

And thanks for the well wishes. Being a writer some days is grand, some days just about like nails on the old chalkboard.

Will you be at Killer Nashville this year???

2:50 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Welcome Kim!

We were at Nashville last year and really enjoyed it. A really good ocnference. But don't know yet what traveling we will be doing this year.

5:20 PM  

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