Living in Paradox
Last week I wrote a post about following your passion as a writer, versus trying to write what the market wants. I concluded that it’s a false dichotomy—you need to to both. It’s not easy living in two worlds, and it got me thinking of all the ways writers and publishing professionals have to live with the tension of being pulled in two directions.
It’s almost paradoxical, the way we need to embody characteristics that seem diametrically opposed to one another. But maybe if we acknowledge the conflicts and contradictory requirements, we’ll be better able to navigate them with aplomb and without frustration. Here are a few ways in which we writing/publishing types function in the midst of paradox.
1. We are at once creatives and business people.
Depending on your role in publishing (writer, editor, agent, marketer, etc.) you’ll be more heavily weighted toward one end or the other on this creative/business spectrum. But we are all expected to assimilate both characteristics. Creation is where it all starts; we are creative in our ideas and our execution of them. Thinking smart from a business perspective (using our creativity here, too) is what will bring our creations to market so others can enjoy them.
2. We are both subjective and objective.
We’re close to our own creations, and emotionally tied to them, so subjectivity about our work is our default. Readers’ tastes are also massively subjective and this even applies to agents and editors. Yet we all have to step back from our personal, instinctive opinions to try and see our work in an objective light, to better gauge its potential and its value to others.
3. We have to trust our own instincts while also trusting others to give useful feedback.
Trusting your instincts is an incredibly important attribute for success in business and life (I’m planning a whole post on the topic). If you can’t trust your gut, you’ll be forever tossed on the waves of doubt and indecision. Yet this is best balanced by a healthy respect for the input of wise counselors. We can develop discernment to know when others’ instincts are better than our own.
Trusting your own intuition can be tricky, because taken to the extreme, it can lead to stubbornness and the refusal to recognize the valuable opinions of others. The balance is a skill that most of us improve through many years of practice.
4. We create for the inherent pleasure in our art, but also with the intention of sharing it with others.
Most writers start writing because they have something to say, or a story to tell, and they keep going because of the personal fulfillment they get from the creative process. Most agents and editors pursued their careers because of their love of books and literature and working with authors. We’re all doing our work for the joy of it.
When we also want to make a living from it, we’re put in the (sometimes uncomfortable) situation of needing to gracefully blend art and commerce. But sharing our art with others vastly increases the inherent gratification of creating in the first place, so whatever adjustments we make to be able to sell our work are usually well worth it.
5. Much of our work is solitary, yet we also need to be good collaborators.
The only way we can get our work done is by sitting down at our laptops, alone. The work we do requires focus, and intensity, and deep thought. (I’ll submit this is true about a great many kinds of jobs out there.) But there comes a time when we have to leave our creation-cave, and work with others—whether to get feedback or editing, to get published, or to market our books. It doesn’t feel natural for some of us. We’d rather be solo flyers! Yet success demands both.
6. We have a spirit of humility about our work, but we need to be confident enough to share it.
We are at once apprehensive about sharing our work, and eager for others to enjoy it. We’re humble, not knowing whether others will value what we’ve done; yet we muster our confidence to put it out there. Some are closer to the humble end of the spectrum; others, as we know, are fearless! Again, finding a healthy balance is key to successfully navigating this paradox. Too close to either extreme will make it difficult to find your fans.
7. We’re extremely hard on ourselves, but we can also be blind to our own flaws.
Most of us are our own worst critics, and those of us with perfectionist tendencies are even harder on ourselves. Yet it’s human nature that we can’t see our own work objectively. A writer needs an editor to identify weak spots in the writing; others (like agents and editors) may need feedback from team members or an executive coach to help them be their best. It sometimes feels ironic that we could be so critical of ourselves, working so hard to be our best, and then an outsider comes in and immediately spots our flaws. Such is human nature.
Do you feel yourself living in any of these paradoxical situations? What are some other paradoxes you experience as a writer or publishing professional?
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Feel like you’re living in paradox? That’s normal in publishing, says @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.
7 ways writers and publishing professionals live in paradox, according to @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.
Writers’ paradox: “Trusting our instincts while trusting others for useful feedback.” Click to Tweet.
Writers: “We’re hard on ourselves, but we can also be blind to our own flaws.” Click to Tweet.