Friday, March 20, 2009
Please welcome our guest today, Tanya Michaels who also writes as Tanya Michna.
At age 9, Tanya Michna--who writes for Harlequin as Tanya Michaels--began surreptitiously "borrowing" her mother's Harlequins. By high school, Tanya was openly reading three romance novels a week and knew exactly what she wanted to do "when she grew up." A three-time RITA finalist,Tanya has now been published in a bunch of languages, been lucky enough to win a bunch of awards, and has sold more than forty books, short stories and essays under both her real name and pseudonym. Her spring 2009 releases include Mother To Be (Harlequin Superromance, Mar 09) and the romantic comedy Mistletoe Cinderella (Harlequin American Romance, Apr 09); as Tanya Michna, she also has the NAL Accent women's fiction novel Baggage Claim coming out this May.
Some debate continues on whether Tanya ever actually grew up. Visit her blog and decide for yourself...
The Biggest of Baddies
Since villains are the March topic, here’s what I personally think is the Big Bad: Insecurity. It’s rampant in the writing community; heck, it runs rampant in me. You know how we hear that over half the human body is water? That’s clearly not true in my case, because I’m made up of at least 20% doubt and 60% neurosis. In fact, I didn’t realize how bad it was until I did a mental inventory of my spring books.
In my Harlequin Super Romance Mother To Be (currently in stores), forty-three year old Delia Carlisle has a bold, speaks-her-mind personality but such a damaged relationship with her mother that she’s vastly insecure about her own maternal skills (problematic, since she discovers on page one that she’s pregnant.) In April, I have a romantic comedy from Harlequin American (Mistletoe Cinderella—which earned my first ever Top Pick from RT!) The heroine was very ill as a child and has never fully outgrown her early social awkwardness. Her insecurity with men is at the heart of the mistaken identity plot and eventual character growth. My May women’s fiction novel (Baggage Claim, NAL Accent) is about two women: one second-guessing her marriage, the other plagued with professional anxiety.
I suppose if I’m going to be an insecure mess, it’s better that I found a way to make it work for my career! Because I’ve seen too many people let insecurity stall or sabotage them. In my opinion, writers’ insecurity manifests itself in two main ways, different but equally detrimental.
The first is self-doubt. Why did I think I could do this. I’m a fraud. I’m going to chuck this manuscript and get a job as a Wal-Mart greeter (they get better benefits anyway). Any of that sound familiar? I have good news and bad news: it never goes away.
I still have this inner dialogue with every single manuscript. Maybe while I struggle with the opening. Or perhaps the beginning flowed as smoothly as really good wine yet, despite the synopsis that should have spared me any roadblocks, I’ve ground to a halt on page 186 and realize I can’t do this. Or maybe I write a book I actually like but the instant I hit “send” to the editor who (God bless her) accepts emailed manuscripts, I second-guess myself. Or, perhaps, I make it through all that but hold my breath when reviews come out, lest the reviewer proclaim TANYA CANNOT WRITE. But here’s the thing: I’ve sold more than forty writing projects (mostly books, but also short stories and nonfiction assignments). Even after my very worst review, neither editor called to tell me I was a no-talent hack and she was washing her hands of me. In fact, the vast majority of my reviews and reader mail are positive. My inner saboteur is wrong.
So is yours.
Do we have areas where we need improvement? Of course! But improvement comes with practice, not quitting. If you’re lucky, you get emotional support at home, but seek it out other places, too. Go to meetings and participate in writing blogs/forums and find good critique partners who can assure you that they’ve been there (I’ve been rejected many times at many points in my career. I’m just too stubborn to take the hint.) Also, be responsible for your own validation. Put together a scrapbook or even just a computer file of positivity. Did a critique partner email that she was envious of how well you incorporate the five senses? Cut and paste that! Did a contest judge say you cracked her up? Keep that score sheet! Make yourself something, no matter how small, so that when your doubt demons whisper, “You suck,” you have something physical and tangible to ward them off. Think of it as your writers’ Holy water.
I am a pack rat by nature so I save stuff—my RWA membership card, which proves that I was serious about pursuing this professionally, the contest ranking sheet where I came in second to last (but, hey, wasn’t dead last!), the form letter rejection that got my name wrong and was printed crooked (which proves that I actually finished a manuscript AND HAD THE GUTS TO SUBMIT. I may be neurotic, but I’m not a coward). Later that year, I upgraded to a personalized rejection. Next came one that said even though they couldn’t buy the enclosed manuscript, they’d love to see something else. Progress! Savor every tiny victory and learn to let the negative go (avoid groups or forums that dwell on the negative). Hoard your triumphs for rainy days when your self-esteem desperately needs to bask in the sun.
The other way insecurity rears its head is professional jealousy (an oxymoron, because it’s completely unprofessional.) And here’s my advice: cut that shit out.
Have you ever lashed out at or badmouthed someone more successful than you? Even if you think you were in the right, there may have been more underlying resentment than you realize. It’s completely natural, the day Golden Heart and RITA calls go out, to feel a twinge of disappointment when your phone rings—but it’s not Your Call, it’s an acquaintance celebrating her call. Smile anyway and wish her sincere congrats (and if you’re a truly lovely person, drop her a card or bring her some chocolates) because, trust me, you’re going to want the same friendly cheering when your call does come. In the smallest, pettiest corner of our minds, we start to worry that if someone else sells, that’s one slot we can’t have (never mind that we’re writing paranormal YAs, not inspirational suspenses). We start to fume that someone hit the Times list and her books aren’t that good. That’s poison. It generates negativity (and negativity often results in, if you’ll excuse the term, creative constipation). And then there’s the whole karma issue. Or, if you don’t believe in something as abstract as karma, let me make it more concrete—if you get in an elevator after the RWA booksigning, fuming about so-and-so’s undeserved success, how many people (editors or potential colleagues) in that elevator do you think will want to work with you later? Try to give your fellow writers the benefit of the doubt instead of instantly assuming evil intentions, and try to remember that we all have different reading tastes—just because you personally didn’t like someone’s last book doesn’t mean eight million other people are wrong.
Some food for thought: 1) Maybe you didn’t win THIS contest, but aren’t there like four thousand others you can enter? Contest wins aren’t even your End Goal. I sold my first book by getting second place (and an editor request) through a relatively small chapter contest. 2) It doesn’t matter that you may never write as well as Susan Elizabeth Phillips (and I so won’t) because we already have a SEP! I love dozens of authors, but I’m greedy—always on the lookout for MORE. Whether she/he writes hot paranormals or thoughtful women’s fiction or funny contemporaries, or… I just want someone with good stories and a strong individual voice. So stop obsessing over others and cultivate the best YOU possible. 3) You haven’t walked in her pumps. Someone sold her first book on her first try? Dandy. By the way, her husband is threatened by her success, her agent is embezzling, and her copy editor from hell is doing psychological damage. Writing success doesn’t mean a perfect life; people have medical problems, marital problems, health problems, career problems that you don’t have the first clue about. Don’t waste your energy coveting a surface image. Pour your energy into writing!
Remember, it’s normal to have dark emotions—doubt, jealousy, depression, anger. But channel them productively! Make them the basis for a deliciously tortured hero. Or warp them into motive for (fictional!) murder in a soon-to-be bestselling homicide series. And then you, too, will have copies of your own books to hold in your hands when doubt strikes, grinning sheepishly while you’re forced to admit, What do you know? I can do it!
Tanya is giving away two of her fabulous books to two lucky commenters who leave their thoughts before midnight tonight. The first winner receives a copy of Motherhood Without Parole and the second,a copy of Mistletoe Baby. Winners to be announced Saturday.