SLOTH. I’m inherently lazy so I chose this one to write about first since I thought it would be easiest. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll have to learn to work harder because writing is hard! Your first draft of anything is probably a bit of a mess. You have to be willing to rewrite and rewrite again. Sometimes that will mean throwing out pages of text; sometimes it will mean getting up in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn before you have to go to your other job (yes, you may have to have another job, or two). Sometimes it means just sitting there at your desk until the right word, the right scene appears. Don’t give in to Sloth! Keep writing. Eventually you’ll become obsessive, which trumps Sloth every time. (Note: If you’re a perfectionist instead of lazy, you may not have to battle Sloth but you will have to let go of your quest for perfection in your first drafts. See Pride below.)
PRIDE. Don’t be too proud to take criticism. You can’t know if your writing is reaching an outside reader unless you have outside readers evaluate your work and you listen to what they have to say. Join classes, workshops, and writing groups, and swap work with other writers. Listen to their opinions and thank them for their feedback. You’re not obligated to take all their advice, but unless you listen with an open mind, you will never learn to make what’s inside your head appear on the page. If you’re a perfectionist, you might hesitate to show your work to anyone before it’s “perfect,” and that might mean you never show your work to anyone. As Voltaire said: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Let go of the idea that anything can be perfect and work to make your messes good.
ENVY. The besetting sin of writers. Why did that idiot in my MFA workshop get a contract before me? Why did that hack get a good review? Why did that kid five years younger than I get the prize? Why not me, me, me? Don’t be jealous of other writers. Their success does not diminish your own chances. And don’t read with a jealous eye; you will ruin your reading experience and cut yourself off from good books and, without reading good books (lots and lots of them), you won’t become a good writer. Everyone’s career trajectory is different. Just because someone else is successful at 25 does not mean you won’t be successful at 45 or 65. And what is your definition of success, anyway? If you’ve managed to write something you care about, you’ve already won the game.
GLUTTONY. If you write at home, it’s hard not to snack and, when the rejections come in and the work gets hard, to drink. Get thee to a library. Take a walk. Talk to some real people once in a while.
LUST. It’s hard not to want other writers’ successes (see Envy above) but don’t try to write their books. Write your own books. Chasing after trends will just make your work seem stale and derivative. Read voraciously and eclectically—classics, contemporary, literary, genre—if you read a lot, no one style will overcome your own.
WRATH. Rejection sucks but don’t let the anger eat you up. Use it instead. Turn the people you’re angry with into the villains of your next book. Write about subjects that outrage you but don’t rant. Create fictional situations that expose the bastards for who they are. Think about how it could be worse and then make that happen to your protagonist.
GREED. If you’re lucky enough to get published, don’t hoard your good luck to yourself; be gracious, share your success. Write glowing reviews on Goodreads, blurb other writers’ work. Contribute to the world of books so that there still is a world of books for you to write for. Teach classes, answer your fan mail, and mentor younger writers; someday they may blurb you.
Carol Goodman is the author of River Road (Touchstone; January 19, 2016)