Hurt Me a Little, Please!

Want to destroy my ability to write? Want to be cruel by sabotaging progress on my novel's first draft? Want to make sure I'm so distracted in la-la land that my 1,000-word daily goal plummets to paltry double digits? If you want to be my muse's worst enemy, it's easy… Tell me how great you think I am. That's right. Get me drunk on my own stuff—I love that.

Tell me how you've always wanted to write a book like I am doing, but that the goal has always been far too daunting for you. Slap me on the back and tell me how my discipline awes you. (Look closely and you'll see me fighting a grin.) Wag your finger high in the air and say, "I knew that if anyone could complete a novel, you could!" and then shake your head, amazed.

If you want to plunge a dagger into the heart of my motivation, call me harmful names, like "prolific". Then take my hands and examine my wrists and fingers for evidence of some unfair anatomical advantage. Then look at your own hands and shout, "Why can't you produce like his!" Wow. I'll be drinking that up and it will be yummy. (I'll still be fighting the grin, but it might have cracked a couple of times.) To inflate my ego to the bursting point, call me the other sacred name. (You know the one—begins with "g" and rhymes with "mee-nee-us".) Now, that'll give me a satisfying buzz worth a month of writing-hiatus.

I hesitate to share this next tip because it's deadly, but for the ultimate deathblow to my writing career, tell me that you absolutely cannot wait for my book to come out. Tell me it will be worth any price. Then get on your knees, clasp my pant cuffs and in your best star-struck voice beg me to let you be a beta-reader because it will fulfill your life's dream. OMG – you might notice I look light headed, but leave me be. I'm good.

Yes, do all these things and you will have thoroughly hog-tied my ability to compose a new sentence until the terribly-potent delusion of my "greatness" wears off.

After completing two novels and in the process of drafting my third, I've learned to be careful about announcing my writing goals. Praise from loved ones comes easily to anyone who announces plans to write a book—particularly if it is the first. Unfortunately, for me, the praise I get ahead of time feels exactly the same as the praise contained in 5-star reviews after publication. It makes me relax. That's bad. You've heard of book advances? Well, announcing your lofty writing goals too soon triggers a praise advance. Your ego will spend it before you've even typed, "Once upon a time."

You might say, "No, Geoff, it's just friendly 'encouragement,'" but you will be wrong. "Sabotage" masquerades as "encouragement". The well-meaning fluffy-gushy stuff is toxic. Don't take more than a sip to heart or it's gonna get ya! Trust me on this.

You'll recognize the phenomenon I'm talking about in first-round American Idol contestants. The loved ones of these poor souls with no vocal talent have intoxicated them with so much praise that they show up on national TV drunker than a peach orchard boar. (It's a real saying. I looked it up.) They've been spending that praise for years, well in advance of having it validated more objectively.

So, what do I suggest? You've heard it before: Successful people tell stories of rejection and ridicule early in their careers and now they are obscenely wealthy, gawked at and pedestalled for their accomplishments. Do you think that's an accident? Of course not. They were challenged instead of coddled. Maybe that's the right road.

I'm not masochistic, but here's what you can do for me. If you want to help me, say, "Writing a book just like a bazillion other people, Geoffrey? Good luck, man. You've still got the day job, right?"

Sure, the skepticism will sting, but I can work with that. I'll probably excuse myself. And as I walk away, I won't fight the grin because you've given me some great motivational fuel for the heavy lifting that I know deep down is necessary. After I'm done then I'll bring something to show you and then you can tell me what you think of it. Whether your opinion is positive, or "helpful", I will have earned it.

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