I was driving my daughter to school the other day when a Jimi Hendrix song came on. (Someone’s got to raise her right, yes?) And I started thinking, as I inherently do when hearing All Along the Watchtower or The Wind Cries Mary or The Best Version of The Star-Spangled Banner EVER, what a shame it was that he died so young. Only 27 at the time of his death—over 40 years ago— and he’s still hailed as one of the most talented guitarists of all time.
It’s a sadly familiar story—the brilliant young talent who burns out early due to death, addiction, bad choices, or just giving the idiots undue influence over his life: Vincent Van Gogh, James Dean, Virginia Woolf, Jim Morrison, Michael Vick, John Belushi. Careers and lives crashing to a halt at the height of success due to unfortunate and completely avoidable circumstances. And it always makes me wonder: where were their Wise People?
Writers that we are, we’re not under the same pressure as celebrities and geniuses. Our decisions are simpler, our temptations less life-threatening. But the possibility for premature burn-out among authors is still great. We have our own kinds of pressures—to achieve a nearly impossible dream, to prove our talent to ourselves and others, to consistently churn out work that is lauded, sells well, and outshines our previous efforts. Fear is a constant companion, accompanied by self-doubt, insecurity, and indecision—all hindering and inhibiting us at every turn. And as if the internal demons weren’t enough, we also have to face the expectations and criticism of family members and friends, colleagues, readers, and industry professionals.
It’s a miracle we ALL don’t end up self-medicating.
The fact is, we need some wise people in our lives if we’re going to succeed in the long haul. In this industry, having knowledgeable, honest, and caring advisors is not only recommended, it’s imperative. We need people
- who understand and encourage our passion.
- who are truthful about the quality of our work and how far we have to go.
- who challenge us.
- who can help us navigate new territory.
- who will tell us when we’re headed down the wrong path.
- who have our best interests at heart.
- who love us unconditionally.
Rarely can one person fulfill all these duties. Much like the proverbial village needed to raise a child, it takes a council of wise advisors to help any of us succeed as writers.
If your team is lacking any of these key players, find them—in critique groups, on message boards, at conferences. Pilfer them from your writing friends. Latch onto those people who fit the bill and cut the riffraff loose. I know—you can’t exactly jettison your boss, or your spouse, or your Drunk Aunt Alice. But you can recognize the naysayers for who they are: people in your life who love you and have value but aren’t wise when it comes to your writing. They have no business holding a position of influence at that particular council table. Relieve them of those duties and bring in others who can get the job done.
Remember: you are responsible for the people you allow to advise you and influence your writing journey. Make sure those individuals are wise. Then be the wise people for someone else.