When a new student begins training at my martial arts school, one of the first things they learn is to protect themselves against an imaginary attacker. They learn the basics of survival...protect your head, be aware of your surroundings, and always look your opponent in the eyes. No matter what type of fighting skills they might develop, these rules apply every time they step out on the mats to fight.
I think the same rules can be used when I sit down to write...
PROTECT YOUR HEAD
I tell my students, especially the little ones, if you don't protect your head somone can hit it. If you can't think you can't protect yourself.
The same is true with my writing. What kind of writer would I be if I didn't work hard to improve my writing skills? I train my brain every day by continuous writing, studying the skills of other published writers and learning new ways to strengthen my work. But if I'm not careful, grammatical errors, sloppy plots, and weak characters will ruin a good story.
BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
We play a game in my junior classes my students love called Jump, Duck, and Evade. It's a simple game where I pass a blocker either by a student's feet, by their head, or in a downward chopping motion. The point of the game is to be more aware of your surroundings...to be alert to the dangers lurking in the shadows so you can always protect yourself if necessary.
I can apply that same rule of safety to my writing. Once my stories are polished and I am ready to send them out into the world to find a home, I need to pay close attention to the people who show an interest in my writing. The integrity of my work is only strengthened by aligning myself with the right people in this industry and there are too many sharks out there, ready to eat me alive, for me not to keep my wits about me. Whether I choose self-publishing or a more traditional manner, I need to know where imaginary attackers like vanity presses or shady agents may lurk so I can avoid them. I do my due diligence to my career by researching the credentials of the people I am interested in doing business with and am prepared to block or defend my writing against anyone who doesn't have my best interests in mind.
LOOK YOUR OPPONENT IN THE EYES
Even when my students bow to each other out of respect, I tell them to make sure they never take their eyes off the other person. In this world of survival, looking away prevents my students from anticipating a potential threat. Like burying one's head in the sand, they wouldn't be able to stop the initial attack and that might be all it takes to lose the fight.
For myself, the fear my writing might not be good enough is my biggest opponent on my path to publication. I imagine it is the same with many other writers. We take a passing comment from a critique partner or read a rejection letter and start to doubt we are strong enough to protect our own work. We become afraid to face our own fears and run the risk of losing the dream.
But it doesn't have to be that way. The demons of doubt living in our heads don't have to win. We don't have to let them take our dream from us. We can build a foundation of caring friendships with other writers to fall back on when we begin to question our ability. We can arm ourselves with the ability to recognize our own strong writing by attending workshops, going to conferences, reading books on the craft of writing, and following the writerly wisdom of others who have gone before us.
And we can dare to look our imaginary attacker of our spirits straight in the eyes and tell them NO! We will not give them a chance to weaken our resolve to become published. NOT TODAY! NOT EVER!! If we keep doing that every day, soon we won't have to worry about protecting our work, but rather what are we going to wear to the Oscars when our story is turned into a box office smash?