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The Limitations of Mountaintop Gurus

I believe there is a kind of writer's karma, where every act of generosity attracts positive energy to the giver. Whether it's pouring hours into judging contest entries, helping a newer writer vet an agent,understand a contract, or improve her craft, or reading a critique partner's manuscript, doing good feels good. So good, in fact, that some writers stop taking risks (including submitting their own manuscripts) and instead pour all their energies into helping others. After all, guru-dom is so much safer and emotionally rewarding than periodically having one's heart torn out and stomped on -- which is something publishing is bound to do from time to time.

Gurus know all, where working authors come to realize that writing and publishing are unknowable.

Gurus offer wisdom from on high, where writing and publishing all too often toss one down the mountain.

But unless the guru is still out there risking failure, he/she forgets what it's like to work for weeks, months, or even years without knowing whether the product will be acclaimed or reviled. The guru's wisdom becomes dated, since the realities of the business change from day to day. And all too often, the advice offered is composed of complicated checklists and exercises designed to stall the emerging writer's journey, because once the trigger's pulled, the target is either going to be hit or missed - but there's no taking back the submission.

What a working writer knows is that you have to keep reloading, refining and firing off products until you finally hit the bullseye - or at least come closer to your goal with each attempt. Your own creativity will provide the ammunition, so don't be so gun-shy. Or too quick to listen to the guru who's retired from the field.


Jeanna Thornton said…
Colleen, though i am not *there* in my writing journey yet, I AM the one sucking the life out of the Gurus...a good lesson here.
Joni Rodgers said…
"Gurus know all, where working authors come to realize that writing and publishing are unknowable." = YES

As usual, Colleen, you're exactly and profoundly right.
Thanks so much, Jeanna and Joni.

The older I get, the more I learn... and the farther I see myself from knowing everything. Isn't that weird? When I was a college sophomore, I was fairly certain that I did. :)
Mylène said…
Guru checking in here, and fully agreeing, Colleen. I always hope to model the thing I hope to inspire. Risk, create, fall on face (or not), get up, risk and create some more. Dance until your heart bursts.
I agree SO MUCH with this. Although I'm not a "guru," I have had this before with teaching, and to some extent still struggle with it. When I am teaching, I know that there are students who "need" or at least think they need my advice and expertise, and it's almost always much more immediately rewarding to stand there and give it to them than to go back and sit down and do the hard work of writing. But if I don't go to the well myself, how will I be able to give them something to drink?

Oh, and I understand "the older I get, the more I learn" thing too. There's nothing like getting a PhD in fiction to make you feel about as worthy as the shine from the slime of a slug.

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