Like all the ladies here at 8LW, and probably most of our followers, I wear many hats in the course of a month, week, sometimes even day. While I’d like to be a hardcore ‘pen monkey’, as Chuck Wendig calls writers, a lot more of the time, there are times when I have to put on my Responsible Adult/Woman in Industry/Small Business Owner hat. (It seems even my hats wear hats!)
This past week was light on writing and heavy on day-job business for me. As proof, I even spent Saturday at an entrepreneur’s conference at Swarthmore College, alma mater of both my husband and my daughter. The college prides itself on having a culture of diversity, inclusiveness, and social consciousness, so even this business-centric conference was slanted toward what entrepreneurs in the dog-eat-dog business world could do to make the world a better place. That got me thinking about us writers, out here in the cold cruel world, and what we, in our own small way, can do to make the world a more diverse, inclusive, and socially conscious place.
One of the event facilitators was Swarthmore alumnus Dr. Shalom Saar. He said be considered entrepreneurs, people need to be leaders, take risks, and affect change. He then listed the 7 Cs that he considers crucial to being an effective leader and agent of progress in the world. I think these are great aspirational goals not only in business, but also in writing and in life. How many of these qualities do you see in yourself?
Conviction. In this context, conviction is passion about an idea. Passion is key engaging yourself and others around you, to germinate an idea and to stick with it for the long haul (like a 100,000-word long haul).
Change. Saar defined this as disrupting the status quo. I like that. Sometimes change can be gradual and plodding, even for our characters. But the really big, exciting, and important moments come from that feeling of disruption, of the story world being torn down so it can be rebuilt better and stronger. And who among us doesn’t need some disruption to the status quo of our writing process every now and then?
Competence. This aspect of effective leadership is less sexy than some of the others, but just as importance. Technical capability, in this case, understanding the nuts and bolts of this writing gig, is crucial. The reason so many people think they have ‘a good book’ in them is that great writers know their craft so well, they make it look easy. Those of us who have actually written and then read our own horrible first drafts know that sheen of effortlessness is a cruel illusion. Writing is hard. Doing it well is damn hard. Competence matters.
Communication. Tying this to writing, this element would seem to be a no-brainer. The whole point of a book is communicating a story to a reader. But what about the other things our stories communicate, the subtext that lives underneath the fancy plots and pretty character arcs? Often our own prejudices and preconceived notions are there. When we default to stereotypes or pat themes, we should challenge ourselves. What other messages and world views can we communicate with our stories?
Compassion. Caring about others is a quality I’ve witnessed with the ladies here on the blog. They can be tough critiquers, but never cruel. And if ever one of us needs a word of encouragement, the whole gang is there with a paragraph or even a page of it. Building a caring community gives us all a safe place to land. Carrying that out into the broader world can do the same for people outside our own small circles. That’s a harder task, but perhaps an even more important one, and one I’m going to worker harder on accomplishing.
Character. Saar defines character quite simply as being honest and having integrity. As fiction writers, we’re not literally honest with every word we write. But even fiction writers talk a lot about being honest in our work, not avoiding the tough topics or our own personal sore spots. In one of our McD classes, Jenny said something along the lines of ‘writing is like dancing naked on the page’. If we’re really cutting open our veins and bleeding onto the pages, underlying truths about us, our lives, our fears, and our own truths will make it onto the page. It’s an incredibly hard thing to do, to put our truth out there in the world. It’s hard, but it builds character.
The 7 Cs were just part of the introductory session of Saturday’s conference. The whole day was filled with little aha moments for me. I went there expecting the same-old same-old of business networking and a few nuggets of marketing wisdom buried under piles of business-speak. I left thinking about my own social consciousness, what’s important to me as a human being, and ways I could meld those into both my business and writing pursuits. Heady thoughts for a Saturday, and maybe for a Monday as well.