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What writers can learn from Anthony Weiner, John Edwards and Mark Sanford

29 May 2013

From The Channeling Author:

As someone who has met and/or interviewed dozens of national politicians over the years, I want to tell you about the common denominator. (And no, it’s not infidelity.)

Politicians all have something many writers need. Party affiliation doesn’t matter; they pretty much all possess a certain personality trait, or they wouldn’t be holding high public office. If you guessed “egomaniac” you’d be close. “Having a set of brass ones” would mean you’re getting warm.

The common denominator is that they all act bulletproof, both on and off camera. But more important than how they act, these people believe they’re bulletproof. Because when you take a step back and consider their actions, they’re all acting like a bunch of teenagers in thousand dollar suits. The rules don’t apply to them. They can do what they want because they’ll live forever. Bad things happen to other people. Actions do not have consequences. They can lie, cheat, steal, be unfaithful, engage in activities that are beyond sleazy… and they still keep their jobs. They can get slaughtered in an election, blow it off, and run again. And again.

But here’s the key… even if they leave office in disgrace, they still think they’re bulletproof.

And they don’t give a damn what people think.

. . . .

Remember, they all fall back on the catch-all excuse of, “I made an error in judgment.” For the rest of us an error in judgment is painting the kitchen the wrong color. For a politician, it fits anything that would land the average person in a confessional for a hour.

But most writers aren’t born with that chromosome. Creative types are sensitive about our work. Bad reviews can sting. Piles of rejections make us question our talent… and make some of us quit. If we have 100 comments and 99 are positive, we’ll focus on the one negative piece of feedback and let it dance the Macarena in our heads like a demon on an infinite loop. We forget that opinions differ and that people have different tastes. (As an example of an opinion I considered to be out of left field, People Magazine named that bag o’ bones Gwyneth Paltrow as the world’s most beautiful woman.)

Since I’ve worked in an industry where rejection is common, I got used to it a long time ago. The problem is most writers are too nice. I know many writers who are incredibly sweet, decent people with amazing talent who desperately need a bulletproof personality. An anonymous person leaves a one-star review on Amazon and they go into a funk, or worse; blow up their novel and re-write the whole thing. They enter a contest, wait months without writing anything else as they have all their eggs in one basket, and when they don’t win they think there’s something horribly wrong with their writing. Their sensitivity sends their muses into vapor lock. They play not to lose, not willing to take enough chances or believe in their unique style. Many times when you play not to lose, you lose. The prevent defense often prevents you from winning. If you don’t send it out, it can’t get rejected. It’s the safe route, like not asking the beautiful woman at the bar for a date.

Link to the rest at The Channeling Author and thanks to Jennifer for the tip.

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13 Comments to “What writers can learn from Anthony Weiner, John Edwards and Mark Sanford”

  1. This is a stretch.

    There’s a pretty wide gap between “be confident in yourself and your writing” and “do douchey things and pretend to not care.”

    Not to mention that, if they all truly believed they were bulletproof (and if they didn’t care what people thought), they wouldn’t have spent so much time lying about what they were doing.

  2. I think this is largely bad advice. I think it’s trying to shoot for good advice, and I see what the good advice is, but I think it’s saying “you need to turn yourself into a prick” when honestly, if you do artistic things long enough that’s not the problem. The problem is not doing that.

    I’ve been a musician, a cartoonist, and now I’m trying to be a writer. I’ve met a lot of successful and unsuccessful people in each. The primary component of success for 99.99999% of the artists I’ve met has nothing to do with their attitude, it has to do with the fact that no matter what happened, they didn’t quit. Some were really smart and were able to find the right angle and exploit the right opportunity at the right moment to become successful, some were damn lucky and blundered into the right spot at the right time, but through it all, they kept going at points when they were the only ones who gave a damn about their careers.

    Which is why so many artists who have been doing their thing long enough can come across as arrogant SOBs. When you go through that period where you are the only one who believes you deserve to be noticed, it does change you (when force on something is applied only from one direction, the something gets warped). The lucky artists figure out how to maintain an ironclad grip on their ego so they get all benefits (the self confidence to keep going in the face of hostility, or, even worse, utter disinterest) while minimizing the disadvantages (acting like a prick). The less fortunate ones get warped.

    I’m already much too close to having the temperament of the artistic jackass, I really don’t want people urging me to be more like that. I’m trying for the sweet spot of being able to move forward because damn it, that’s what I’m going to do, without projecting the kind of sociopathic entitlement so many politicians–and yes, a number of artists–put on display.

  3. I’m not sure an unhealthy amount of gall is useful for anyone.

  4. “The common denominator is that they all act bulletproof.”

    The common denominator is that all politicians believe the same thing.

    They’ve been ordained by some higher power to save every one of us by telling us how to live. Then they write legislation to make us live the way they want.

    Politicians don’t belong in office. They belong in prison.

    Dan

  5. No, no. He means writers need these guys because they provide such great material. Seeking a true-life example of venial, self-absorbed, trashy behavior? Look no further. They’re like artist’s models! But not to emulate. What idiot would… Good Lord, you’re right.

  6. I think it’s simply saying that we need to be tougher when it comes to criticism… it’s not defending politicians.

  7. For Anthony Weiner–don’t take instagrams of your private parts and send them to underage girls.

    That his name is Weiner is just fortuitous. Don’t do that in your book, no one will believe it. Don’t name the pedophile Covert even though in real life the pedophile’s name was Covert. See how it works?

    Don’t worry about Tony going to Attica, Dan, he’s going to Gracie Mansion.

  8. It has often occurred to me that writers can learn a lot from politicians. Here are some similarities that occur to me off the top of my head:

    1) Telling the truth will get you killed/voted out of office/lose your publishing deal/not find readers. Remember Emily Dickinson? “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

    Politicians are professional liars who hide their true agendas. Writers must do the same.

    2) Writers should always seek to maximize readership. Not just for $$$ reasons, either. The more profound the tale, the more human the story, the more people it will touch.

    And the more influence you will have.

    What are politicians about but gaining influence?

    3) Politicians and writers must practice solid dramaturgy.

    Politics is little more than drama writ large: “Let’s create a MacGuffin enemy (bin Laden, North Korea, Those Evil Doers), and now our hero (the politician) will go bravely forth to slay the (makeshift) dragon.

    Yay everyone! Our need for dramatic release has just been met. Sure several million Iraqis are now dying of cancer from depleted uranium shells, but who cares?

    4) Politicians don’t lead. They figure out which way the herd is heading, run out in front and shout “Follow me!”

    In the same way, a writer must keep his finger to the pulse of the zeitgeist. A poet ahead or behind his time is irrelevant. A storyteller must tell stories that help us understand our world today, what is happening right now.

    I could go on but that’s probably enough for today. :)

    JMP

  9. “Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are essential.” –Jessamyn West

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