If You Don't Have a May Pole To Dance Around
Rethinking Unpopular

Writers and the Magpie Syndrome

"Do what brings you life. Do not do what deadens you." – Alan Cohen

It’s been said that shiny baubles and sparkly objects attract magpies. Apparently, they thieve such items to weave into their nests, perhaps to attract a mate.

MagpieThus, humans irresistibly drawn to what is shiny, new and pretty suffer from The Magpie Syndrome—earning them the nickname “magpies”.

While this can apply to hoarders, collectors and obsessive consumers—as well as dabblers and dilettantes—I’ve come to believe that this syndrome can apply to writers, too.

And I think I may be suffering from it.

Books with the prettiest covers, widespread attention and commercial success are fiction. And, having read my share of poorly written fiction, I’ve concluded “Hell, I can do better than that!”

But after three novel attempts—with encouraging feedback and “I want to see what happens!” (even from seasoned readers and published mentors)—I’m beginning to suspect that I’m deluding myself.

I’m enamored with brainstorming and new ideas. Although I’m a finisher, starting is so much more fun for me. That, and the immediate gratification of instant creativity. My husband suspects that is why I love blogging so much: I think it, I write it, I select pictures to accompany it, and BOOM! it’s out for public consumption in under 30 minutes. Same with reviewing.

There is no laboring with these types of writing, no angsting over rewrites. Come to think of it, there’s little labor or re-writing with my non-fiction books, too. The inner editor keeps me on track as I write, for the most part.

As I was talking to Ron before he left for work, he made a remark that jolted me more than he realizes, “For someone whose path is so clearly marked, you sure have a hard time figuring out what to do.”


What he meant by that is that I love writing Mind/Body/Spirit books—especially Tarot—and it’s easy for me. I mean, every part of it. Easy to come up with ideas, easy to innovate, easy to write, easy to query, easy to propose and easy to cinch yet another book deal. (Sure, it took a lot of labor to GET so proficient, but I pretty much sail through things now). If you love it, and you’re good at it, it’s your path…right?

FrustratedSee, I have a strong Warrior Archetype in my psyche and I think this pattern—which has served me well in overcoming major obstacles—has convinced me that any worthwhile path must be uphill. A difficult challenge. Laborious.

It’s no secret that I detest the lazy, the slackers—and the mindless who don’t question anything, especially their own assumptions.

Perhaps I’ve erroneously assumed that if something is easy for me (forgetting that it wasn’t always), I’m somehow “lazy”, or that my endeavor isn’t worthwhile.

I’ve been asking myself some hard questions about writing. Questions like:

  • Just because I can write fiction, does that mean I need to? Or even want to (deep down)?
  • What do I think fiction publication will give me that non-fiction writing won’t (other than illusionary “big bucks” and long-shot recognition)?
  • If it’s not fun to write fiction—if it’s 98% unenjoyable grunt work—then what in the hell am I doing?

 As I’m re-reading what I wrote, I feel a bit silly. It’s like being handed bliss on a platter (which my life is, outside of writing-related angst) and saying “Oh, no. I think I’d like to forage for my own food in a dense forest 1,000 miles from here, which I’ll arrive at on foot, and then cook my meal when I get there”.

What about you, dear reader? What causes you angst in your writing life? Have you ever been torn between genres? Or wondered where the hell the “best path” for your creative life lies?

-- Janet



I, too, love to start stuff. Whether it's writing or some craft I'm working on, I love the rush of the new "thing". It's the follow through that I have difficulty with... I think for me, it's the fear of someone judging my work and finding it lacking. Even if I write something/make something I really like, I have a hard time believing anyone else will like it. (I'd like to blame my mom for that. Can I do that? :-) ) Anyway, thanks for posting this, Janet. I needed to read it and ponder it. And I will. <3

Janet Boyer

You absolutely may blame your mother. I suspect that most people's inner critic look just like Mom or Dad!

In personality systems like the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, those of us who are Perceivers (as opposed to Judgers) prefer flexibility and stuff "penciled in" (rather than deadlines and completion). http://www.cliverowe.com/blog/2010/08/28/judgers-and-perceivers/ Personally, I like the challenge of deadlines, but it's the ONLY kind. We tend to be great starters, too.

What I'd recommend (not that you asked!) is to get several writing partners/beta readers whose opinion you trust (that is, they know what they're talking about AND they won't BS you) and submit your work to THEM. As you gain confidence in your work, you'll be more likely to finish projects and then, if it's your desire, put them out there for publication.

The only way to gain confidence in an area is through practice--and having trusted, respected advocates/cheerleaders/critics supporting you can help you grow exponentially. (So if you ever need a beta reader, you know where to find me!) XO

Michelle Bowser

I have always felt like I must be doing something wrong with my writing when it came easy. I figured out after a while that my biggest problem was reading writing advice. Most of it made writing sound so impossibly difficult, I assumed if it came so easily to me, it must be crap and that has been the biggest thing to hold me up.

Janet Boyer

THAT is probably a huge chunk of my (former) problem, Michelle! I own well over 100 books on the writing craft. Well, hell. We should have an old fashioned book burning! ;o)

Seriously, I totally relate. Woman, thou art loosed!

Anne R. Allen

So many writers need to read this Janet! Most writers are struggling with novel length fiction even though lots of them would prefer to write short fiction, essays and blogposts.

Who the #%&* said novels are a superior art form? They may be on their way out. US men hardly read novels any more. Revenue for novels has been going down for years, except for romance and erotica. Even the NYT bestsellers aren't making a living, except for a handful of superstars.

I think writers were steered toward novels for years because nonfiction is kind of a jungle in the Big Publishing world. But with self-publishing, the field is free for indies.

I recently wrote a blogpost on "when is it OK to blog your book" http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/04/when-is-it-ok-to-blog-your-book.html and linked to a number of bloggers who have given up fiction to blog for its own sake. They have tons of followers and are reaching far more people with their work than the average novelist.

And here you are, with, as you say "bliss on a plate" and you think you "should" be writing novels. Listen to Ron. He sounds like a very smart man. :-)

Janet Boyer

Awww, I have tears in my eyes, Anne! Thanks for the confirmation. More than one person has told me to listen to Ron. ::wince::

I subscribe to your blog and I have NO idea how I missed the post you referenced! Geez, I could have had my Aha! moment WEEKS ago (maybe). I'll read it after I'm done commenting here.

I had NO IDEA about the stats you shared. NONE. What an eye opener! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment--and for being such a great resource for writers. :o)

Amanda Donnelly

I think it is always best to do what you like to do. Anything else is drudgery and who wants to go through life like that? If I did, I would go back to my good paying job that was destroying my soul.

And everyone who is paying an iota of attention realizes that the market for authors IS changing, and it is possible to make money in many other formats than a novel. I don't have them mastered, yet, but since I am not in a miserable soul sucking job I have time to learn them. And of course, so do you. You are already on the right track!

Janet Boyer

Well said, Amanda!

What gets me is that I'm like a blind prophet. I end up being on a visionary road, then second guess most of my steps until I arrive at the "future". That's what happened when I started reviewing on AMZN over a decade ago: I just "followed my bliss", without realizing that I was creating an author platform and inroads into the industry. D'oh!

I really need to listen to my husband...

Today was a real epiphany day. I am so grateful that I AM, truly, on track! (And no doubt Ron will be happy not to have to listen to Writer Angst Sessions anymore.)

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