Alright, I’m back finally for my promised second part to how I’ve been thinking over Steve Covey’s seven habits in regard to writing. The first three habits are things a person does inside themselves, private victories as Covey calls them. In writing, that’s our inner confidence, the story we’re picturing, the draft we pour out on paper, the long hours we wrestle with characters in that creative dark space within our minds. For some writers, that private process is all they crave. But a lot more writers, like me, want to share our writing with the world, and that’s where I found Covey’s habits 4, 5, and 6 were crucial.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
This is a simple idea, but a really powerful one. The idea that in a situation or agreement, both people involved win–that is get a deal that’s beneficial for them out of it. No one gets ripped off. If money is being made, both people make it. If success and recognition are being attained, both people attain it. In a society full of win/lose situations, it’s important to remember that tons of situations don’t have to have a loser. That making someone lose is completely unnecessary.
I do not think there is a more important thing a writer can do than think win/win in all their interactions with other people. There’s a sort of toxic energy I feel when I encounter a win/lose writer. Writing is one field where all of us are potential winners. What is it that almost all writer’s have in common besides writing? Reading! Most people who love to write loved first to read. There’s no good reason we can’t all have our work out there and lots of success. Your book selling well ought to help my book sell well, or at least I really can’t see why not. There’s room for each of us and our unique style and talent, our stories we care about.
When authors are jealous of each other, bitter about other people’s success, it creates an icky feeling I just can’t stand. What is just as bad is when authors get negative about illustrators, agents, publishers, or even readers. This is one field where everyone involved can and ought to have success! This is really a field where there ought not to be any losers! It’s a tragedy that so many people think there has to be.
Reaching out and helping new writers, encouraging people to read and supporting literacy, interacting with industry professionals, promoting each other’s work, everything we do really ought to follow a model of both sides can come out a winner, or we ought to refuse to have a deal together. If you really can’t for some reason work in a positive way with a positive outcome for everyone involved “no deal” is the best solution. Go your separate ways wishing the person the best.
Habit 5: Seek First to be Understood, Then to Understand
In Covey’s book, he uses this principle to talk about all communication efforts. Another simple but powerful idea–to listen emphatically to what people are saying, to help them feel truly understood before you go about trying to make them see what you’re saying. Obviously this is great for communication in general, but there’s several key places it can be used in writing.
In interacting with other writers, like in critique groups, it means taking the time to understand their view, their stories, their problems with it, what they really need, before trying to help them with their writing. Doing that will make your advice better as well as helping the person be more interested in accepting it. When receiving critiques or even professional editing, the same thing applies. Even if you disagree with the person’s reaction, set that aside and really listen. What are they saying? And is it actually about your writing, or is this more about something they’re feeling/struggling with? Once you understand where the other person is coming from you, you can better decide what advice is worth using in your novel.
Even if you don’t end up using suggestions an editor or beta reader wants you to use, the power of actually listening to the other person will still make them feel validated. You’ll preserve the relationship and the other benefits it provides to both of you. By actively understanding an editor, they’ll be more open to hearing your vision and dream for your book and seeing where you are coming from in return. That can only improve a project.
Listening is also important in marketing. So many agents and publisher get queried by authors who don’t really understand their requirements, mission statement, or what sort of projects they’re looking for. As an author, I can reduce rejection and heartbreak by first seeking to understand each agent or publisher’s personal mission, tastes, guidelines, by looking at what other work they’ve published and then see if I really think it’s a good fit, if my project is one that really belongs here. Then, these people will be more interested in learning about what I have to say.
Habit 6: Synergize
I think this chapter, habit 6, was the hardest one for me to follow when reading the book. My best sense of what Covey means here, is that when a group is built using using win/win and seeking first to understand, that a creative and dynamic atmosphere forms that takes regular cooperation to the next level, a level where people can really appreciate and value their differences in view and opinion, because they are necessary to lifting the joint project above itself.
My husband and I debated a while on this chapter while reading it, because rather than being an actual habit, it felt more like being open to something that just happens. But I suppose working to have all the right ingredients there at the right time and place for synergy to happen could be considered a habit.
I think the first thing that comes to mind in regards to writing is synergy in a brainstorming session with friends, when I’ve been stuck on a novel. With the right atmosphere, suddenly the support of my peers sparks new and exciting ideas, their suggestions helping me build momentum, until I can see my current project in a whole new and exciting light. The other place I’d like to find it, is someday between editor, illustrator, and marketers in a publisher, all coming together to push the project to the next level. I still feel this is more something to foster than practice, this sort of environment, but I can see its value.
Next week, I’ll have a third and final post on habit 7 and writing, since I feel like it’s important enough to get its own.