Me: "I don't know. Anytime I think I'm writing something that's going to cause a stir, it doesn't."
Husband: "And then you write about unicorns and you get slammed."
Ain't that the truth.
When writing, we don't know what everyone else is going to say about the book. We don't really know what agents will think or offer on or what editors will buy or reject, so stop worrying about them. Stop worrying about the elusive agents and editors. Write what you want to write, learn the guidelines, hone your voice, understand the market, and then write. The minute you start worrying about what's going to cause a stir or what's not going to cause a stir, the minute you start writing something simply because you think that's what those "others" want to see, you start to edit yourself for everyone else and not for the good of the book. And you lose.
As a published essayist, (I stopped counting after fifty), I learned a long time ago that writing from the gut, with heart, is the best reward. Once you begin to censor yourself because you are afraid you might hurt someone’s feelings or piss them off you are not being true to the craft. The only time I have had to clamp a lid on expression is when legal issues entered the equation BUT if you are a good writer, a decent writer and clever, there are ways to weave the words to, like the song says, “say what you need to say.”
There is no greater pleasure then being true to the art form of writing, except maybe a huge bowl of Rocky Road on really bad day.
Great advice as always, Jessica, and just what I needed to hear today! Thankyou!
Great reminder! And as wry wryter noted, as soon as we pull back on our words for fear of what 'might' happen, we lose.
Of course the anxiety over reaction (especially from family) never leaves. I have a personal essay coming out in an anthology next month that I'm hoping my mother never reads :-/
My heart says, "Write about starships and frozen worlds and stalking brownies in the wild."
My head says, "Write what you know and it ain't starships and all that other stuff. Write believable."
Heart: "But I want to write about fun stuff."
Head: "Dream about it. Write what you know."
What if what you love is not what you feel competent doing and pulling off with any degree of competence? I can handle the real world. I know the real world. As much as I love fantasy and science fiction, they elude me as a writer.
Great advice. I once changed things in a WIP due to the advice of one beta. Supposedly I was going to make things pithy. A quarter of the way through I realized I don't like pithy. It's not how I write. So I changed it right back. Yes. I. Did.
Oh, and J.M. follow your heart. Our heads tend to over think things. With fantasy, you get to create the world. You're up one already. You had me at "stalking brownies."
I learned real fast not to "share" the details about my novel with loved ones, including the hubby (who I love immensely). Everyone has an opinion (not always positive) and everyone wants to contribute. And it's so difficult to not let those comments sink past the thick skin I've nurtured.
Now, only my critique group and other industry peeps have full access, especially when I need feedback that's constructive--something I can sink my teeth into and determine if it's viable or not for my WIP. Loved ones are "lovingly" informed they get to enjoy the finished project.
Loved this advice. Always a good reminder. Also great to hear if coming from an agent.
That is how My husband and I feel. You are never going to make everyone happy. If you can stand by your work and feel proud about it. That is all that matters to me.
Loved this post, Jessica! And timely since I just revised a manuscript. And within this ms someone read a part and said -- my mother will read this. It threw me. I work hard not to worry about who in our personal world will read our work and what they will think/say. But it's not easy to block all that out. It's a reality.
Thanks for keeping us on track and true to ourselves. If we start worrying about every little part that might be ahem . . . uncomfortable, the work will be bland for sure. Thanks for the kick in the pants post, I needed.
Love this post - just what I needed this morning! :-)
I needed this today.
I was just about to take the red quill to my pages and start adding things I thought the world might like to see.
You're so right!
You should write for yourself first, and the others be damned!
Trouble is: none of us are an island...So we do worry about the others, and write to try and reach out!
A real dilemma...
You have no idea how perfectly timed this was today. Thank you thank you thank you.
One of my protagonists thanks you that he didn't just become a twenty year old girl.
I take the approach of writing the book I want to read. Chances are, I'm not the only person in the world with similar tastes, but even if I am, I'll be happy with my work.
@J.M. Cornwell: What are you going to be happiest writing though? Do you get any satisfaction out of writing "believable" stuff? Perhaps (and I don't know how much you've tried) you just need more practice with the fantastic elements. And why can't you write believable, real-world situations for people on spaceships, frozen worlds, etc? No matter the setting, people will still have to grapple with family, love, fear, insecurity, etc.
Kristin, I have tried, but no luck with publication so far. Of course, that was before self-publishing. Still, not quite yet.
I enjoy writing real world situations, but my heart has always been with fantasy and science fiction. It's what I grew up reading, and still do. Big George R. R. Martin fan. And Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, etc.
Fantasy and science fiction stories can't just be real world people stuck in fantastic situations. The fantasy and sci-fi elements must not be extraneous to the story, but woven into the story. I might be a little afraid that my fantasy elements are a little too fantastic for even Jules Verne. I'm working on it. My next book is set in a post apocalyptic world perfect for vampires (eternal darkness, cold, etc.) where vampires have protected and used humanity and now must help them into a world where light once again rules the day. Fantastic, but in a fantasy way.
You've never stalked brownies in the wild? It's a complicated process that involves perfect silence and lack of movement. Brownies aren't stupid, but they are quick and blend into their surroundings.
That is wonderful advice. If we're so busy worrying about what other people think while we're writing, how are we to instill our story with the passion it deserves? It's just important to weave a great tale. Everything else will fall into place eventually.
I've noticed that some of the worst and less than perfect writers who have the largest number of fans have a great storytelling sense. They lack discipline and often have no sense of the mechanics, but story they know, and they tell.
J.M. Cornwell: Remember that "write what you know" doesn't mean "write what happened to you". There's a lot of ways to know things, after all. Starships and frozen worlds are things we just know in a different way. Try not to let that hang you up too much.
It is often difficult for a literal-minded person to let go and just write. I constantly evolve, and so does the craft. I used to have problems with dialogue, and I conquered that. Little by little, the more I write, the more I can write. It is definitely a process and I get a little better with each book.
I couldn't agree more. Write what you love. Even if the time's not right "now" give it time. Like bell bottom pants, some things just keep coming back "in".
Well said! :)
It's funny. My husband and I just had this conversation like five minutes ago. He told me to stop over-thinking everything, to write like I used to without worrying so much about how right or wrong it was or how it would all be perceived. I need to get back to the time when it was just me and the computer. I need to get rid of all the voices I've collected while blogging.
I love when readers send suggestions and "it would be so cool if you did this" notes because, when plotting, they're fun to shuffle through to add tidbits and quirks.
But after that, once the story's in my head, I have to go for it. If I worry about what people think at that point, then I lose the momentum. So thanks for the reminder, Jessica, to stay true to the story!
To date, one of my favorite short stories was a quickly jotted piece that I wrote for a coworker. She liked it so much that she shared with a friend which turned into me being forced to read it in front of the entire staff of teachers. Sometimes the little things we write have a lot of power and meaning, so go with your gut.
No truer words were ever written. For 20 years I wrote what I thought "the market" wanted. It wasn't until I wrote a series of stories purely for fun, to please myself and no one else, that I finally snagged that elusive contract.
Not only did the stories break all the known (and a few unknown) rules, they were in a genre that hadn't even been on the radar with the print pubs in NY.
I do write from the heart, the stories I wish I could find on the shelves but can't. This usually leads to some genre-bending amalgamation deemed unagentable or unmarketable. *sigh* But as they say in The Thorn Birds, "And still we do it..."
Boy did I need this...I have an ms I'm working on that I am so in love with. My agent doesn't get it. When we talk about this book, it's like we're speaking two different languages. I say "it's this and this," and she says, "it's that and that."
I have no idea why we can't see eye to eye on this project, and it was causing me a tremendous amount of anxiety. And then I decided, "forget it." I mean, this story is like a baby that wants to born. I can't stop writing it. So, I'm going to write it and let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully once my agent sees a full draft she'll come around. If not, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it...
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