Last night I did a thing I swore I wouldn’t do. Totally unscripted, unplanned, off-the-chain writer moment: I sent a manuscript to an agent while its fifth beta was still running.
Maybe I’ll kick myself about this a week from now when the betas finish, or even months from now when I hear back from the agent, but I stand by my (second) decision. Why?
I decided to trust myself.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed something predictable and tragic about the writing community. When we writers aren’t over-the-top in love with our work, we’re plagued by self-doubt. Anxiety, depression, and bouts of insecurity are frequent topics in every writing group I’ve worked with, and it’s almost always associated with how we interact with our works in progress. Drafting, revising, editing, querying, waiting–we have these loops of emotions that are exhausting to feel, excruciating to watch, and, if you don’t love the work, it’s really not worth the pain. If you do love the work, buckle in, buddy.
Tell me if this sounds familiar . . .
The Noob: I don’t know if I have what it takes to finish this first draft. What if it sucks? What if I suck? I don’t know what I’m doing!
Noob + a finished draft: This is a masterpiece, a bestseller waiting to be discovered! I knew I was destined to be an author. I should pick a pen name to protect my family from the inevitable fame heading my way.
Noob + first rejection: I’m an idiot, a total freaking idiot./OR/ There must be something wrong with the person reading, if they don’t like my story.
Noob + first critique: Why are you (critiquer) so hard on me? Who are you—Stephen King? You just don’t get my story.
Noob + several critiques: [Googles unfamiliar craft terms] Why didn’t I know this before? I’m a reader; I should know these things! What’s wrong with me?
Did I hit a nerve yet? This is just the beginning. Advance ahead several months or years to where the writer now has a few more drafts, maybe even a handful of manuscripts . . .
Hopeful author + surprising critique: Um, are you sure that’s how dialog tags/paragraph breaks/POV/etc. works? But I thought ______ and [Googles reputable craft sources]—Oh. 😦 See you in a few weeks, guys. I have a lot of editing to do.
Hopeful author + rejection: Why am I even trying anymore? Nobody wants this story. I should trash the whole thing and focus on housework/job/family. Anything less hard than writing.
Hopeful author + writing slump: I suck. Seriously, everything I do is crap. I’m wasting my life. Why did I ever think I could do this?
Hopeful author + recovery from writing slump: I have all the answers now! I’m like a god!
(By the way, readers, that’s me above. All of them. I’m not ashamed to admit it.)
It doesn’t stop there, though. Do you think the drama ends when a hopeful author signs with an agent and sells their debut? I’m not naming names (because that would be shitty), but I know handfuls of agented/published authors who are in the same boat with the rest of us hopefuls and noobs. It’s a roller coaster, y’all.
Published author + rejection of sophomore draft/proposal: I’m a one-hit wonder. I wrote the best thing I could, and now I have no stories left/ nobody wants the other stories I want to write.
Published author + writing slump: It was never this hard before. I’m stuck. My career is over. Y’all go on without me.
Published author to noob: Read these books on craft! Once you nail XYZ, you’re going to blow them away!
Published author to hopeful author: I, personally, don’t like the choices you’re making with this work. You should do XYZ like I did instead.
Published author + great review: I always knew I could do it! This is what I was born for!
Published author + bad review: Who am I? They’re wrong, right? Somebody who likes me, please tell that reviewer they’re wrong?
Is there a lesson in all this? Beats me, I’m just a “hopeful”. Maybe it’s “Plow through the hard times” or “Don’t get full of yourself”? For today, I’m going with “Do your best and suck it up.”
What I do know (for sure, I think) is that we writers have millions of big and small decisions we must make with everything we write. From naming characters, animals, cities, plants, food, technology to deciding what’s right and wrong or normal or strange in the worlds we create. Then there’s diction and pacing, whether subplot B should come before major plot point A, or whether it’s all right to have a prologue or make up languages or label POVs–all we ever do as writers is make choices. It’s no wonder we wobble between extremes the way we do–individually and as a community.
There is no checklist of “right things” that will resonate with every reader, nor is there a magic wand to make a weak story strong or a strong story a bestseller. And, while there are loads of experts on craft, I have yet to see all the craft experts align 100% on any topic that mattered enough to me to investigate.
So . . . there’s a 50 % chance I won’t trust myself tomorrow, but I can choose to trust right now. I ask myself:
- Have I studied SPAG, tense, plot structure, pacing, world building, and characterization thoroughly and applied what I learned to the manuscript?
- Are my betareaders/critiquers in agreement about anything right/wrong in the text?
- Are my readers squirming or squeeing where I planned for them to squirm and squee (even if they truly HATE the squirming parts)?
- Do I feel confident about my choices even when a reader doesn’t like them?
When the answer is an operatic “Yes!” then it’s time to trust.
Send that story away and cross your fingers, light a candle, say a prayer, take a nap, whatever.
There will always be something that could be better/more universally-pleasing, expanded or cut or changed to suit XYZ readers who come along, but, at some point, making those continual changes means writing a completely different story.
What are some writing choices you’ve struggled with trusting yourself to make? How do you manage the writing ups and downs of self-doubt and confidence? Leave me a comment and let me know! #AuthorToolboxBlogHop