After I finish writing this, I intend to print it out and tuck it away in my Tethered binder. Hannah gave me the idea for the binder about a year ago as a way to organize both my thoughts and voluminous amounts of paper. Contained within the plastic covers are: various drafts of the manuscript; all correspondence having to do with what I hoped would someday become a book; and a title page slipped through the plastic cover with a black and white photo of daisies. I indulged myself with that one.
Next, I'll place this in it. It's a promise to myself to stay true to my writing. Not to let external pressures influence what should be an internal experience. How many times have we said to ourselves and each other, his earlier work was so much better. I think what happens with a lot of authors is they begin writing with an eye toward the market, and the passion, what initally compelled the reader to fall in love, falls by the wayside.
So here are my goals for my future self:
- I will always trust my gut. This applies to all areas of my life and has so far served me well in both my writing life and beyond. Unless you've proven otherwise, this is good advice for each of us.
- I will not write for a deadline. Though this is something others can do with aplomb, I know myself well enough not to try. The moment I write with a date in mind, I will write for it instead of for the story.
- I will allow the story as much time as it needs. I sometimes grow frustrated with myself because I don't write quickly. Some days, just a good paragraph, others an entire page and a half. Though twice I've written entire chapters in just a single morning -- chapters that remain largely untouched -- I must be patient with myself and the story. It will come in time.
- I will listen to all who voice an opinion, but no voice will be louder than my own. It is ultimately my story, one I need to stand behind with vigor and confidence. I must believe in it and shape it honestly. Yes, I will listen and take what rings true, but I must remain faithful at all times to the story.
- I will write the best book I can at this point in my life. Years from now, I'm sure I'll look back on Tethered and think of ways to improve upon it. No point in that, is there? I haven't yet become that person. All I can do is the best I can do today.
- I won't read my reviews. Many will disagree with me on this point, but hear me out. To what end? If they're horrible, it will devastate me and if they're glowing, it might paralyze me. Could I learn from a terrible review? It depends. There are few book editors whose opinions I know and trust. I can name them on three fingers. If one of them hated my book, I would be crushed to bits and then how to pick-up the pieces? If it were a reviewer I'm not familiar with, then there's no established trust. Worse would be a fabulous review. It's a fool's folly to believe one's own press. And save me from the middle-of-the-road reviews; mediocrity is the bane of my existence and to be labelled as such would plunge me into an existential funk. Understand now?
- I will work with the best editor available. Having had the opportunity to be edited by a variety of newspaper editors, I know how invaluable a good editor is -- not only to the work itself, but to the psyche. A good editor pushes and pulls forth the very best from a writer, all the while giving encouragement. It's fun and the work is so much better for it. A poor editor dictates and bullies, undermining the writer's confidence in the work. This scenario leaves the author embarassed by the work once it's in print. I allowed that to happen once, years ago. Never again.
- It's not about the money. No matter how much is on the table, if you don't respect the people offering, if the editorial suggestions don't ring true, if the enthusiasm is geared more toward sales than it is toward a passion for the work, then walk away. The price is too high. I've been poor most of my life, I can live with it. I'm pretty sure I can't live with bankrupting my literary aspirations.
- The only competition is my best self. About a month ago, a book in my genre with a striking hook sold at auction in a major deal and then some. Worse, it's due out the same month as my novel. I'll be honest, for a few days I was obsessed with it. And then I realized, not only was I powerless over it, but it didn't make me any less pleased with my own situation. There's nothing I would trade with that author: not my agent, not my editor, definitely not my book. Though others may see our novels as competing titles, I don't. As Lynne always says, each will have its own journey. I wish that author the best of luck.
- Be kind. It's a small world, as is my place in it. Be gracious to everyone, thankful to those who help, and helpful to those who need it.
Hopefully I will remain faithful to these goals, though I imagine I will stumble along the way. Some will be harder to aspire to, others will remain easy. Will I stay true? We shall see.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007