Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Staying True

By Amy

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.


Lisa Marnell said...


Thanks for this. We all need to stay true to ourselves, don't we. Years back I wrote and published a series of "hands-on" handwriting books. They do well and provide me with a modest royalty twice yearly, but lately there's been pressure for me to do more with this program.

I woke up early this morning, before my dog, before my children and husband, as I had a dream someone had copied my handwriting products. I sat in bed. I had to get up. I have work to do. My handwriting website needs improvement, I should sign up for a booth at the Occupational Therapy conference here this summer. I turned on my laptop.

But no. I opened my YA WIP instead. THIS is my passion NOW. This is what I must spend my time doing NOW. I must stay true to what I want and need to be doing. I want to write a novel not chase more money for something else.

Thank you! Yay Amy!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Amy, what lovely goals. Filled with integrity and humility--just what we all strive for--and so perfectly you. It's easy to get caught up in the business--believing our "press" (good or bad), worrying about what someone else got that we didn't, obsessing about what is and what isn't--but if we clear away all of that, it's about each of us and the words we place on the page. It's that simple and that important and that individual.

Thanks for reminding me.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Oh, Lisa, you must continue with that WIP. I was just telling someone how much I'm looking forward to reading it. You're one of the very best writers I've had the pleasure of reading, truly gifted, and I have complete faith in your work. Can't wait.

Judy, it's so easy to get caught up in other people's experiences and forget to appreciate our own, isn't it? Though I'm not Buddhist, I take great comfort in the Four Noble Truths, the second being "the orgin of suffering is attachment." The craving will consume us, acceptance is a much easier way to live. Being grateful for whatever joy comes your way is helpful, too. Something tells me Unexpected Grace will bring lots of joy your way.


olufunke grace bankole: said...


i think you've listed some wonderful goals for us all to keep in mind as we write.

"I will listen to all who voice an opinion, but no voice will be louder than my own."


olufunke grace bankole: said...

and i admire the fierceness that comes through in each goal you've listed!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Good luck with those goals--that's quite a list! i can say from experience that a good editor can truly make an enormous difference. And it may be someone outside the publisher who buys your book. and the be kind part--how we all need that!

Roberta Isleib

Larramie said...

These truths are why you lead the writing life, Amy. These are also truths towards a good life that we all would do well to follow.

Now, about the "hoped for" photo cover...? ;)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

IE, that's a wonderful compliment, "fierce!" Thank you for that.

Roberta, I should have added that I very much look forward to feedback from readers. I will read every single one of those reviews. So glad you've joined the Jungle Red group.

Larramie, I know I'll falter, it will be difficult not to read the reviews, maybe harder not to keep an eye on the competition, bu I'll need to return myself again to where I am. It's so much easier to go through life and not care what others think or compare how others live. Being in the moment, accepting what is can be very comforting. Photo cover?


Therese Fowler said...

Admirable and wise--like you.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Therese, admirable? No, just manifestations of crippling anxiety. But I will take wise; I'm wise enough to know and accept my limits, you two-book author, you.


Larramie said...

Amy, I imagined that, "and a title page slipped through the plastic cover with a black and white photo of daisies," was your vision of the Tethered cover.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

These are excellent goals. Although I won't fault you if you end up reading your reviews. I know as much as I think you are absolutely right about that, it is a hard thing to avoid. But I love your goals especially that you will listen to opinions but yours will be the loudest. This is so very important and I completely agree with you. I love the determination that rings true here.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful message; sincere, honest and wise.
I loved the line: I'm pretty sure I can't live with bankrupting my literary aspirations.
This shall have to be saved by me; whether I get published or not. This is about life, not just getting published.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Larramie, oh, of course!

Ello, I fully expect to slip up on reviews, but I will probably read just a few lines and then stop. You & I are both determined, arent' we?

Usman, you will get published. And it's pretty much how Ilive my life. Except the being kind part. I need to be much kinder every day.


Lisa said...

I'm printing these out as a reminder to myself. These goals, each and every one, resonate strongly with me. You are a wise woman.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, I aspire to be wise, but mostly fall short. Clearly you don't need to print this list, you already know yourself well enough.