Writer, Why Are You Doing That?

I’ve been away for the weekend, part of a new regimen of relaxation and de-stressing, trying to get (and keep) my blood pressure down. It seems to be working, and in general, I’m finding my weekends a lot more happy and pleasant, doing everything from brunches with new friends to leisurely game playing or even deep conversations.

The upside is that my BP is down ten to twenty points over the last week or so, and I’m sleeping better and generally embracing more of life. The downside? I come home to a crowded inbox of 300+ new messages, all in various states of update, panic or frustration. Usually pruning this inbox down calls for a ginger ale or strong cup of tea, and leads to quite a few tweets:

 

Not pictured: The loud sigh that accompanies writing the tweets

Not pictured: The loud sigh that accompanies writing the tweets

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It’s not that I dislike talking to writers, quite the opposite in fact. I love talking to writers, and we’re not even counting the ego stroke reasons that come from making a living giving advice. Helping someone do something better, especially in those cases where what they’re doing excites some deep passion, is gratifying. Not unlike good ice cream, kissing or catching Murder She Wrote on television.

But there are times where setting writers straight, addressing issues, putting out fires, assessing professional damage and generally laying down a little smack is tiring. And grating. And draining. I have no kids, but I have to liken part of this feeling to what a parent feels when they tell a child for the umpteenth time to do something. Yes, okay, they protest, but way down the road, some time in the nebulous future, they’re going to be thankful for having that knowledge help them. Cleaning your room sucks when you’re ten, but when you’re 35 with many rooms to tidy, you’re thankful you know how.

So too it sucks when you’re a new writer and you’re trying to figure out your way in the wild world of writing. There are so many blogs to read, so many books to digest, so many “experts” all giving you advice that seems to vary based on everything from the number of books they’ve sold to the size of their social-media-credentials-slash-genitals. Unfortunately, there’s no codified set of things to do or read when you get started. And depending on the crowd around you when you start, you might mature as a writer in a fearful way, that you need constantly check some website for good and bad people because the world is full of thieves and con artists. Or maybe you never really mature because you get caught up in some petty social politicking on a message board that wants to talk more about sales than finishing products. Or maybe you deify a writer because their blog is pretty or because they curse or because they have some graphics in the margins, but you’re quick to knock them off that pedestal when you find new and conflicting information. All of these things are possible. As I write this, I’m thinking of writers who range from really great to really great-at-perpetuating-excuses-and-horsefeathers.

I don’t know where you are in your progression. I don’t know if you’re new or if you’ve been writing forever and a day. I don’t know what you write, how you publish or why you do what you do. Regardless, I want to break out the stop sign and slow the race down under caution (that’s the yellow flag, yes?) because of some behaviors I’ve seen.

Yes haters are gonna hate. Not everyone’s going to like what you write. It’s not bad. Some people will rationalize this as “you know you’re doing it right when people hate your work” and others will say you haven’t “made it” until you get opposition. Personally I lean more towards the first even if I think you can still be doing it wrong AND get negative people talking. And no, I don’t know if they’re hating YOU for being able to do something they wish they could (jealousy) or if what you’re writing is actually a bucket of mediocre-at-best wordspew. Chances are that yes, it’s a little of both. Chances are that people are jealous AND you could be producing better stuff.

But does it really matter? Is it insecurity that makes you need everyone to love you? Fear that if one person doesn’t like your work, no one will? Not everyone is going to like what you’re doing. And they won’t like it for reasons as varied as they are: you curse, you don’t curse, you use too many commas, your character doesn’t do what they expect or want them to do, you take liberties with things that really annoy them, etc etc. Who knows and who cares. YOUR writing isn’t about THEIR praise, is it? (Remember that praise is a consequence of good work and talent)

So let’s assume you’re writing, and that you finish a thing, then you send it off to whoever. Let’s call them Jane Doe. Your book has been written on lunch breaks and weekends and late nights and in coffee shops and at your kitchen table. You really tried your best to tell a story and you fought back the sea of doubts that kept you from finishing it. And you package it up all pretty and write a doozy of a query letter. And Jane rejects it. You get a nice rejection letter that may or may not have some ink-scribbled notes on it. If you get rejected, don’t take it out on the person who rejected you.

You can totally hate the system. You can think it’s elitist, exclusionary, sexist, bigoted, biased, dull, unimaginative or whatever. You can say that it’s outdated, perpetuating a model of success predicated on scarcity as to perpetuate their own jobs. None of that changes the fact that your work wasn’t what someone was looking for. You can be angry, hurt, upset, disappointed, or shocked. You can mourn the lack of success. But don’t think that if you track down your rejector’s website, social media accounts or personal information, that you can make your displeasure felt and somehow Jane Doe will totally publish your work once you threaten to publish their home address and phone number. Getting your work published is NOT a hostage negotiation. You don’t get to blackmail or bully people to get your way. It’s not personal. It’s business. And remember, 50% of the process involves you having produced a thing, so don’t forget to look in that half of the equation when you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong. (Hiring an editor is a good thing to help clarify)

Now, maybe Jane Doe rejected you, and your threw yourself a Sucks-A-Lot party. Once you’re done pulling streamers down off the furniture, it’s time to send your work out again. This time, you find Sarah PlainandTall who could read your work. You check out her website and she’s got something called “Submission Guidelines“, and maybe you think ‘Guidelines are suggestions’. Submission guidelines are RULES, not suggestions. They cover everything from what font to put your document in to margins to size of piece and other similar details. Send out something that doesn’t mesh with the guidelines, chances are it won’t even get a rejection, it’ll just get chucked into recycling or sliced into shreds or cut into scrap pages for phone notes. Also, the guidelines aren’t to be selectively followed. You can’t skip number 3 and 9 just because they invalidate your work. You don’t get to pick and choose which rules you follow. If company or person X has guidelines you can’t meet, then find company or person Y instead. Following rules is a great way to make a good impression. Not following them is a great way to make a not-good impression, or validate any assumptions that you’re hard to work with.

In short: follow the guidelines, don’t take rejection personally, and don’t take your frustrations out on inappropriate targets.

Happy writing.

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