Some years ago now, way back in the day when I regularly attended the annual RWA convention, a fellow author commented on something that had struck her during a presentation. It was the year James Patterson joined the RWA and gave a talk to a packed room about his writing. My fellow author had attended that talk the day before, and left feeling uncomfortable.
The next day, as she and I were getting ready for a full day of seminars and panels and networking, she explained what was on her mind.
“He would be talking about one of his books,” she said, “and when he brought it up, he would stop and say, ‘That was a great book,’ and then keep going with whatever he was talking about.”
My friend looked me in the eye and said, “With all the female authors we know, how many of them do you think would ever say something like that about their own books in front of two hundred people?”
“None,” was my answer.
Now, we might argue that Mr. Patterson was giving credit to the ghostwriters who helped flesh out the outlines he provided (which is one reason he could publish 6+ books a year). Or we could say that he’s a positive thinker and believes putting his optimism and confidence out into the universe will attract success. We might even go so far as to say he was being a clever, if arrogant, marketer.
Or we might consider that he’s simply comfortable evaluating the books he puts out — regardless of his process — and has a genuine enjoyment of his own work.
Be honest: Have you ever found an old manuscript stuffed in a box under the bed, dragged it out, started reading it, and then an hour later thought to yourself, “This is pretty damn good!”? Chances are, Yes, you have. You may even have busted it out, polished it until it shone, and sent it out to an editor or agent. Why? Because it was a great story.
Writers tend to be introverts and when something goes wrong, we tend to assume it’s our fault.
- The book doesn’t sell a million copies? My fault.
- Manuscript gets rejected by my favorite NY editor? My fault.
- Book gets hammered in the Amazon or Goodreads reviews? My fault.
All of which turns into a big ole heapin’ helpin’ of self-inflicted whup-ass that’s totally unnecessary. It drags us down, squashes our motivation, looms over our potential like a black cloud waiting to drown all our dreams in a gullywash of impossibility thinking.
This isn’t to say there’s nothing we can do to improve our writing. Everyone can learn something new and hone our craft and push ourselves to do better. But this has to be leavened with a big picture view of what is possible and what is probable.
I personally have come around to seeing the incredible power of Luck in the world. I may have mentioned in a previous post how the convergence of Just the Right Elements at the Right Time resulted in a contract with Silhouette Bombshell. Call it Luck or Fate or Destiny or Divine Intervention, but the principle is still the same — there are processes and events well beyond my control which are all in motion even as I write this and you read it, and how they all come together for good or ill is a complete mystery.
So while I can acknowledge I have zero control over things like whether an editor is going to love my latest manuscript or whether it puts its thumb on her worst pet peeve, I can also embrace my own work in a clear-eyed, healthy, and affirming way.
When we write a good sentence, we can own it. When we write a moving scene that makes us cry, we can own it. When we get an email from a reader who says, “You made me feel like I was really there,” we can own it.
There’s nothing wrong or arrogant or self-regarding about acknowledging the value of a story we’ve told. It’s called “being realistic” — without pumping up our egos or crushing ourselves in the dirt because the book isn’t perfect.
So pull that old manuscript out of its Box of Exile under the bed. Dig out that milk crate of half-finished stories. Dust off the synopsis and first three chapters of a story you haven’t looked at in years.
There’s a very good chance it can be a great book — whether or not it earns you a million dollars.
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.