Owning our work

Owning our work

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

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.

7 thoughts on “Owning our work

  1. I will admit to struggling with this,never thinking my stuff is good enough, always beating myself up. I suppose you’ve never noticed that about me, but really, it’s true Hee hee. I guess because I know myself, I sometimes feel like a fraud, but I’m working on it.I just wish I didn’t need validation from others.

    1. I think you’re exactly right — we do often feel like frauds. “Who do I think I am, believing people will pay money to read my stories?” And then when that external validation doesn’t come to us, we’ve somehow “failed.”

      I want to challenge (and maybe I didn’t do a good job of it in this post) the idea that making a crapload of money is an indicator of quality. Even hitting a bestseller list isn’t an indication of quality. Some of the best books I’ve ever read — that touched me, made me think, kept me absorbed for hours — were never powerhouse successes or bestsellers.

      But I definitely feel like Sisyphus, pushing that idea up the hill only to have it roll back down the Mountain of Monetary Value…

  2. Zero control – boy is that screaming at me! I suppose I’m somewhat of a control freak. If I put my stories out there, I have ZERO CONTROL! Over who reads them and what they think of them and if I make any money and all that stuff. As long as I’m just telling stories ‘as a hobby’ I can avoid the loss of control. BUT, I’m working on that. I’m producing pages and I have every expectation and intention that at some point in the future, I am going to publish a story. More more than one! I’ll loose control, and that scares the beejesus out of me – but I’m going to do it.I tell good stories. There. I own it. Whether anyone ever agrees with me out not – I TELL GOOD STORIES!

    1. You know, when I took a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking, we had to give around 10-12 presentations (2 minutes, max), 1 or 2 each night of the course. One of the things that course drilled into me was that, if I want to share something with someone, it was worth sharing. It taught me the value of believing my own truth, of valuing my own understanding, and of sharing a message that might be of use to someone else.

      Writing: Same thing. That’s exactly where we need to start, Terri, and you’re nailing it! You go, girl!

  3. We’ve been drilled to believe pride is a sin, but you know, we’re not just writers, we’re readers. And we read A LOT, so we know what’s good and what’s not, in our opinion. It only makes sense that we’d learn to recognize our own good output as well as the bad.There’s no sin in admitting you’ve created something that has merit.

    Makes me think of a line from PRETTY WOMAN:

    Vivian: “People put you down enough, you start to believe it.”
    Edward: “I think you are a very bright, very special woman.”
    Vivian: “The bad stuff’s easier to believe. You ever notice that?”

    The bad stuff is easier to believe, especially when it’s your own internal bad stuff. But you know what: I think we’re all very bright, very special women, and we deserve to own our greatness and be free to compliment ourselves for a job well done.

    Another favorite quote in my household: “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.” (Will Rogers)

    1. “There’s no sin in admitting you’ve created something that has merit.”

      Totally agree, girlfriend. So many of us (of a certain generation) have been trained not to own our good traits for fear we’ll think more highly of ourselves than we should — and yet I’d argue that most of us think less of our abilities than we should.

      The truth is usually somewhere in the middle, between “I’m a genius” and “I suck.” We can practice getting to that middle by considering, just once in a while, that we’ve written something worth reading.

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