I’ve been following Kris Rusch and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, for about two years now. They’ve both been in the writing industry for several decades, and between the two of them, they’ve got several hundred novels traditionally published and gobs of short stories. They’re also dedicated to making sure other writers are informed about everything from the creative side of writing to the business side of publishing.
Kris puts out a post about writing and business every Thursday. (I love reading these—they’re the highlight of my Thursdays.) Back in February, she wrote a post that really resonated deeply with me. I’ve been meaning to blog about it since then, but life got in the way.
Here’s the relevant section:
Dean and I have moved back into what we call our teaching season again. We teach to pay forward, since we can’t repay our own marvelous instructors for the boost they gave us—at least not in any meaningful way. All we can do is offer the same kind of assistance to a new generation of writers.
What disturbs me every teaching season is the way that writers wait for someone to tell them what box they fit in or what box they should go to. Every year, writers tell at least one of us that we need to give them better instructions. If we give better instructions, the writers insist, then they can write what we want them to write, so that we’ll be happy with them.
These writers entirely miss the point. The point isn’t for us to be happy, but for those writers to find their own voice. Sometimes they’ll fail an assignment and have to do it all over again from scratch. Oh, well. All that means is that they have to invest more time into their craft.
But for a certain type of writer, it means that they have screwed up completely, that they’ll never succeed, that they didn’t receive the help they needed to mold themselves into something someone else wanted.
We can’t help those writers. We try not to teach them, because we teach writers to stand on their own, defend their own vision, and become who they want to be, not who they’re told to be. It’s a tougher road to walk, because it means that there’s no one to blame when things go wrong.
Yeah, I get it. Up above, I said that series of mine failed, sometimes because of someone else’s incompetence. When I’m talking about that, I’m only discussing the business side of the equation—sending me on a book tour, but failing to provide books or to fulfill orders from bookstores. (Lawrence Block blogged on this very topic last week.) Refusing to do a second printing on a book that was nominated for half a dozen awards because “it wasn’t time” for a second printing yet (whatever that meant) even though there were orders for the book.
When a book sold poorly because of something I could control—the wrong pacing for a certain genre, being ten years ahead of a trend (which is common for me), tackling a difficult subject that no one wants to read about except maybe me, I take responsibility for that. And I should.
But I also know that those failed projects have helped me grow into a stronger writer. If I don’t reach for the impossible, if I don’t stretch and write what frightens me each and every day, I’m failing as a writer.
Failing as an artist, really. Because all long-time successful artists talk about the same thing. If they aren’t frightened at the beginning of a project, if they’re not worried lacking the ability to do a scene or a story justice, then they’re not stretching themselves. And artists who don’t stretch eventually become artists who stop improving.
The most important thing an artist can do when she’s working is to clear out all of the naysaying voices. Sure, someone told you that you can’t write from the point of view on an unlikeable person. Try it anyway. Sure, someone told you that books about college students don’t sell. Write whatever you want to write.
(Emphasis is mine; read the rest of her post here.)
At the time Kris wrote this, I was in the middle of drafting a YA fantasy, finishing up the rough draft of TOSOTH, preparing to start writing the third book in The Guardians, and prepping Portal Woes for publication. And, as I said, her words resonated with me.
I’ve been writing for years and I have yet to get a story down on paper exactly as the vision of it appears in my head. It’s a learning process—and I was so encouraged to find out that I’m not alone in this.
Flash-forward two months, when I read this post again. Portal Woes is published, I’m editing TOSOTH, 2/3 finished writing Lady Ink, and 35,000 words into the third The Guardians book.
You know what?
Everything she said is still true.
Particularly when it comes to the third The Guardians book, because I’ve been looking forward to writing it since I started planning the series. It’s an important book to me, and part of me is scared that I’m not going to be able to pull it off.
Once the initial euphoria of starting a new project wears off, there’s that sense of…I guess the best way to describe it is impending doom mixed with a hefty dose of panic. That’s where the last paragraph in bold really comes in handy. Clear out all the naysaying voices. (Except, in my case, my biggest naysayer is a critical voice inside my head. I’ve found that mentally duct taping her to a chair, gagging her, and dangling her over some crocodiles in a dark corner of my mind gets her to shut up for a while. Prayer helps a lot too. :))
The best thing to do is just write the next sentence. And the one after that, and the sentence after that. Eventually, you’ve got a story on your hands.