Did I Get it Right?…
What a stupid, silly, useless question when it comes to writing stories.
That one question covers some of the largest fears that fiction writers have. I got some of these expressed in the questions from last week. Thanks everyone.
So let me see if I can make some sense out of all this…
—Wondering if they got it right (fearing that they didn’t) makes beginning writers often spend thousands on book doctors or some other editor term, almost always from a person who has never published a word.
—Wondering if they got it right (fearing that they didn’t) makes beginning writers rewrite the same thing over and over and over even though they don’t know any more about what works the fifth time through as the first time.
—Wondering if they got it right (fearing that they didn’t) makes beginning writers listen to people who pretend to know what they are doing yet have never published a thing. You know: English teachers and peer workshops.
—Wondering if they got it right (fearing that they didn’t) makes beginning writers think that selling all rights to some publisher and being taken care of by a publisher and an agent is better than learning the business and keeping control of their own work.
What Exactly is the Fear?
Every day in this world people face all sorts of horrors, from war to hunger to tragic death. And everything else you can imagine. It’s a pretty nasty world out there right now.
But not one writer has ever been able to explain to me why made-up fear works so powerfully in fiction writers. (And please don’t try because you will only be making excuses for your own fears and I have honestly heard them all.)
Let me be blunt: If you write a short story or novel that doesn’t work, no one will come to your home and shoot you. No one will take your family away. No one will torture you or even take your money or your home.
If you write a story that doesn’t work, nothing will happen. NOTHING.
No one will buy it, no one will laugh because no one will have read it. (Readers are not stupid. They rarely spend money for stories that don’t work. And if they do, they just don’t finish them and move on.)
So in other words, no one will care.
Once you get past your ego and realize that one fact, you will be free.
Completely free from all of these fears about writing I mentioned above and many more.
Of course, if you feel like that if you practice and end up writing a novel or story that doesn’t sell, you have wasted your time, then you have other issues. Other major issues.
Number one, you don’t understand practice. Number two, your stories are too “special” and if you keep that up, you will grind to a halt quickly.
Some Personal Information
I used to have all the fears, for the seven years I was lost in rewriting and not selling. I used to think my stories needed to be polished, even though now looking back, I just laugh because I didn’t know anything about storytelling.
But I thought I did, damn it.
Yup, just like every other beginning writer. I thought I knew, yet at the same time needed the feedback, the pat on the head, the feeling that after five rewrites I was getting closer to the true story.
During those seven years I was deathly afraid of sending out a bad story. I have no idea what I was afraid of, but it worked and kept me from sending out much of anything.
When I adopted Heinlein’s Rules, I also adopted the attitude that I would believe every story I sent out sucked. I decided to leave it up to the editors and readers to tell me the truth with their money.
Now, forty years later, I have put out there on the market upwards of 600 plus short stories, over three hundred, maybe four hundred have been published. But those other two hundred… well… I’m still here and not one of those stories ever came and shot me.
Anyone out there remember any of those bad stories I wrote and never sold?
Of course not. Shows how silly that fear is.
I have written and published now well over 150 novels and over 200 books with name or pen name on the cover. Some of those media novels sucked. In fact, one book in the game Unearth has half of my book mixed up with another writer’s book. It is unreadable. And it has my real name on it.
Did it kill my career, did I get tossed in jail for writing such a stinker? Nope, I’m still here. Because no one read that book, or the book I wrote for the horrid Madonna movie. Or a couple of the ghost novels I wrote.
If some poor reader was unlucky enough to try to read any of them, they quickly forgot them because the story didn’t work. Especially the one with all the chapters mixed with another writer’s book.
I trust my readers.
Let me be blunt: Beginning writers are always worried about hurting their careers, their reputations, when the truth is they have no career or reputation.
So how do you stop the fear?
You are human. You don’t.
But you give it no power by understanding it is not a real fear.
And you work at replacing the fear with belief.
A simple belief…
Right now you are best writer you can be at this point in time.
Believe that, keep practicing and sending your work out, keep learning everything you can learn.
Understand that the more you write, the more you learn, the better you will become.
But right now you are the best writer you can be.
And that will be better than the writer you were a year ago, if you are doing things right and writing and learning.
And it won’t be as good as you will be in a year if you keep learning and practicing.
Imagine how much more you will know and how much better a storyteller you will be in forty years…
My suggestions to control this fear…
Step One: Keep EVERYONE out of your writing.
Maybe have one first reader to help you find typos and such, and a copyeditor for typos after it is ready to go to print. But DO NOT let them touch your writing, your story. Get militant about it.
Get angry about it. It is your writing, DEFEND IT.
Step Two: Keep EVERYONE out of your writing.
Do not read reviews, do not ask some book doctor for advice. Do not ask fans for feedback.
Learn craft and business, but only take in what sounds right to you and ignore all the rest.
Step Three: Keep EVERYONE out of your writing.
And that includes your critical voice. Write the story or novel from the creative voice, cycling, writing clean, fixing mistakes as you go along, so that when your creative voice is done at the end, the book is done.
Then tell your critical voice to leave it the hell alone and get it out to readers.
The fear in writing, all fears in writing, are fake fears, designed to stop us from writing. Keep learning, believe in where you are at with your writing at the moment, and let it fly.
And without fear, trust me, telling stories is a ton more fun.