Don’t Marry Your Work, but Take it Out to Dinner

Mixing art and business sucks. It’s hell. Everything is based on “likeability,” “timing,” and “perception.”

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You could write the greatest novel in the world and it could be a flop. Nothing is guaranteed. Every time I get a rejection I have to remind myself of this.

Like everything in life, we are not owed anything. No matter how hard you work in any field, it could all go to shit. That doesn’t mean anyone should ever give up. If anything I think it means we need to work harder. Every day I read posts from writers making excuses. Sure we all have lives, but the work can’t speak for itself if it’s not finished. If you have time to watch TV, you have time to work on your craft. If you have time to sit on social media, you have time to get in gear.

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That’s a tough balance. Making sacrifices to reach goals is necessary. I have no idea what new shows are out, I’m careful about what movies I go see because I don’t have time to waste on schlock. Social media is fun to play on sometimes, but not for too long.

To get where you want to be you have to put in the time. That effort, that energy matters. Jumping into every WIP is not a half-in half-out game. You have to plunge yourself into the murk and mire to come out clean.

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But once you rip your heart out and paint your work with it, put it back where it belongs. The “write for yourself’ approach is a great fantasy, one that can live in reality if you don’t wish to make a living off of it, but if you do hope to be compensated, unlock your brain.

It’s easy to fall for the romance of writing. I’m a sucker for it. Big time. I let myself get caught up. I’m also a bipolar mess half the time. That’s fine. However you need to be you, do it.

Just remember not to put a ring on your final draft. Your finished product is not often “their” complete work. Yes, the proverbial “they” are everywhere in publishing (any industry, really) because all art needs input. Improvement. At least the really great works.

Instead of marrying your work and hating anyone who offers criticism, take a step back. See it for what it is. I love my stories for all their faults. Sometimes I don’t want to change them. I don’t always.

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It’s best to give them time to grow then doll them up and take them out again. Let them really shine. When I do this, I often see what editors and beta readers meant with their suggestions.

I had a recent piece that started as a 10K word middle grade science fiction story. I hope to place it in a pro anthology. It fit all the marks the publisher asked for. It got rejected ─ of course.

Because it was longer I struggled to find a home for it. Little-by-little I shaved it down. It dropped to 8K, then 6,500 words. Still more rejections.

I really loved the story, but children’s fiction is super competitive. I knew that I would have to cut it further if I wanted to get it published. I cut the entire first section. It hurt, but the backstory was unnecessary.

Now it’s been picked up by Spaceports & Spidersilk. I really like this publication. They’re fun and my kids like their stories. It’s not the biggest job I’ve had, but it fits this piece. That’s what matters.

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I’m more flexible with my children’s work. Kids are the best audiences. They really care. They listen better than anyone when they want to.

My more recent adult pieces are another story. They’re better than ever and I know what suits them. A couple of rejections are to be expected. I won’t make the mistake of destroying the heart of a story based on one or two differing opinions. Knowing when to trust the work and when to give it wiggle room is rough.

I make mistakes all the time, I know that. Being willing to fill in holes while protecting the art is part of the job. My college Eng101 professor tried to impart this on me years ago. I thought I understood, but now I’m really getting into the depths of her stance on, “Don’t get married to your work.” But during her mission to turn us students into great editors she forgot to remind us to relax a little. Don’t marry your work, yeah, but get to know it. Take time to really memorize its meaning so you know what’s best for both of you. And have fun. I don’t buy into the “writers have to hate themselves” bullshit. What’s the point if you can’t enjoy yourself a little?

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Writers are trapped in their own heads most of the time. That’s why so many procrastinate. That’s where “writer’s block” comes from: anxiety, fear. Instead of treating our stories like a love interest who constantly abuse us, look at it like a friend. They’re just hanging out. They could be a novel or one page.

Who knows?

We’re all in it for the ride, anyway.

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