At last year’s SCBWI conference in New York, I got to hear a talk by one of my literary goddesses, the lovely Sara Zarr. She started out by telling us that she wasn’t quite sure what to talk about, so she had decided to give us the talk SHE needed to hear right then. It turned out to be exactly the talk I needed to hear, too. (And from the number of weepy writers giving her a standing ovation at the end, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.)
There’s a lot of advice I need to hear right now. And since nobody is magically reading my mind and giving it to me, I’m going to give it to myself–and to you. I’m not nearly as cool as Sara Zarr, but some of you may be having the same issues I am, and I hope this helps.
You are not your work.
If someone doesn’t like what you’ve written, doesn’t want to represent you, or doesn’t want to buy your manuscript, they’re not rejecting you personally. It’s just business. I know it feels like you’ve ripped those words straight out of your heart and glued them down on the page with your blood, but the moment they’re outside your brain, you and your words are separate entities. People who don’t like or understand your work can still love the person who wrote it.
It’s impossible to forget how to write in a week.
When you come back to your manuscript after a vacation, you will not have to re-learn to write from scratch. There is no need to fear your laptop. The parts of your brain that put sentences together are still there waiting for you, even if they’ve been resting for a while. And if you write some rusty, crappy words at first, you know what? Who the hell cares?? Most of us write crappy words every day. That’s what the delete key is for.
You can still be a writer without being in every single writer clique.
Social networking can be really useful, but it is not mandatory every single second. You don’t need to respond to every tweet or blog post for people to like you. Nobody’s judging your writing based on who your friends are or how many famous authors follow you on Twitter. Worrying that your new Twitter friend likes her other new Twitter friend better than you is a complete waste of energy. And if you feel like going offline for a while, that’s allowed. (Besides, disappearing makes you look like you’re being really productive, even if you’re actually just watching twelve back-to-back episodes of “Community” in your bed. Not that I’d know anything about that.)
Every writer has a different process, and no process is better than another.
Some people can write 5000 words a day. And they will. And they’ll tweet about it. But that doesn’t mean you have to write 5000 words a day. Maybe you DELETED 500 words today, and maybe that’s the most productive thing you could have done. Maybe you didn’t write anything at all, but you came up with a great idea for tomorrow. Writing a book faster doesn’t mean writing a book better. We all end up with books in the end.
And just as writers have different outputs, they need different kinds of input. The Golden Rule we learned in kindergarten—do unto others as you would have done unto you— doesn’t work between writers. You can’t assume you know what another writer needs to succeed. You can’t critique everyone’s writing the way you want yours critiqued. What’s helpful to you may be incredibly harmful to someone else. So listen to your critique partners. Be honest and clear about what you need. And if you offer to read someone’s draft and she says no, she’s not rejecting your kindness. She’s just protecting herself and her process the same way you would protect yours.
Just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Take a deep breath and write while you wait. The writing is the best part, anyway.