Friday, January 16, 2015

Unicorns, Ukuleles, and Other Things Writers Fear

I recently went out for coffee with one of my writing friends. She’s someone I’ve mentored for a number of years and as I read over her current chapter, I gave her several writing prompts to help her flesh out her villain.
Her chapter was shaping up nicely, but it was the results of her free writing that floored me. Her language was strong. Passionate. Words and phrases fell into place as if she’d worked on this exercise for months instead of minutes.  

“You need to keep writing, this way,” I said, pointing to her notebook. “Allow yourself to vomit up words without stopping to edit yourself all the time.”

She grimaced. “Yeah, but if I did, I’d probably end up with a ukulele playing unicorn somewhere in my story.”

I laughed. “That’s what editing is for,” I told her.

She leaned forward, her face serious. “Right. But what if I don’t find it? What if it goes to print and I never knew it was there?” she asked.

I was about to assure her that I would never let her publish a book with a ukulele playing unicorn in it, when I realized the heart of what she was really asking.
What if my book goes to print, and I think it’s good, but really… it’s awful?
This is the fear that stops many writers dead in their tracks. It’s the fear of mistakes. And failure. The fear of negative reviews. And the fear of public rejection. The truth is when you send your work out into the world, you are putting a large piece of yourself out there. Your work (and you), will be judged.

I looked back at my friend. “I trust you,” I said. “I trust you to see the unicorns. And I trust you to edit them out.”

I wished I could give her a magic formula - tell her that if she’d follow rules X,Y, and Z and divide by pi, her work would be perfect and immune to criticism. But there is no such formula. There is only courage, trust, and hard work (work includes but is in no way limited to: writing, researching your market, revising your novel, spending endless hours studying craft, realizing your novel needs a complete rewrite and spending the next day hiding under the bed, reading hundreds of books, re-writing and revising, learning self-promotion, becoming part of the online writing community, buying more notebooks and sticky-notes, following agents and editors online to see who publishes or represents novels in your genre, joining a serious writing group who gives more revision suggestions, melting down, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, revisions, and querying/submitting). If you have put in the work, you can trust that you are professional. You know your craft well and have honed your story to the best of your ability. Finally, the time has come to gather your courage and share your work with agents, editors, and finally (after another few rounds of revisions), readers.

And what if, after all your hard work and diligence, there’s STILL a ukulele playing unicorn in your book? Well, when the trolls track it down and gleefully show you where it’s lurking, just smile and say, “Well done! And be sure to look for him in my NEXT book!”