On Finding Satisfaction in Publication:
Nothing I write will work for every reader. I can only guarantee that it works for me.
On Negative Reviews:
Think about your absolute favorite book of all time. We all have one. A book we love, one that's practically perfect in every way. Got the book in mind? Now go to GoodReads. Look the book up. Filter the reviews for 1-stars (because I promise you, it does have one stars). And smile. Because if people can rate your favoritest book in the whole world with one star, then of course people can rate your book that way, too.
On Evaluating a Book's Worth:
Few books are perfect. If you read like a writer you must read to gain what you can from each book, so reading then becomes a generous act. I tell my students they must learn to be generous readers, and judge each book not by whether it's the book they would have written but by whether it fulfilled the writer's apparent intention for it.
On Remembering What Matters:
Words on the page. That’s what was important to us before we were striving to be published...Eventually, all of the glamour and the shine will fade away. The quarter that was dropped into the hype machine will expire, and the machine will go still and cold. But the story will remain. New readers will still find it, even if it’s only available in garage sales. And today’s readers will still remember it. It’s our job as writers to create a story we’ll still be proud of then.
On Relinquishing Control:
Once a book is published, it no longer belongs to me. My creative task is done. The work now belongs to the creative mind of my readers. I had my turn to make of it what I could; now it is their turn. I have no more right to tell readers how they should respond to what I have written than they had to tell me how to write it. It’s a wonderful feeling when readers hear what I thought I was trying to say, but there is no law that they must. Frankly, it is even more thrilling for a reader to find something in my writing that I hadn’t until that moment known was there. But this happens because of who the reader is, not simply because of who I am or what I have done.
Here are some ways I'm trying to protect my creative side:
- I am in constant contact with both my critique partners and my debut group, The Class of 2k12. Both encourage me when I flounder and bolster me when I need support. Some of them have calmly told me again and again that they believe in what I write. When we can't muster the strength to see our own talent, it is so good to have people whose belief in us we can borrow.
- For the sake of my creative health, I've decided that reading the School Library Journal blog, Heavy Medal, is something that doesn't nourish me right now. As I watch people who love children's literature analyze books I admire (in a professional, respectful, invigorating way), I'm finding I doubt my abilities more and more. No book is perfect. I know this to be true. But seeing the "faults" of books well-executed while I'm drafting my own new, unformed work is enough to make me think I'll never produce anything of substance, depth, or worth.
- I need to extend to my writing the room to grow in a safe environment. For me, I'm learning it's a place free of chatter and analysis and comparison. It's a place my friend Val says needs to be quiet enough "to hear that small voice inside trying to remind you that you are doing something important, something special, something worthwhile. And that small voice is the voice you need to hear loudest right now, the one you need to be listening to. During the creation process, kick everyone else out of the room. Tell the critics, your editor or agent, the readers, the doubters to leave, kick them all out of the room and be alone with your story. You and the story. That's all there is right now. That's all that matters."
What have you learned to avoid or embrace to foster your creativity?
I spent fourteen years as an author in training, and while I learned many things in that time, I'm finding there are a slew of different lessons on the other side of publication. This spring, I examined the public
, and writing
life I want to cultivate. Right now, I'm trying to learn just how to protect my creativity -- how to let it grow and expand with a new project, how to feed it, how to keep it from being destroyed during the fragile moments a story is unfolding and finding its way. I've yet to figure this out, but here are a few things I'm pondering:
- It's not the mind but the emotional self that gives us confidence or causes doubt. We are directly and indirectly taught the mind is a truer compass than the heart. And this is right oftentimes, especially for highly emotional people like me (and I would suspect most other writers, who tend to connect deeply and passionately with people, ideas, stories, and universal truths). The thing is, we writers know in our heads plenty of things that never penetrate our hearts. Whether we realize it or not, the emotional "truths" that occupy our lives influence our creative selves far more than we realize. How can we protect the vulnerable place stories spring from?
- Surround yourself with supportive people. Obvious, right? Find a friend or group of people who support and understand you. While non-writing friends and family are wonderful, they don't always understand the writing world. Form a critique group. Become a part of a professional organization like SCBWI. Find people in the same phase of the journey you can encourage and commiserate with. Find people farther along who can show you the way.
- Step away from the constant noise of the Internet. Never before have authors been asked to live the writing life so publicly. As soon as a book sells, the solitary falls away. We've got to find ways to protect our creativity in the midst of it all. There are too many ways to lose confidence -- reviews written by professional organizations as well as book bloggers or Goodreads account holders, articles in accessible publications like Publisher's Weekly or GalleyCat that praise our peers or their books and leave us feeling left out, or publications that praise us but leave us feeling like we'll never measure up again.
What are ways authors can protect their creativity?
I had an overwhelming response from my posts about the public, private, and writing life of a debut. Many people shared via Twitter* or joined the discussion here on my blog. A number of people talked of the value of these ideas beyond a debut year, that they could be applied to any aspect of life.
Both Lisa Schroeder
and Sonia Gensler
encouraged me to pull together some sort of poster that condensed these posts, something that could be a visual reminder of why we do what we do and what, in the end, really nourishes, has worth.
The posters are the size of a standard flyer and were designed by Jeff Fielder
. I've got forty I'm happy to give away. All you need to do is email me
directly with your mailing address. Feel free to spread the word!
*I don't have an account, but many of you shared your tweets with me -- thank you.