Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Ch 3.8 Have Faith In Your Work

  
(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 3.8 Have Faith In Your Work

Sometimes a theme beats on my head. 

I notice things. I'm sure most writers are this way: we pick up on signals in the world. A blog post here, a tweet there. A friend's complaint. A news item. Suddenly it shows up in the scribbled notations in my journal, tapping its way into my conscious thoughts: the idea that we have a unique vision as writers and that it's important to nurture that uniqueness.

We each tell our stories in our own way. This is almost cliche, except that it is also true. The deep truth in this statement is that our vision of the world can easily be squandered, wasted, thrown on rocky soil, if we do not nurture it.

By all means, study bestselling authors and practice, practice, practice your craft. But I promise you, the way those authors became bestsellers was by staying true to their vision of their work. Long before you become a bestseller, you - the aspiring author - need to respect and nurture your own uniqueness and vision of the world. It is your most treasured talent. It is the thing that makes you special, and in this business of creative work, uniqueness is the most valuable thing you possess.

Trying to be J.K. Rowling will rob you of the very thing that made J.K. who she is - a visionary.

Discovering your own vision is not easy. It's hard work, in fact, buried in the word mines where you will break apart unwieldy paragraphs to find the shining nuggets within. It's years of writing and crafting of words that helps you hone your ability to let your uniqueness be revealed.

This sounds very grandiose, full of hot air and nonsense, but let me assure you that understanding your story-vision is one of the most important things you can do.

When an agent says to you, I love your story, but could you just change these three characters and add a donkey? you need to have the strength of vision to say no. When an editor says to you, We love your writing style, but those (insert here) types of characters don't market well. Can you change it to (insert here)? you have to have the confidence in your story to say sorry, that doesn't work for me.

(Not to say that editors and agents won't offer brilliant suggestions. They will. But if you won't fight to keep the integrity of your story, then no one will. Only you can make sure that the heart of your story is not destroyed in the editing process.)

But I'm Indie Published...
So you don't have to listen to editors, right? Unless you hire them (which you probably should) or you barter with them (as you definitely should, swapping critiques with other writer friends). For indie authors, the challenge is to know which advice to listen to and which to turn away with a polite thank you for your help. And this can be difficult, my friends, even when the guillotine of a publishing contract isn't hanging over your head - because you want to write the best story you can, but conflicting advice can be hard to parse. And then there's your own nagging head, saying, Maybe I should write a 50 Shades of Grey story, because those sell. Or No one will ever buy the kinds of stories I like to write. 

Have Faith In Your Work
Sometimes the most difficult part of writing a story is believing in it. Not believing that every word that drops off your fingertips is awesome, but knowing that eventually you can make the story into something worth reading. Here are my tips on how to build that faith into your work.

I Can Fix That
Learn your craft with the zeal of a lioness after a zebra. Or a young man after the girl of his dreams. Or a monk fervently seeking to know his God. (Pick the analogy that works for you.) Learn how to craft fine sentences, even better stories, and invent characters, settings, and image systems for your novel. These are the tools of your trade, and when you have a secure handle on them, you will be able to say to any criticism or self-doubt, I can fix that.

Write a Crappy First Draft
I hand out this advice frequently. I just read a quote in @WriMo about Pixar, a company famous for making very high quality films. In essence, it said that everything awesome, starts out crappy, and you have to trust your process. I have to remind myself of this every, single time I start a new story. It doesn't flow off the fingertips awesome; I have to make it that way in revisions. (See I Can Fix That.)

Nail Down Your Fears With A Steak Knife
When I was drafting Third Daughter, my steampunk fantasy romance, I had recurring bouts of terror because 1) I loved steampunk, but I really had no idea what it was, 2) I was writing 19th century Indian Steampunk in an alternate universe, which apparently only three other people in the known universe have done, and 3) I wasn't feeling the voice for a long time. It was really the last one that scared me. So, I sat down and free wrote until I realized my fear was that this story would take more research than I expected, and I didn't have time to do that and write the story. I pinned that fear to the table with my pen, went to the library for some research materials, and forged ahead. In other words, I trusted my process, which at the moment was demanding more research. I also trusted that the voice would eventually come, if I kept working it (it did, but not until the third draft).

Having faith in your work. Believing you can fix the work until it lines up with your vision. Nailing down your fears and forging ahead anyway. These are the things that will allow you to reveal your uniqueness to the world - something I believe is a vitally important part of your happiness as a writer, as well as your future success in the marketplace.

Now, go forth and believe in yourself. Next we'll talk about taking that Leap Of Faith in making your vision come true.

  
(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

11 comments:

  1. I had a scene with a character sitting under the stars and quietly playing his harp. The character was a very action-oriented person, and when he stepped onto the stage, things started happening. He is a recurring character and most readers love him. My (paid and good) editor said ‘You have to cut that scene. Nothing’s happening, and you have to move the story.’ I considered what he said, thought hard – and left it in. It provided some balance to the story, some insights to two vital characters. I couldn’t have done that twenty years ago, but at that moment I had an understanding of my voice and my craft, and that scene had to stay for several reasons. When did I realize that? I don’t know, but I did. I don’t ignore that instinct (though I listen to others and consider carefully what they say). Thank you so much for this very useful and enlightening series of post. (I’m getting the book…)

    Diana at Diana Wilder – About Myself, by Myself

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    1. Thank you for that beautiful example! That instinct is almost always there; we just have to learn how to listen to it, and how to tell it apart from those other voices in our head. :)

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  2. Trust the Process- I think I need to have that engraved somewhere to remind me when I start to get frustrated

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  3. Sometimes, I find I have more faith in my creative instincts than the work itself.

    I recently put a stop to (and will probably trash) a manuscript that's sitting at about 50,000 words (and only about half done). It's one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make as a writer, but I was HATING it vehemently as I wrote it -- and one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received, and one I have internalized as part of my craft, is that if I'm not enjoying writing it, no one will enjoy reading it.

    I realized that this is something I've made a part of my process at an inherent level. When I'm working on a scene, if I'm not "feeling" it, I scrap the scene and start over. If I'm not excited when I sit down to write, it means I'm doing something wrong, and I shift story elements around until I AM excited.

    This book, I banged out with a "crappy first draft" mindset. The further I went, the more anxiety I felt to finish it, and the more the insistences of other writers ("the first draft always sucks!") weighed directly against my OWN creative process.

    But I finally made the hard choice, and cut off the rotting limb. I put the book on hold, decided that it was some very wrong story decisions made very early on that had set me down a wrong path, and stuck a flagpole in the sand, to return to the book later and start again from scratch.

    Now I'm nearing completion on a totally different book, which I AM in love with, and AM excited to show to people.

    I guess what I'm learning is that you should always have faith in your work, but it shouldn't be BLIND faith. You have to temper it with conviction in your own skills, and a firm understanding of where they begin, end, and need improvement.

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    1. If there's any one true rule in writing, it's that there are no rules. Understanding and trusting your own creative process I think trumps just about everything else. The "crappy first draft" mindset is liberating for many people - but if it's oppressive and anxiety-inducing for you, then you're exactly right - it's going against your creative process.

      This reminds me of the pantser vs plotter eternal debate: I had a friend who needed to do a five book outline, but she was a plotter. So she tried; it didn't work. I think it's good that she tried - you should always be trying new stuff to see if it works for you - but don't feel bound by it.

      And I love the idea of scrapping a scene/book/partial if you're not "feeling" it. If I'm not loving it, no one will. And yet, sometimes it's more instructive to try to figure out why something's not working, and then fix it. That's what I mean by the "I can fix that" approach. Diagnosing why something isn't working and fixing it (rather than tossing it) is an extremely good way to dig in and learn the craft. Sometimes, in the end, you end up rewriting completely anyway. But at least you'll have learned something in the process.

      Thanks for the GREAT comment! I need to write a whole separate post about trusting your instincts. :)

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  4. Loving this series of posts. Don't worry. I'll still buy the book when it comes:) I do think it's possible to both incorporate suggestions while remaining true to your voice, even when it seems impossible. For example, the original ending of the indie films Clerks and Paranormal Activity involved the MC's being shot to death. In both cases, the endings were changed to allow for sequels and I would argue the filmmaker's voice is still strong in both films and was allowed to be further explored in part II:)

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    1. Sometimes the more challenging suggestions - the ones you really have to work hard to find a way to work and still stay true to your vision of the work - are absolutely the best. I work very hard to never dismiss any criticism out of hand, without a long hard look: usually the suggested change isn't the right solution, but the problem that's highlighted still needs to be addressed. But sometimes the suggested change isn't a suggestion, and it's dead-wrong for the story: this is more a problem for trad-pub, where the editor hold final power over whether the work is published.

      I see films as being a different sort of species: even with an indie film, where the filmmaker's voice can be stronger, film is still an essentially collaborative art (much more so than writing). There's a single name on the cover of a book for a reason - with acknowledgments and credit inside. Not because there's only one person involved, but there's essentially one person responsible for the story-vision inside. If readers tire of an author, they don't blame the publisher or the editor or even the cover designer. In a film, they give separate awards for all the different parts that go into making the film possible.

      Great comment! Thanks for following the series. :) And I'm blogging the book for a reason - I'm not too worried about who buys the book. I just want it available to anyone who will find it useful.

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  5. I really like the idea of trusting the process.

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    1. The key, I think, is FINDING your process. Not just what you do most often or what you're used to doing, but the ideal process that is right for you, and hits the perfect balance between productivity and quality. And I think the process of every writer (or artist in any medium for that matter) is subtly different.

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    2. I agree completely here - had a friend just recently asking what's "wrong" with her that she drafts slow, editing over and over. On the one hand, you shouldn't worry what others are doing. On the other, if you feel your process could use some improvement, or you feel stuck, switch it up. Try fast drafting, if you're slow (or vice versa). Try plotting if you pants (and vice versa). It is (or should be) a constant refinement of your process, or you're learning nothing new. But you also don't want to throw your hands up and walk away when things are difficult or not working right. Trusting the process means working it, knowing that you'll get there if you keep going.

      Clear as mud, right? :)

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers