Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Learning to let go of a story

I posted this yesterday over at The Chatelaines blog.

I want to learn how to let go of a story.

The novella that is due, uh, like NOW, is still on my desk. I must mail it out. It's finished. But I can't let go. I keep editing and editing, worrying over it, trying to make it perfect. One last sentence deleted, another rewritten.

The 20,000 word story has taken me as long to write as the 70,000 word Nocturne. And I can't figure out why.

Oh, I really like the characters, the plot. But I find myself filled with doubts, those horrid creatures that easily kill creativity. Maybe THIS word will make it stronger, more emotional, more blah blah blah blah.

Enough. Already.

It always amuses me when people, after finding out I'm an author, casually remark, "Oh, I've always wanted to write a book in my spare time."

I feel like telling them, "Oh, I've always wanted to dig my brains out of my head with a dull fork in my spare time."

Maybe for some writers, it's easy. They can sit down, whip out a story like it's a delicate souffle, and everything is delicious, creamy, rich. People sigh over it and weep.

With me, it's more like baking a Thanksgiving turkey for a critical family dinner. I keep basting, checking, basting, worrying, basting, and then when it's done, I carve into it and POW!

It busts open like that dried, wrinkled mess Chevy Chase cut into on Christmas Vacation.

Or not. Sometimes it's a delicious golden brown and juicy, and melts in your mouth.

It's not easy letting go of the work. Whether it's to give to a friend to read, or an editor, or enter into a contest, or wait for a review, there's a part of you that dreads the reaction. Will they like it? Will they want to read more?

Or would they rather be coated in honey and staked to an anthill?

I can honestly say I don't know one writer, though I'd love to meet one! who hasn't experienced some kind of self-doubt. Years ago at my chapter's conference, the keynote speaker, a NY Times best-seller I admired, admitted she gets nervous when turning in a story to her editor. She too, worries about anyone liking it.


I have a lot of respect for those who can brave the waters of extreme criticism, and submit their work to be read by a panel in front of a crowded audience.

Last week my chapter, Florida Romance Writers, held our conference. I didn't go. I was on deadline, and this is a bad time of year for me as I usually travel for the day job. (Next week I'll be in Haiti.)

The conference was on a cruise, organized by the amazing Aleka Navis, and they hosted an event that's become popular at our conferences.

It's called Floridian Idol. You submit a few pages for a panel of agents and editors to read aloud and tell the audience exactly what they think of your writing.


Sarah from the Smart Bitches blog attended our conference, and participated in this. Here's her thoughts on what it was like:

"So having the product of those less--than-turgid muscles critiqued is like having the gym’s most sculpted personal trainer watching you work out. In a word: Eeeep. So mad props to the writers who participated – I know firsthand what you went through. The experience was supremely fidget-inducing."

That sums it up. Fidget-inducing. It was fidget-inducing for me two years ago when I attended Floridian Idol, and I didn't even submit my work. I cringed at some of the comments. The panel was bluntly honest, and their opinions priceless. Seldom can you get instant feedback from publishing professionals. But still... ouch.

And yet, not all of them agreed on everything. Which goes to show the one truism of publishing every writer should keep chanting to himself/herself.

Not everyone will love, or hate, what you write. Because writing is NOT a science.

For all the craft books you can read, all the workshops you can attend, all the techniques and skill you can employ in your story, in the end, what one person will dismiss, another may love.

One editor might gush over your story as if it's that rare, delicate souffle.

Another might look at it and say, "Eeeeww. Yuck."

So how can you tell if it's any good? How can you tell when it's time to let go, and send it off into the world like a child toddling off to the first day of school?

For me, it's when I realize I'm clinging, like a parent reluctant to release her child to the big, bad, and wonderful world. But deep in my heart, I know I've done all I can, and it's time.

So I print, I read again, slide it into an envelope and mail.

Good-byes are never easy for me. Even when it's a story.

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