Different Worlds

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
Small announcement: I will be doing #askawriter on Twitter, from 6:30-7pm, PST. Come ask me questions about writing and publishing, I will answer all I can within that timeframe. Be sure to use the hashtag! I’ve done #askawriter twice now, and it’s been a lot of fun, not to mention good practice distilling answers into 140 characters. Also, you can check my Events Calendar. I will be putting #askawriter and other chats on there, as well as appearances and signings.

A lot of people have asked me recently if I get confused between the different worlds and series I write. It’s a fair question, since I am seen as being pretty prolific. (I am not nearly as fast as I want to be, believe me.)

The short answer is, no. The lighting is too different.

The long answer requires a digression. But you pretty much guessed that, didn’t you.

I’m going to tell you (oh, all right, I’m telling the world, same difference) something I’ve never told anyone before. When I was a little girl, I would be sent to bed far earlier than my body clock liked. I had a lot of time, lying there in the dark. And what I would do is tell myself stories. But I wouldn’t just repeat them, words on a string. I saw them. I literally built them inside my head, like movies. I trained myself to see every scene, right down to the glasses on a kitchen counter or the titles of the books on a nightstand. I built very detailed scenes inside my head, and fell asleep inside them.

What I didn’t realize was that I was training to see stories. Recently at an event, a scriptwriter told me my books are “cinematic.” The reason is simple: I see them. I stop scenes, pan around, and the soundtrack gives me a voiceover of what the characters are thinking. I can slip inside a character’s head and see things from their angle, jump out and into another body–it was and is intensely liberating, for someone with such an emotionally impoverished and stricture-heavy childhood.

So, you will now understand when I say there is never any doubt or question for me what story I am in at any particular time. I can’t help but tell them apart, if only for the simple reason that the lighting is different.

For example, the Dante Valentine series had a very specific look. It was very Ridley Scott Bladerunner. The Jill Kismet books are very Alex Proyas, the first Crow movie. The lighting for the Watcher series is very Conspiracy Theory. My fantasy books are highly color-saturated, very Tarsem Singh, like the Cell or the Fall. (Or like House of Flying Daggers, which is what Kaia Steelflower’s world looks like inside my head.) Dru Anderson’s world, in Strange Angels, looks a lot like the lighting in Wong Kar-Wei’s Fallen Angels.

It’s become second-nature for me to go inside my head and let the scene open up around me. Then it is a straightforward matter of finding the most elegant or efficacious way to describe what exactly I’m seeing. The words and the vision go together for me, two wheels of a bicycle. I have two problems while writing: getting enough detail in the scene to help other people see it, and finding the exact right word to describe what I’m seeing. The first is often solved by one of my editors, who quickly learn to mark where I’m seeing the scene so clearly I fall into the trap of assuming everyone else can see it too. The second is why I am a word magpie, always hunting them down and stuffing them away inside my brainmeat. I need every single one I can find–who knows when I might have to use them to convey a precise meaning?

This is why I am never uncertain of what story I’m in. Often the lighting alone will give me clues about what sort of story it is, and I learn a particular story’s lighting very thoroughly by the time I’m done with a book.

Each book, each world, is a total-immersion hallucination for me. Which makes it sound crazy, yes. But that crazy pays the bills, so I’m not complaining. (“We need the eggs.”) I see, smell, touch these worlds. I know what the bars smell like, how the alleys look at three in the morning, what a sunrise means to people, the creaks of individual houses, the shape of characters’ noses. The training–literally hundreds of hours spent building them from the time I was old enough to understand what a story was–has been invaluable. I still fall asleep spinning stories and worlds inside my head.

I think many writers are afraid of letting their worlds become too real. Who wouldn’t be? “Don’t daydream, pay attention!” is something we’re told thousands of times, growing up. Learning that skill–and it is a learned, learn-able skill, to a better or worse degree–of building something inside your head isn’t just for writing stories or painting, though. Every day an adult human being runs through possible consequences of their actions, lightning-fast decisions based on scenarios. Seeing a story is, for me, no different than playing out “what will happen if I run this red light?” inside your head. I can visualize the resultant car crash or ticket just as vividly as I can block out a fight scene in Jill Kismet’s world.

If visualizing a story sounds like a skill that will help you, try setting aside some time for it during the day. I’m not talking much–five or ten minutes, with your trusty kitchen timer set to help. Close your eyes and start simple–try visualizing a point. When you’ve got the point, try a line. Make it a white line on a black background, and then change it to different colors. From there you can try flat shapes in different colors. When you’re ready to make the jump to 3D, try simple things–an apple, a brick wall.

I know some writers don’t visualize, but I think that’s probably the one thing I can’t imagine. So, my question for this week is, how about you? Do you “see” the stories you write? Do you hear or smell them? How does that work for you? Tell me how or if you see the stories you tell.

I’m listening.

From Copyright To “Writer’s Block”

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
Still can’t run. A sharp jolt of pain up my leg from the sprained toe dissuades me. However, the pain isn’t as sharp as it was yesterday. I’ll give myself the weekend, then dammit, I’m running again. I don’t care if it hurts.

Last night I was at the PNBA Nightcapper event. The volunteers were awesome, especially Patti, who stood next to me and handed me books, soothing me all the while. I got to shake Greg Bear‘s hand again. (I did not pass out this time!) I also got to actually see, converse with, and touch the hand of Patricia Briggs. (Where I was near to passing out, I love her stuff so much.) You know, I am still a squeeing fangirl on the inside sometimes.

I signed a few books, saw a few booksellers I recognized, and got to tell an utterly cool punk-rock librarian that her library system (Pierce County) had literally saved my life. Not once, but again and again through years. Libraries have always been safe places.

This week’s been monumentally busy, and I am deep in the wilds of revision. True to form, as soon as I start working on another project, the current novel gets jealous and wants to take center stage again. I have often compared novels to cats–they don’t want to be petted unless one is looking at something else. Little stinkers.

So, today you get linkspam in lieu of a regular Friday post. If you can, spare a vote for my cookies-and-dismemberment T-shirt! Check out yesterday’s post on writer’s magic, too.

* Mike Briggs (Patricia Briggs’s husband) on Copyright and Free. I didn’t get a chance to tell Ms. Briggs that I nodded so hard I almost got whiplash while reading this.

The basic idea seems to be that authors are somehow unconscionably greedy, working for a few months and then living a life of luxury forever, while honest folks work for wages every day. Naturally, the only way to fix the situation is to take the author’s work for free.

The fact is that most authors never manage to make a living wage despite the excessively long copyright terms. It takes many months, often years to craft a good novel and get it published. Authors don’t get paid an hourly wage, so the sales of the final product need to compensate for hundreds or thousands of hours of labor. At fifty cents or so per book, it can take a long time to make writing a profitable venture. (Mike Briggs)

He approaches other arguments I’ve heard people make ad nauseum, and gently shows why they’re not, well, good arguments. It all boils down to: “You want writers to produce that content you love, great. Don’t steal from them. That makes it harder.”

* Ilona Andrews on publishing and marketing. Several good things in here. In particular, she demolishes one huge myth:

There are no mythical editors who sit there before a stack of manuscripts and think, “Yep, have to guard the gate.” When an editor sits down before the pile of submissions, he or she most likely think, “I hope I find an awesome book and I hope it will be a bestseller.” They want to find somebody to publish. That’s how they stay in business. (Ilona Andrews)

* Mary Pearson, on what YA Lit is and isn’t. Can I just say AMEN and HALLELUJAH?

But all of this is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that YA books are not meant to raise children. They are everything any adult book is. They are entertainment. They are a place to see ourselves. They are a place to get lost for a few hours. They are a place to make us think and wonder and imagine. They are a place to evoke anger, disagreement, discussion, and maybe tears. Books have no other responsibility than not to make the reader hate reading. (Mary Pearson)

* Josh Olson, screenwriter for (among other things) A History of Violence, saying why I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.

You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it’s not a huge imposition. It’s not your choice to make. This needs to be clear–when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you’re not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you’re asking them to give you–gratis–the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours. (Josh Olson)

It may sound harsh and it may offend people, but goddammit, it’s true. You have to do the work yourself, not imagine you can piggyback on someone else’s. It’s amazing how many Speshul Snowflakes, entitled to the max, believe they can climb up on someone else’s back because the world Owes It To Them. And it just ain’t necessarily so, sugar.

* And finally, because I’ve been asked three times about it in the last two days (no, AngryBrit, you were not the first or the last, I promise), here is a piece I wrote two years ago about writer’s block. Specifically, how I don’t believe it exists.

Write this out in letters ten feet high and underline it in neon: It does not matter WHAT you write. It matters THAT you write, dammit. Just sitting down and producing every day is the important thing here. It is the habit, the discipline, that will carry you through the rough patches when the fear threatens to eat your soul and the laziness and loneliness threaten to finish off the rest of you. Just sitting down and doing it, no matter what, is the cure. (October 2007)

I have very little patience with the “oh, I’m blooooocked…” whine. I have never suffered writer’s block. I need to pay rent and feed my kids too badly to indulge in that little luxury. If one piece of work isn’t coming along, I switch to something that is. When I’ve got to buckle down and get the work done, dammit, it’s time to buckle down and get the work done. My deadlines, hence my livelihood, depend on it. My babies and my landlord and my ability to visit the grocery store depend on it as well. I like eating and having a place to live.

There is this persistent idea that writers and other artists are at the mercy of the magical mythical Muse. I do blog about the Muse in a tongue-in-cheek manner, but let me tell you something: I expect that bitch to work or I’ll hold auditions for a new one. Her part of the job is simple: to supply the magic dust. I don’t care where she gets it, that’s her problem.

My part of the job is to be here to catch that dust when it falls. To show up, every day, just as if this was a Real Job. Because it is. Maybe someone who doesn’t depend on this for a living can afford to be blocked, but I’m not that person.

But then, you knew that.

Over and out.

When I’m Down, I Give A Pep Talk

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
Good morning, everyone.

There have been some great posts recently at the Deadline Dames. Tracey O’Hara talked about feeling like an imposter in writer’s clothing, Dame Devon with five easy steps to start a writing career, Dame Jackie on surviving conventions, and Dame Rachel on research.

I feel like there’s not much for me to talk about today, especially as I’m still scrambling to catch up from last week’s Mini Tour Madness (part I recap is here) and dealing with a couple of other personal things, including a crisis of confidence. It’s kind of like what Tracey talked about earlier this week–the feeling that one is an imposter as a writer. That there is going to be a grand unmasking and someone will yell “You really suck!” and rotten vegetables will be thrown and then the sun will go out and everyone will starve to death and it’s all my fault.

I go through this every time I write a book, more or less. Especially when I write under deadline. I know it’s irrational. Believe me, I know. But it doesn’t help when I’m struggling with the first third of a book that just won’t cooperate, before the click happens and everything falls into place. The things I thought I was just doing blindly turn out to be fortuitous, little Easter eggs from the Muse. I’m taught once again that I have to trust in the work.

It isn’t easy. You’d think after over thirty novels written and 20 or so published, I would have gotten this down. You’d think it would get easier, and that I would get to the point where feeling like an imposter is either inapplicable or doesn’t bother me.

It hasn’t yet. Sure, it’s grown incrementally easier to deal with. But I still struggle with this feeling over and over again. Part of it is my upbringing and psychological makeup–I was never “good enough” as a child or young adult, and the flip side of the resultant fierce perfectionism is the idea that one is unnaturally imperfectible and thus has to work twice as hard, twice as long. It’s a vicious cycle, because nothing is ever good enough. Sometimes I’m okay at letting that be a spur to work as hard as I can. Other times the sharp edge turns against me.

And that bastard cuts deep.

Often in my Friday writing posts I give my honest advice, which means I also have to admit when I’m struggling, or I end up in the “do as I say, not as I do” contingent. Which I hate. I love this job, I think I’m pretty okay at it most days, but there are also those days with thorns and knives. Today is one of them, and though I know I’ve dealt with this at least 30 times before, the feelings are still raw and intense. It only helps a little to remind myself that this, too, shall pass.

But a little help is better than none. At least, so it seems to me. So if you’re struggling today too, let me hand you some chocolate and a hankie, or a beer and a coaster, or whatever will help. Let me grab your hand and tell you not to give up, that it will get better if we keep slogging through and trusting the work. That as long as we’re doing the best we can, we’re not imposters, even if we feel like it. That someone else goes through this every day, and we’re not alone.

I won’t let go. You keep hanging on too, and we’ll get through somehow.

Then we’ll go kick some ass.

Over and out.

Home Again, Home Again

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
I’ve just arrived home from the mini-tour with Richelle Mead. Dude, Richelle’s fans are hardcore. I also got to meet a few fans of my own, which was awesome. Each event was wonderful.

I know today is Friday, but the entire trip was exhausting. We literally saw nothing but airports, our media escorts’ cars, the events, and hotel rooms. Unfortunately, on trips like this you can’t really do much sightseeing. Richelle’s a trooper–she’s got something like twenty more days of touring. I don’t know how she does it.

So here are three book-tour-traveling tips. I’ll have a recap on Monday, when my brain resembles oatmeal less.

* Plastic bags. Bread bags and Ziplocs have a million uses, from making sure your shampoo bottle doesn’t explode all over your clothes to holding hairclips and rubber bands.

* Rest when you can. I know it sounds bad, but when you need all your strength for events, sightseeing becomes almost nonexistent. Events are pretty taxing, even if nobody shows up, and especially if a bunch of people show up.

* Thank your hosts. Being polite never hurts. It may even get you invited back. Thank-you letters to your media escorts (especially when they are ultra-super-efficient) are a Good Thing, too.

And a bonus tip: once you’re in your hotel room, drink all the water you can. Air travel is dehydrating, and when you’re already stressed dehydration can bugger up your immune system even further.

I know this is short. I’m so, so glad to be home, and so exhausted it’s unbelievable. I caught a travel cold, too. As I invariably do. You wouldn’t think I’d catch a fricking cold in California, but I did. Grr.

See you Monday! And if you happen to be somewhere Richelle’s touring, go out and show some love! She is always worthwhile.

Friday Five

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
I’m getting ready for the mini-tour and knocking off wordcount on Heaven’s Spite, so today we have a list of five things about writing as a career.

1. Writing is a physical act. Yes, you do it sitting in front of a word-processor, or sitting at a desk. That does not mean it is effortless. The sheer brute physical labor of typing eighty to a hundred thousand words for a novel (and let’s not even talk about revisions) is hard on the delicate structures of your wrist and arm, not to mention your brachial plexus (thoracic outlet syndrome and carpal tunnel problems are real risks to writers.) Plus there’s the fact that sitting for long periods is hard on the body.

Stretching and moderate exercise will not only make sure you have a less-painful career at the keyboard, but it will also help your writing. It clears out toxins and makes the prose more supple. More importantly, you have got to take care of yourself, or your body might rebel. And that ain’t pretty.

2. A story is an arc. The story equation goes like this: There is a situation in equilibrium. Something happens to disturb that equilibrium. The rest of the story is events finding a new equilibrium, and when it is found, the story naturally ends. The first line of the story is like your first cut in a duel. It holds the pattern for the rest of the arc. The story expands from that first line, and reaches a point where it must contract–where all the threads of expansion need to be picked back up and woven back down to a line. This point is not necessarily the climax. It’s different for each piece of work.

Finding that arc, finding the point where the story has to stop expanding and must start contracting toward climax and denouement, takes practice. This is why writing’s a skilled art–it takes lots and lots of practice.

3. The story belongs to the character who changes the most. I’ve attributed this saying to Karen Fisher, but I think it was actually Laura Kalpakian who said it.

Writers often bemoan the secondary character who thrusts him or herself onto the stage and won’t go away. Often, this is the principle at work–the secondary character is actually the one doing the changing. You can even have a main character who is not the character the story belongs to. That also takes practice and skill to pull off.

When you’re stuck in a story, or the characters seem lifeless, turn this into a question. “Whose story is this? Who is changing? Who is changing the most?” Often this helps jolt everything into perspective and shows you the hole in the structure.

4. No risk, no reward. If your characters aren’t risking anything, if there is not a significant chance that they will lose something that matters to them, there is little emotional payoff for the reader. Characters who are flawless have no real way of letting the reader identify with them, and they are never more than paper cutouts.

I do not want a paper cutout. I want blood and guts and bad breath. I want my characters to risk things. I want to risk things every time I sit down at this goddamn keyboard. Because I also want that reward.

5. Beware those who want something for nothing. Jess Hartley, this past week, had an interaction with such a one. This has happened many a time. Lots of people want something for nothing. And they assume that once you’re published, you hold a magic golden key for giving them what they want. What’s more, they assume that you will share this mythical golden key–that it is your duty, your pleasure and your obligation to hand over the golden key to them just for the asking.

This is another outcropping of Speshul Snowflakeism, and a particularly insidious one. Because this sort of Snowflake gets very passive-aggressive when it comes to getting what they want. It took me a merry go round with a few of them before I learned the signs and started just laughing and pressing the delete button when one cropped up.

Note that I’m not talking about the person who extends a perfectly civil, reasonable request and understands when an author can or can’t fulfill that request. I’m talking about the person who presumes a personal relationship with an author where none exists, and further presumes that the author Owes Him/Her Something on the basis of that presumption. That presumption is toxic. I could go on and on, but what would be the point? Just beware of those who expect something for nothing, on many levels.

That’s about it. I’ll add two links: Darkshiver on a particular social media don’t, and the inimitable Wolfinthewood with another roundup of links about the Google Book Settlement.

And now I’ve got to go get cracking. Books will not write themselves, and the small suitcase I’m taking won’t pack itself, either.

Over and out.

A Merry-Go-Round Full Of TNT

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
Everyone here is cranky this morning. Including me.

I wouldn’t be keeping up my end of the Friday post bargain if I didn’t tell you something right now. I’m having trouble with the latest book. Coyote Boy (the UnSullen, for those of you who keep track of such things) informs me that it’s the same trouble I have every book.

I can’t help it if it feels like different trouble every time.

Here’s the thing: the book is not doing what I wanted it to do. What I had neatly planned. I have reached the point, as Philip Pullman so eloquently puts it, where I am being mugged by the book that wants to be written. The one where I realize I have 10-20K of pure wrong starting the book, and I have to throw out everything and start fresh, and maybe plug little bits of other stuff in, and ARGH.

Insert me running around screaming, feathers puffing out, fur flying.

What makes it more difficult this time around is the sheer level of personal change I’ve gone through in the last three months–changes in my status, my living space, you name it–taking up emotional bandwidth. Creating takes energy, and if that energy is being spent to maintain an even keel in the face of dire emotional stress…well, it’s got to come from somewhere, and I burn pretty close to the bone anyway. Reserves have been nonexistent, emotionally speaking, for a while now.

So, we have a problem. Lately writing is like scraping the inside of my skull with one of those things you use to get the seeds out of a pumpkin before you carve it. I have wordcount on this book I’m going to have to scrap, and I have not the faintest idea of what I’m going to do. How I’m going to work this thing or solve this problem.

What do I have going for me?

* Habit. Never have I been so glad of the habit of writing every day. Habit is either the best of slaves or the worst of masters, and right now it’s one of the few things saving me. I don’t feel right unless I put in some serious time writing each day.

* Discipline. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I can’t. I need the money too badly. Kids gotta eat. Plus, editors and agent depending on me. I call it ‘discipline,’ but you could just as easily say I have told myself I have no choice. At this point I’m getting Yoda: There is no try. There is only do, or do not. And “do not” is not an option.

* Support network. I’m sure my editor could have lived without my email saying, “You, um, are okay with maybe not getting exactly the book we talked about a couple months ago, right? I mean, it’s still going to be the same series, and awesome, but when we last spoke I had this scaffolding and it just all crashed down around my ears. Please tell me you’re OK with this.” Or my agent could have done without my frantic call about the same thing. And that my writing partner and Coyote Boy could both do without me staring into the distance in the middle of conversations, my brain suddenly turning over a new idea and vapor-locking.

But sometimes, that’s what editors and agents and friends do. Sometimes they listen to you when you’re tearing your hair out. Sometimes they even reassure you that yes, you’ve done this before and no, the world didn’t end, and that the world ain’t gonna end this time either.

* Sheer cussedness. I’m sure you’ve figured out that the Friday posts are a way for me to keep myself on track, too. Because I am too stubborn for my own good, and dedicated to the idea of keeping my word. I refuse to admit that a book can beat me. Especially one like this.

Put this way, it seems like I have an awful lot going for me. I’m still agonizing over the book and telling myself that I do this every fricking time, that people who know me have SEEN me do it every fricking time, and that this is part of the process.

Unfortunately, this process does not give one a feeling of ease. The best one can hope for is a faint comfort. Every time I start out on the journey another book represents, I get the idea that it might be like carrying the Ring to Mordor. I’m pretty definite there will be a There, it’s the And Back Again I’m not sure I’ll pull off. I have no Gandalf, no Eagles, no Aragorn, no Legolas. I have no army or shiny palantir.

There’s just me and this keyboard. And the voices in my head. The trick of making something out of nothing is the same nerve-wracking exploit each time.

I have written over 35 novels at this point, a fair number of which are actually in print. The only ease I have acquired with the process is the faint suspicion that I’ve strapped myself to a merry-go-round full of TNT for each one and miraculously, each time come away whole. Maybe a bit singed, but essentially intact. I would be lying, friends and Readers, if I said I expected the process to get any easier. I would also be lying if I said I didn’t think about stopping every goddamn time. It’s the same thought about stopping I have when I’m in the rollercoaster, the bar has been locked, and we’re chugging up that first long slope.

I never have that thought until it’s too late.

And now for the point of this long ramble. This is not an easy job. It gets only marginally easier when you have a few books out and familiarity with the publishing side of it. The publishing and everything else depends very simply on you and the keyboard. Nowhere to run to, baby. Nowhere to hide.

So be gentle with yourself. As far as you can, as far as whatever drives you to write will let you. If you’re looking at making a living on this merry-go-round full of TNT, first I’ll offer you my condolences. Then I’ll tell you something else: it ain’t easy, but I’m in here with you. You’re not alone.

And at the end of the day, uncertainty be damned. It’s still the job I love, the job I have no intention of quitting.

Over and out.

Found Wanting

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
Ever since I can remember, I have been measured and found wanting.

I was either too X or not enough Y. Too fat, too weak-eyed, too loud, too dreamy, too smart, too stubborn, too artsy. Not practical enough, not obedient enough, not pretty enough, not quiet enough, not thin enough, not smart enough. Nobody was ever entirely pleased with me, and every praise had sting in the tail. The first taste of approval-without-a-barb I can remember came in fourth grade, from Mrs. I., the teacher of a gifted class. But she was stretched thin with twenty of us to deal with, and the little nibbles I got then gave me a taste for academics. They did not fill the void.

Alas, not all teachers were Mrs. I., who was a genuinely sweet woman. It seemed that, like Jane Eyre, if I had been a “sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child” I would’ve had more luck. (I suppose that’s part of why I identify with Jane so strongly during the first third of the book.) I would get drabbles of approval for various things, but never more than a teaspoonful. I was a disappointment to every adult I met, except the few teachers patient enough to see that I was bored silly and also needed some sanctuary. The bruises were hard to cover up, but it was the damage inside that I needed help with.

Anyway, I’ve struggled with being found wanting in one way or another all my life. This has bred an odd dual problem: wanting approval on the one hand, and fierce perfectionism on my own terms on the other. If I was harder on myself than anyone else, my young brain decided, then I maybe, maybe could please someone. Anyone. It took me until I was almost thirty to start figuring out that I wasn’t wanting, that just maybe I was okay.

This isn’t just navel-gazing. I do have a point in mind.

Recently I was talking about writing with someone, and they said, “But it wouldn’t be good for you. I mean, they would be books you didn’t want to write, so they wouldn’t be your best.”

And I immediately said, “There’s no way I’d turn a book in unless it was the very, very best I could make it. I can’t do less than that, not even by a hair. I’d know. I just can’t.”

Writing for publication opens up the door to be judged and measured in every single possible way. You write, and judge it while you’re writing (even though you probably shouldn’t.) Then your beta reader/crit partner/group/inner editor judges it through a draft or two. Then your agent sees and judges it, and sends it out for editor to judge. The editor judges it through at least one and more likely multiple drafts. A copyeditor judges it, then it’s judged through a proofreader and your own eyeballing of proof pages.

Then it’s sent out into the world, and it’s judged by reviewers and customers. Sometimes quietly by them choosing to open their pocketbooks–or not–and sometimes loudly and vociferously. Over, and over, and over.

Is it any wonder writers get a little neurotic?

For someone with my background, this is nervewracking to the highest degree. I literally could not have found another career so tailored to take advantage of my particular fault lines, to rub figurative salt into my wounds. This has forced me to toughen up. It has forced me to grow up, to make the decision to find my self-worth as literally self-worth–and not what-someone-else-says-worth. To confront those voices inside my skull repeating not X enough, too much Y and see them for what they are.

Like everything else to do with writing, there is a paradox. Because during creation, the time when it’s me and the keyboard and that’s it, is when I feel most free. It’s like dancing naked in a dark vault–somewhere I know nobody will possibly see me, so I’m free to do what I want, however I want to do it. I am free to make the ultimate effort with nobody judging me but myself. Within my fierce perfectionism, I have absolute freedom–because I know at every moment I am doing the best I can. I am incapable of giving any less.

Sometimes I think that is what Readers respond to on some level. Even if your book is not perfect, some part of doing your absolute best, giving yourself heart and soul, makes it through. I’ve read books that made me cringe, but I did not stop because I could tell both that the author had put their time in mastering craft, and that they had done their level utter best. The commitment came through, and that commitment was something I responded to.

Your mileage may vary, of course. And I do not claim to have seen every time an author was giving his or her personal best. The point I am trying to make here is: try not to judge your own work too damaging-harshly. You will find plenty of judgment in everyday life, in the editing process, after your book is on the shelf. It took me thirty years to begin learning one simple thing: There is no way you can please everyone. You are going to have to concentrate on something else, and for my money, that something else is giving myself over to my work. Heart, soul, body, everything. At the end of the day, when it has just been me and the keyboard–that lonely place where the magic happens–I need to know that I’ve done my best, each and every time.

It gets me through. It gives me the strength to go on. Knowing that I have never done less than my best, that every time I turn a book in it is as good as I can possibly make it, that I do not and will not ever be shoddy or slipshod, even if my best is judged to be found wanting in the eyes of reviewers or editors…

…well, quite frankly, that’s all I’m going to get. So I’m going to take it with both hands and hold on tight.

Over and out.