A few posts back, I wrote about handling criticism. I tried to talk about handling it properly, about learning that it’s not some kind of personal attack (or, at least, it shouldn’t be, but we’re all human), that it’s there, in fact, to help us improve our work. Learning this isn’t easy. You have to develop a thick skin. If you can, you should learn to enjoy it. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with every opinion. I tend to look at opinions from my group and resort to a form of democracy: if several people have a problem with something, fix it. If it’s pretty much evenly divided, it’s a wash. Leave it alone.
We can be very hard on ourselves, though. That idea that seemed so incredible when we first got it can seem utterly ridiculous when we finish the first draft. I know someone who wrote a sequel (and this person will know who they are when they read these words) and decreed that it was utter trash (or was it “This is a piece of shit”?) and said it would never see the light of day. I was lucky enough to read these “leftovers” and happen to disagree with the writer. I think it’s a very good story. But, in all fairness, that’s not my decision to make.
I happen to have a similar story, which I’ve mentioned here before: an urban fantasy I wrote before the current craze in such novels started. I liked the idea of urban fantasy, and when I wrote this one, they were hard to find. Some Laurell K. Hamilton, along with a few ventures into the field by established writers who were dabbling in something different. My interest came from role-playing games, named the GURPS version of White Wolf‘s Mage: The Ascension, which does a very good job of translating legendary magick (they spell it with the k at the end, so I will to for that application) and making their mages very powerful while still giving them a system of checks and balances that accounts for why so few people actually believe in magick. In fact, they did such a good job that, for me, it was hard to get away from their setting. My urban fantasy, centered around a magus and a vampire allying themselves against a common foe, bears a lot of resemblance to the White Wolf magickal system.
I won’t go so far as to say that I think the story is a piece of junk that should never be published. I think that basic story is pretty good, but the writing itself is weak, in my opinion. My characters, who live in a darker reality than you or I know, are far too nice to one another, for one thing. And they aren’t jaded enough. They should make alliances that include each party watching the other carefully. I wanted my two characters to fall in love by the end, because I had a larger picture in mind for their offspring, and I had them making nicey-nice too quickly. The dark grittiness just sort of fell by the wayside somewhere along the line.
Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it with more dark grittiness. More like a crime novel. We’ll see.
The point is, we can’t be too hard on ourselves. The author I mentioned above does this with a little too much regularity for me. I like their work, and I eagerly await each one, even those with subject matter that I don’t much care for in anyone else’s work. Yes, I’m biased toward this person, to an extent, and I freely admit it. Doesn’t mean I’d necessarily enjoy what this person first wrote about (this author looks to be making a switch to YA novels, and I can’t wait to read their first one, which is being written as I, um, write this).
I’m not saying don’t put your best effort forward. Of course you want to do your best every time. Go on. Shoot for the moon. But be realistic and understand that you won’t always hit it. Season your expectations with reality.
Do your best. Don’t turn into a hack, as certain authors I used to admire seem to have done. I’ve given up entirely on one of them because he justifies it by saying he has to churn out a novel every three months to make a living at it. I haven’t peeked into his bank account, but I view this claim with a jaundiced eye. This guy is a bestseller in his genre and I have a hard time believing that that means he’s struggling with his finances. My last straw came when he wrote a very mediocre book as part of a series, then proceeded to use up a quarter of the novel’s length with a long, complaining author’s note. I don’t care how sick your horses got and how much time that took away from your writing. That’s part of life. Deal with it.
Sorry. Guess I digressed there. You’ll notice I do that from time to time.
I’m sure we’d all like to write something that would endure like Homer’s or Shakespeare’s works have done. It would be nice to think that people will still be reading and enjoying my work five hundred years or more from now (although I have yet to meet anybody outside of an NPR interview who truly claims to have liked The Odyssey and The Iliad). Heck, if I could have Mark Twain’s enduring appeal, I think I’d be happy. Well, if I was still around a hundred years after my death, that is. Small caveat there.
We can’t all be Mark Twain, though. Or Shakespeare. All we can do is our best. And if it doesn’t always measure up to our personal standards, that’s life.
The hard part is in deciding what to do with the subpar stuff. I mean, sure, the basic idea, when all else fails, is to view them as learning experiences. Never throw the ms away so that you’ve got it to look at from time to time. You might call the file “Object Lesson Number 1” or something like that, just to remind yourself.
On the other hand, what if everyone who reads it likes it? I’ve not had any negative feedback on my urban fantasy. I’ve been told it’s a good story and I should market it. I think it’s basically a good story, though I don’t care for some of the ways I wrote it. And as for marketing it, how the heck could I make it stand out now? The market’s saturated with the things, and while I think mine’s okay, it’s not a standout, by any means. Realistically, the chances of it getting picked up aren’t that good. Maybe if I’d had the courage to try and sell it when I wrote it six or seven years ago, I would have stood a better chance. That was just as urban fantasies were starting to take off.
Of course, if I’d done that, I might not have ventured into crime.
So what do I do with my story? The latest solution I’ve come up with is, rewrite it the way I’d like to see it, then maybe try to sell it under a pseudonym. In a year or so. Maybe. And that’s a big maybe. I think people would like it, and I’d still like to pursue the larger story it’s something of a prequel to.
But not right now. Right now, I gotta get Steve and Eddie across the country, and they have to stay alive long enough for one of them to (possibly) kill the other one. And then go to Rio.
What would you do with something like that? What will you do with that ms that’s been gathering dust (even if it is just e-dust), that you don’t think really measures up? Will you let it see the light of day, let someone else read it and give their opinion? Or will you let them give their opinion and then ignore it?
It’s a tough decision. And the hardest part is not being too hard on yourself.