Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Luxury of Negative Thoughts

I don’t like Nicholas Sparks’s books. They bum me out. Other than The Notebook, the others just left me depressed, cold and a bit ticked off. Do you think Nicky-boy worries, lays awake at night and cries because Louisa Cornell doesn’t like his books? Nope. Me either.

In this business, whether you are published or not, there are going to be people who like or dislike your books. Which would be fine if they didn’t TELL you about it. But, if you want to actually get INTO this business you are going to have to find out, and sometimes in brutal ways. If you don’t believe it enter your work in a writing contest or submit it to an agent or editor.

With luck, when it comes to the agents and editors, all you will get is a form rejection. You’ll never know why they didn’t like it and that may be for the best. Sometimes they will send a bit more, a few details and they will be kind and encouraging. And then, like the inevitability of your mother-in-law turning her nose up at your squash casserole, (sorry had a flashback there) you will get a response from an editor or agent that will send you running for the Kleenex and the biggest box of chocolates you can find. Not only do they not like your “baby,” they tell you it is ugly and you dress it funny. And every word of that rejection will pound through your head like the song “Dancing Queen” when someone says, well “Dancing Queen.” You will wake up in a cold sweat, fall out of bed and scare the dogs so badly they start barking from the nightmares these words induce. (Not that something like that has ever happened to me.)

Then there are the contests, you know, where you actually have the courage to ASK someone to tell you why they like or don’t like your manuscript. In detail. With scores and comments. (Isn’t it a shame we can’t do that sort of thing when it comes to sex? You know – points for style, dialogue, character development, technique? Gives the phrase “Was it good for you?” a whole new meaning.) But when it comes to writing contests, there are times you may think - wouldn’t it be easier to just stick myself in the eye with a fork a couple of times? Easier and less painful? News flash! Nobody told you this was going to be easy! If they did, they were trying to sell you something. By entering a contest you are essentially asking for a no-holds-barred critique of something you have spent months, perhaps years of your life perfecting. And once again those words will wrap themselves around your brain and flash like the sign at a Vegas All night buffet – All you can eat! And you’ll eat them, drink them and make yourself sick on them. Not intentionally and not even consciously, but when you least expect it those words will come back to you and kick you in the teeth.

Finally, what you have to decide is can you afford the luxury of dwelling on those words? And it is a luxury my fellow masochists. Never think that it isn’t. It’s easy. It’s self-indulgent. You can wallow in it. It is convenient. You can pick it up any time. The more you do, the more you have. Luxury. Easy, abundant and sometimes comforting. Yes, comforting. Each time you think of throwing in the towel on this writing gig, you can pull out all of those negative thoughts, wrap yourself in the blanket you’ve woven from them and be comforted to know “Well, nobody liked what I wrote anyway. I’m not giving up much.”

So, what’s an aspiring writer to do when those luxurious negative thoughts call to you like a hot Krispy Kreme donut plump with raspberry filling and dripping with glaze? Put yourself on a budget. You can’t afford the luxuries. You can only afford the necessities. This is not a craft for luxuries. Remember all those starving artists? They suffered for a reason. They didn’t allow themselves to think of failure or of what some people might say about their work. They dedicated themselves every day to creating something from their own imagination. They couldn’t NOT do it.

Each and every time one of those negative thoughts tries to slip into your consciousness, you need to stomp it like the invading cockroach it is. Spray it with Raid, just to make sure it is dead. Wipe it up with a paper towel and take it to the trash can, the outside trash, not the one in the house. Toss it in, close the lid and wipe your hands. Do it every time. Don’t give it even a hint of a chance to creep in and get a foothold in your mind. You can’t afford it. You’re a writer. You have to believe. Only then can you make others believe in the worlds, the adventures, the mysteries, the characters, the unforgettable love stories you write.


Anne Barton said...

Louisa, you are so funny and wise. Great post, even if I do have Dancing Queen stuck in my head now. :)

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Anne! I hated to do that! Just the mere mention of "that" song and it stays in my head all day!

M.V.Freeman said...

That post just touched my soul. Unfortunately, I can carry around those darned negative words, thoughts, and reviews. Sometimes, I reformat them, and let them make me angry and I write so I can say to myself "I'll show them". Although I like the image of that can of raid...

And as for "Dancing Queen" its better than "Give me back that Filet of fish" commercial my 11 yr old has been singing for days, arrgh.

Jeanie said...

Louisa, I should tape your post next to my computer! It is so easy to give in to the dark side, the negative side. Sifting through the 'constructive' criticism you receive in contests and from agents' rejection letters in order to separate the wheat from the chaff is very hard to do. Sometimes, when the criticism is particularly harsh, it's difficult to remember why you decided to do this anyway.

When those seductive voices whisper in your head that you should give up, you can't listen to them. You have to plow ahead and keep on trying.

Having friends to boot you in the rear when you need it doesn't hurt. Thank God we aren't in this alone!

Louisa Cornell said...

Not the filet of fish commercial! NOOOO! That thing is almost as bad as "that" song! Oh no! Now IT'S stuck in my head!

I like the "I'll show them" idea. I've always said that success is the very best revenge!

Louisa Cornell said...

Jeanie, I remember the scene from Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts and Richard Gere are talking about why she doesn't believe the good things people say about her. "The bad stuff is easier to believe," is her reply. That can be true. The trick is to turn the volume up on the good stuff so loud that the bad stuff is just an occasional ding of the triangle in the background.

And many writers speak of this being a solitary, lonely art. And much of the time it is. You sit alone in a room with nothing but a computer and the voices in your head. Yet, at least for romance writers, there are always people sitting in their little rooms alone who are right there with you - commiserating and cheering you on. It makes a big difference!

Callie James said...

Raid. I'll try that next time.

Great post, Louisa. As always.

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, it's worth a shot, Callie! Wish I could invent a negative thoughts eradicator. Then I could retire and write to my heart's content!

Cari Hislop said...

Louisa, if your fiction is only half as good as your non-fiction you're going to rock the historical romance genre! I'd wager a good dueling pistol your characters are hilarious!

Christine said...

Ah, the negative feedback loop--not a good one to be in. We all have those moments, those days of "why the heck am I flogging myself to get this done when I'm never going to get there--ever..."

And then someone you know gets the call, or becomes a GH finalist, or you get a boost yourself and then you believe it is all attainable again.

I have a list of accomplishments and a list of reasons why I CAN succeed in this business (strengths I own) taped on the inside of my closet door. I open that door and read through it whenever the writing world doesn't smile on me.

I opened it last Thursday when I didn't final in the GH. I also read my list of "things that make me smile." And I did a few of them--all is well in my world now.

Lanna Kaye said...

Hi Louisa. I'm a first-time visitor to your blog and I had to squelch the outburst of laughter that was threatening to explode from my lips. Being at work and all, they might frown on that sort of thing.

Anyhoot, great, great post! And like the perfect sermon, your post came at the right time. (Ever had your thoughts compared to a sermon before??) :)

And, um, I for one enjoy that stupid Filet O Fish commercial. I know, I know...shoot me now.

Gwen Hernandez said...

You always get me laughing Louisa, and I couldn't agree more with your great post. Or the fact that Nicholas Sparks always ticks me off with his lack of HEA.

Wonderful advice all around, and a joy to read. Thanks!

Louisa Cornell said...

Cari !! Thank you, sweetie! Putting that one up on MY closet door to read the next time someone hammers me on a contest judge's sheet.

Louisa Cornell said...

Christine, I really like your method of dealing with those negatives that inevitably show up like in-laws with luggage and an incontinent dog!

You keep right on reading those strengths you own! They are many and they will see you through to the hallowed halls of publication.

Then you'll have deadlines and editors and publicists invading your mind. I've been told Raid doesn't work on them! And heck, who would want it to. They can move in the spare room if they want to, right?

Louisa Cornell said...

Hello, Lanna!! Welcome to the Romance Magicians little cave !! We're pleased to have you and hope you stop by often. It's kind of messy in here, but we're friendly!

A sermon, huh? Well, my students used to say the same thing, but most of my sermons to them were about unacceptable excuses for late homework and how just because someone made certain parts of you anatomy twitch didn't mean you needed to marry them. Sometimes a twitch can mean you're coming down with a nasty rash!

Glad the post could help.

Now, I'm hearing the Filet o Fish commercial in my head! Great!

Louisa Cornell said...

YAY !! Another member of the "Would it kill you to write a HEA, Nicky-boy?" club !! Sheesh. That man would depress a hyena!

Thanks, Gwen!

Christine said...

My daughter just finished The Last Song and honestly, she cried and cried. And I said, "I don't even have to read the book to know the storyline." I won't share it here, but I told her and she was like, "how did you know?" and I said, "It was painfully obvious by the book's movie trailer." And the only part I didn't guess was which type of cancer was involved.

Sheesh. I don't need to watch or read a tragedy, but that's just me. I want to escape reality :-)

prashant said...

I can say to myself "I'll show them". Although I like the image of that can of raid...
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