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.