Be a Fan of Your Own Work
-All first drafts are terrible.
-You need a beta reader or two, or five in order to help you see your work more objectively.
-Invest money in an editor before you either publish a manuscript yourself or before you send it off to an agent; you’re too close to your own work to see it for what it is.
-Take to heart the changes that an agent or an editor tells you to make to your work, even if they are painful and a bruise to your ego. They are professionals and know better than you do how to turn your work into what it should be, a manufactured product that can be sold.
-Kill your darlings.
If you’ve been a writer for I’d say, at least 45 minutes so far, you’ve encountered some variation of each of the above pieces of advice. You’ve also encountered advice I haven’t included here specifically, but which points in the same direction. In short; don’t fall in love with your own work. Keep a distance from it, be skeptical of it, detached from it. Hand it over to others in order to get a true sense of what it should be in the end.
There’s some wisdom and practicality to this advice. Anyone, not just a writer, can get too close to the forest to see the trees when it comes to their projects and creations. A little help and some constructive criticism from those we trust will benefit us more often than hinder us, if we are open to what they have to say. Editors and agents are useful people for those who pursue that route. And if you’re only in it for the money, by all means abdicate your own personal preferences. The problem is not with the advice itself, but with the culture that has sprung up from its accumulation over the years. That culture, though not universal, can be damaging to writers at any stage. It’s this notion that loving and enjoying our own work is de facto suspect.
We aren’t going to love everything we write. Some things are just going to be there. Some things are going to get shelved. There are even a few things we may write and get out there which readers enjoy more than we do. All of that is normal, as is a desire for a more objective assessment of our work, as noted above. But when writers begin to feel that something must be wrong if they love what they’ve slaved over, (as opposed to merely pronouncing it marketable and professionally competent), something has gone off of the track along the way.
I’m quite fond of some of the things I’ve written over the years. I’ll reread my work at times, and enjoy it even more the further I get from it being written. Some things I’ve written I admire so much in their totality that I see no reason to change them. Not for an agent, not for a writers group, not for anybody. And certainly not merely for the sake of changing. I don’t assume that because I, the author, enjoy the result, there must be something amiss with either me, the piece, or both. There’s no nobility to blindly eschewing my own creation until someone else alters it, makes it “marketable” or gives me permission to love it. “Kill your darlings” has morphed into, “If you find it darling, you have to kill it,” and that wasn’t the original intent of that now ubiquitous expression.
When I do love my work, that is to say when some of it is a “darling” to me, it’s not because I wrote it. That’s the lesson here; don’t assume that because something came from you that it must be fantastic, because it won’t always be. I’d venture to say it may usually not be fantastic. Yet if you’ve written something, put thought and energy into improving it, and it feels complete to you, then by all mean let yourself enjoy it. Be a reader of your own work. That’s what I do. Like any work by someone else I read, if my work has attained a certain mood, rhythm, pace and purpose that speaks to me, why shouldn’t I enjoy it? Because “kill your darlings?” I don’t think so.
Any writer will tell you that a certain percentage of what they do is outside of their conscious effort and understanding anyway. When we enjoy our own work, we combine pride in our accomplishment with an admiration for how well it blends with that transcendent quality. At least that’s what I do.
I may be wrong on this, but we don’t deride a baker for indulging in her own desserts, or a fashion designer for wearing his own clothing. When exactly did it become detrimental to the craft for authors to enjoy their own writing? Or shall I say, enjoy some of their own writing, because I can promise you that any sane writer also hates plenty of their creations. A little bit of love should be permissible in wake of that.
In the end, I, the author, know what I like, and I need to trust that. If people don’t like my current book, I can only say that they aren’t seeing in it what I see in it, just as I would say about any art that I enjoy but other people dislike. Yes, this may sound delusional to some, but I don’t think I care. If I can be the only person in my family or circle of friends to have heard of and enjoyed a movie that bombed in the box office, I can also be the only one who likes my own stuff any given time. Not out of ego, but out of personal taste. That’s one reason I self-published this time around; so I could follow my own tastes and not those of an accountant. I am proud of and enjoy the stories in Thank You for Ten, even though I wrote them. I killed plenty of darlings along the way, had several restarts, and scrapped a few ideas altogether. But in so doing I got to a place I could be proud of, not to a place of total detachment and lack of interest in what I wrote as the fad seems to be.
So be all means, seek beta readers, get advice, learn from the best and the not-so-best. Restructure stories and listen to your agent if you’ve got one. You’re not perfect and neither am I. But once you’ve put the work into your creations, you’ve got as much right to be a fan of it as anyone else does.