In my previous post I talked about physical obstacle and in particular dealing with illness and disability while writing. In this one I’ll talk about an especially insidious mental block–thinking you don’t deserve to do the things that would make you successful.
I’m sure I’m committed to my writing. I’m so sure I’m committed to my writing that I don’t have a problem blowing off friends, family, work, health, whatever, when it comes to finishing a manuscript.
The problem comes later.
You see, writing a book isn’t just about writing a book. That’s just the first step. Then comes turning your Word/whatever document into a real book, whether electronic or hard copy, and then—worst of all—selling the darn thing. That’s where I, like so many of my sistren (thanks, Sir Terry!) and brethren, fall down.
Because once you have your manuscript, you have to pretty it up for public consumption, and then you have to convince the public to consume it. Which means you have to take you and your work seriously, not just as a work of art but as a product that deserves to be formatted, packaged, and marketed in a professional and successful fashion.
And that, my friends, is something I’ve been struggling with. I only really realized it recently, though, when I was working on (re)doing the covers for my first book, The Midnight Land I & II.
an earlier incarnation of the cover for TMLI
The current version of the cover for TMLI
I’d had a vision of how I wanted the cover(s) to look for years before I’d actually gone to publish it. But I’m no artist (I said to myself), so when I did go to put it out into the world, I looked around for friends who would be willing to do it for cheap. I told myself that the cheapness was because I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on it (true).
Fast forward a couple of years and I decided, after much agonizing, to go ahead and get the Creative Cloud package that Adobe was offering on deep discount to educators for a Black Friday sale. I hated formatting and graphic design and all that stuff, I told myself, and besides, I was no good at it, not to mention the fact that I was and am seriously ill, and my time and energy are even more precious to me than they are to a healthy person. Shouldn’t I just pay someone else to format my paperbacks and design my covers?
And in fact, I’d done just that for The Breathing Sea I & II, commissioning the fabulously talented Alan M. Clark to do beautiful covers for those books.
The cover for TBSI
They were lovely, but they were also expensive, even with the discount Alan gave me. There was no way I was going to afford to be able to do that for all my books. Plus, I like control, and you can never exercise total control over someone else’s creative process—or anything else.
Yep, that would be me.
So I decided to buckle down and learn how to make my own covers. The first results were only so-so, as I realized after studying up a little on cover design and listening to lengthy webinars about how authors can’t design their own covers.
This is my normal response to that kind of thing. You’d think people would learn.
But then I started thinking about what I really, really wanted my covers to look like. Including with some kind of snappy, inspirational, teasing blurb/quote on the front cover, just like a real book.
“I can’t do that!” I protested to myself. “I haven’t earned the right! I don’t deserve it! Only real authors get to have quotes on the front of their books!”
Deep breath. Am I not a real author? What does that even mean?
And then I started digging deeper, and I realized I felt like I didn’t deserve to have the covers I wanted for my books. I didn’t deserve to have lovely covers, and blurbs from positive reviews, and beautifully formatted interiors, and medallions from awards, and wide-reaching promos, and all the other stuff that “real” authors get.
I could go into a long list of reasons about why I don’t feel that way, but I’d say the main reason is because for the past decade +, people have been telling me my writing is worthless. I got it in school, where everything I wrote was critiqued and sent back for revisions in a way that suggested I couldn’t possibly produce anything of value on my own. Not that it isn’t potentially helpful to have others look at your work and offer suggestions, but as often as not, “critiques” and “revisions” turn into a dreadful process of instilling incurable self-doubt. My then-boyfriend and I used to joke that writing your dissertation is like trying to find your way through a strange city, possibly in hostile territory, while the person who’s supposed to help you navigate just screams incoherently and keeps trying to grab the steering wheel and run you off the road. Nope, no bitterness there.
And the dissertation is only the beginning. In my day job my articles and book proposals get rejected all the damn time, which is perfectly normal, for those of you who are looking at your stack of rejection letters and wondering why you’re such a failure. Sometimes editors and readers “kindly” provide me with feedback. Unfortunately, that feedback is often the opposite of helpful and couldn’t be followed anyway, especially when it contradicts itself. And then, in my fiction writing…well, let’s just say that everyone’s a critic, including a lot of people who’ve never written anything longer than the first draft of a piece of flash fiction.
Plus, well-meaning friends and family and random strangers have been telling me for years that success in writing is impossible to obtain and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. A very true piece of advice…sort of.
So what all this means is that I’ve spent most of my adult life being told by people who are for the most part well-meaning and convinced they have only my best interests at heart that 1) I can’t write, and 2) my writing has no chance of “success,” whatever that means. So in my head, because of people who were acting for the best, I’m already a failure. I don’t deserve to write and publish a good book, or even a nice-looking book.
Well, as my heroines say, we don’t give people what they deserve. We give them what they need. And what a book needs if it has any chance of success, by whatever measure you want to use to define “success,” is to be taken seriously. Which means finishing that first draft, polishing it up and editing it in whatever way works best for you, making or hiring good formatting and a good cover, and promoting it like it’s worth the time and money people will spend on it.
So this is me giving me, you, and everyone else permission to treat your writing and your books the way they need to be treated. Because if you give a book (or anything else) what it needs, chances are good it will come to deserve it, too.
Next post: Pulling it all together.
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