Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
June 2017

Pay Attention to Your Own Work

I talk sometimes jokingly about wanting to stab writers who say that they got their first offer for publication say, six hours, after writing their first query letter. Or someone who tells a story about writing their first book based on a dream and getting a million-dollar deal for it. Or a writer who gets a blurb from an author I really admire and have asked for a blurb and been turned down for. Or a writer whose first book is a New York Times best seller and assumes that every book after that will be, because, of course, “real writers” hit the list.

I don’t REALLY stab anyone. I probably don’t even really WANT to stab anyone. But it can be frustrating when the hard work and rejection you yourself have experienced and assume is normal seems to not be universal. It can be even more frustrating when casual friends have heard such stories of phenomenal luck (and possibly some talent and work in there, too) and think that it is a common experience and wonder why you haven’t experienced it, too. And honestly, these stories can just play with your own confidence in your work.

I’m sure you heard elementary school teachers tell you a lot as a child to pay attention to your own work. It’s good advice for the rest of your life, too. Because the more you look around at other writers, the more frustrated you are guaranteed to be. No one else’s career is going to look like yours. No one is writing the books you are writing. No one is dealing with the life that you’re living. And no one is ultimately going to want the life and career you have. Really and truly.

When I hear about other authors who have enormous success, I remind myself that I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. I don’t know what this success costs them. There are a lot of things that super successful authors have to deal with that I don’t necessarily want (rabid fans, death threats on social media, terror of writing a new book). I am who I am, writing what I am writing because I choose to write it, living the life with the family and friends I choose to live. That has to be enough for me, because it has to be enough for everyone. No one gets to choose everything in their life. There are good things and bad things with every situation. Trust me that this is true. I’ve heard too many stories not to believe it.

If you think that being a mega super star author is the only thing that will make you happy, I guarantee you, you are wrong. Things like that don’t make you happy. It turns out that as I’ve watched writers get published and some are super stars and some aren’t, I see no difference between those who are happy and those who aren’t based on the bottom line of money or fame. I’m not saying that people who make money are unhappy because of the money. It’s just been my experience that the things that make you happy tend to be the things that you have more control over, things that are repeatable.

I personally prefer to not be inundated with fan email and the guilt of not answering it. I think I’m happier not to have to deal with death threats. I think the pressure of producing another mega bestseller is something I’d just as soon live without. I’m also happier not having the pressure of writing a book after the one that got a big award.

But if I had those things, and if I had to deal with them, I still think I would be happy based on other things. I would still be happy to write books I was proud of and thought I had done a good job on. I would still be happy with my family life, based on spending quality time with my family and enjoying their company, not based on money and a big house.

Another thing I’ve learned after nearly twenty years in the industry is that today’s big deal is going to pass. That was one book, one year. An author’s career is not one book. It’s a whole lot of books, one after another. Authors who have one big thing that you notice and think you’re jealous of, are just as likely to be jealous of you for one reason or another. And they’re going to deal with just about all of the same struggles that you’re dealing with, even if they’re not in the same order. Life tends to be pretty fair that way, even if we’re not always watching when the other parts happen.

Do your own work. It’s the only thing you really can do. The big thing you want may not happen to you, but something else will. Focus on doing the things you can control and letting go of the things you can’t. Try not to chase ephemeral things. Try to remember that it looks bigger and better than it is precisely because people are advertising it to look bigger and better than it is. Don’t be caught in the trap of believing all the hype. And go back to your book to do the hard work.

Writers write. That’s what you control. Your words. Write your best book. And then do it again. Keep writing your best book as you become a more actualized person and you will be doing incredible work that no one else can do. What more could you want than that?

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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