2015 and 2016 were wake-up years for me in so many years, and so much of it came down to one simple lesson:
SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE.
This started with learning to step back while listening to feedback from beta readers and editors. It extended later to any feedback gleaned from negative reviews (called “critical reviews” on Amazon). Even if the words smack you on the face, it’s [generally] not intended to harm you or your work. Take a deep breath, write the feedback down in an impartial fashion, and return to it in a day or so.
This is especially important when it comes to representation. If someone tells you representation of a character, especially one unlike you and like them in terms of race, gender, orientation, etc, is problematic, inaccurate, offensive, or simply grating, their opinion is valid. Accept their feedback with grace. I’ve seen several incidents lately where someone – using a civil tone – tells a writer or mentions that their content is offensive, and the writer bucks back as if they had been attacked, or argues and seeks to justify their piece. Don’t do this. Just nod and tuck it away in the back of your mind to do better next time. Ask or research how to do better. I would also go a step further to hire a sensitivity reader (More information about that here). They tend to run cheaper than editors, about the same as professional beta readers. If you are friends with someone who does work like this, they may even do it as a trade.
Be patient. I know you love your manuscript, and even if you don’t, you want it published NOW. Even if you’ve been through the ringer with querying for traditional publication, don’t self-publish. Don’t settle. (Note: I’m not dissing self-publishing. I’m saying self-publishing is only settling if you are giving up on traditional publication in order to do it.) If agents are not replying to your queries, or rejecting you off-hand, I recommend finding several impartial, honest beta readers, or hiring a content/developmental editor, if you haven’t already (not hiring an editor in the first place is a mistake).
This next one is a little bit of pride, but mostly insecurity: Stop worrying about anything but the story you are writing. I’m actually paraphrasing something Joe Lansdale told me earlier (OK, one of the best things about 2016 was learning that I could pick his brain, so the year is not an entire loss). I asked him about writing chronologically, and he answered that he does, then he added this:
I don’t worry about what I do. How it will turn out, who will buy. I just tell a story.
It takes a lot of time to reach this level of chill, but it would serve you well to make this – or something like it – a mantra for whenever you grow anxious or bogged-down: Just tell the story.
Have you experienced anything in 2016 to reinforce these lessons? Leave a comment and tell us your story! Or if you’ve learned something important that doesn’t fall into the category of “Swallow your pride,” let us know what it is! Either way, let the learning continue into 2017, and pray to the Powers that Be it is a better year than 2016.