In these posts I usually try to provide straightforward, common-sense advice, the kind of guidelines and principles that could be applied by writers at any stage of their careers. This month, let’s do something a little different.
Instead of a how-to, I’d like to present a how-in-the-world? — a type of knotty problem that can’t really be attacked by logic or solved by reason.
We all need to find the lines.
The line between confidence and arrogance. The line between thoughtful analysis and over-the-top obsessing. The line between listening to critique and reworking your MS to please others and not yourself. The line between persistence and pestering. The line between caution and fear. All of these are essential lines for writers to find for themselves. When you find them, it’s like turning on a light bulb. But they’re so hard to explain or define, and I can’t tell you where or how to find them. I can only tell you: they’re important.
An example. Finding the line between analysis and obsession is important if and when you get rejections back from agents on a partial or full manuscript. Looking at patterns is important, but spending hours or days or weeks parsing the sentence “I just didn’t connect with the material” isn’t a great use of your time. But I can’t give you a rule or guideline for how much is too much, nor do I really know what was going through the agent’s head when she wrote those words. She might have made it through five pages or 50. She might have spent three minutes or three hours wondering what to say to you. I can tell you that you’ll never know the answer and I can tell you you shouldn’t write back to ask for more detail, but I can tell you that you’ll be happier and healthier when you figure out where the line is, for you, beyond which you put those words out of your mind and turn your attention to something else entirely.
I can tell you what. I can’t tell you how.
The line between confidence and arrogance is also essential to find. Because you need confidence. Absolutely need it. You won’t get by, either before publication or after, if you can’t find some core of confidence within yourself that enables you to say I am a good writer and my book is worth reading. But there is so little space between the confidence of I’m a great writer with a great book and the arrogance of Anyone who doesn’t see that is a fool, and arrogance is both unappealing and not really useful. One side of the line will raise you up, and the other side of the line will rip you up. And it’s so hard to explain what the difference is.
So, WU’ers, how do you do it? How do you find the lines for yourselves?
(Photo by cogdogblog via Flickr)