Hope Management for Writers

Dreams in a Puddle
Dreams in a Puddle

Most writer’s seem to need dreams to propel themselves through the hundreds and thousands of hours it will take to finish a book but those dreams don’t always serve us well in the face of rejection. Nothing like having hopes dashed to make you want to give the whole thing up.

In some of my recent posts, my comments may have been mistaken for a touch of despair. I’m pleased to report that I’m still in the “happy writer’s place.” I’m enjoying a break from my current project by doing story development on my next one. Defining the basic premise, characters and plot is a particularly enjoyable exercise for me. What some of you may have keyed off of is my ‘hope management’ that keeps me motivated without letting things get so unbounded that bad news crushes my spirit.

Off and on, I’ve been writing since 1990 with the ‘off’ periods mostly due to over-reaction to negative feedback. After analyzing that (I am an engineer, after all), my response has been to set more realistic goals with a better understanding of the writer’s market. Consider this an extension of all those blog posts that remind us that almost all successful writers endured heaps of rejections before finding success. In my case, a better understanding of my chances helps me accept the more-critical-than-hoped-for feedback, the oh-so-terse editor/agent rejections, the fact that the story that I loved and spent two years on just isn’t up to snuff and should be set aside. It then follows that I must be prepared to shelve my current project at some point if it doesn’t get traction. I could keep polishing it forever and it is tempting to do that (look I’m a writer: see, I have a book I’m working on) but there’s too much good advice out there from folks in the business that suggests moving on after a reasonable time is the proper course if I ultimately want to be a successful writer, which I do. So, that means being able to talk about setting SOTA aside, even if I still very much hope I can get it published.

It also means being realistic about other aspects of the writing business, like how much I want to market my work. Conventional publishing still requires a lot of work from the author but in the end, it will always be a challenge for me so I’m going to try the conventional path, where you get at least a little help. And I’ll think twice about ever taking the self-pub path: I don’t want to do it just because the bar is lower. That’s no path to success in an absurdly crowded field. I might yet go self-pub, but only if I can’t find a contract and I also have some trustworthy feedback that the book is worth publishing. Otherwise, I’d rather wait to launch on a better book.

So for me, it’s a matter of setting realistic goals and having a realistic understanding of likely responses and reactions. That’s not to say I don’t let my hopes soar at times.  I find the best time to unbridle the dreams is when writing the first draft. But when it comes time to put it out for critique or review, send it on to agents, etc., I find the criticism and rejection easier to take if I’m realistic about the response. These days, bad feedback is usually just a blip in my day. I allow myself not to write for a few days after worse-than-desired criticism but I don’t typically do that any more. It’s just part of being a writer, like trying to figure out whether something needs a comma.

But one thing I’ve learned about feedback: I almost always need to set it aside and read it again in a few days because I tend to read it as more negative than it was. There have been more than a few critters critiques that were actually quite positive but when I read them the first time, I was convinced they were entirely negative. So best to read it twice, at least for me 🙂

Not everyone approaches things this way. My two sons, for instance, have completely different responses to being asked to do a chore. One will happily do them whenever you ask. The other will moan and groan if you don’t give him advance notice. It would be nice if the second one didn’t require that but, in the end, that’s just the way he is wired (and I can appreciate his position because I don’t like chores dropped on me out of the blue either: “but honey, the garage has been a mess for months, why do we have to clean it today?”).

How do you manage your hopes as a writer?

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Excellent Critique at an Excellent Price: Red Circle Ink

A few posts ago, I wondered about what to do with a previous novel that was sitting on the virtual shelf gathering dust. While I wanted professional feedback, everything I had found so far was outside of my writer’s budget so I had turned to other sources. Turns out there is professional feedback out there for a great price: Red Circle Ink. From my own amateur efforts on critters.org, I know detailed critiques take a lot of work so I can’t argue with services charging $4 or more a page for a critique. Based on effort, it seems like a fair price. But based on what I’m willing to spend, it’s too much: that’s $1200 for a shortish novel that I wasn’t even sure deserved more time.

Enter Red Circle Ink: you can get a free critique of the first 10 pages to see what you’ll get. I started with that, loved the feedback and went for the full review. What I got was a combination of a line-by-line critique and a good overview which was a great developmental critique. It happened to answer my immediate question: was it worth spending more time on the novel (answer: yes) but it wasn’t just a “it’s promising but fix this, add that, and go to it”. The feedback is “actionable:” a range of items from specific things to tweak in the manuscript to larger, but still specific, things to address in terms of motivations, how to tie setting into the story, and so on.

For instance, my wife (also a writer) has been uncomfortable with my first chapter for quite some time. She rightly called out that my protagonist’s motives are not well developed. Yes, I recognized I needed to do more and had been trying to address it bit by bit but until the Red Circle Ink critique, I was still fuzzy on what I really needed to fix. My wife saw the critique and said, “That’s it! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say.”

I’m really pleased with the critique. It is invaluable feedback for really making a difference in the next few drafts and hopefully getting this to a marketable manuscript. Of course, as with any good critique it calls out much I was hoping was good enough but critiques aren’t about hearing what you want to hear but what you need to hear.

If you are looking for high quality, affordable critiques, give Red Circle Ink a look.