Jan Fields (cute_n_cranky) wrote,
Jan Fields

Why You NEED To Separate From Your Work

Anyone in any area of the arts knows it’s difficult to separate yourself from your work. Your writing feels like an extension of who you are. That makes anything said about a piece you’ve written hurt. As long as you’re writing only for your own enjoyment – and not to be published – feeling totally bonded to each thing you produce is fine. But once you begin looking for publication, it can kill you. Not only does rejection hurt, but every single step in the process of publication has fresh hurt for writers who cannot see the piece they produced as something other than a shard of their soul.

The first reason you need to separate is because very few people in the publishing process (other than you) are going to equate you with the work you produce. To most people, your story, your article or your book is a product to be examined, considered and possibly bought. For everyone in the process other than you, the situation is about whether they want that product.


Imagine if you went to a farmer’s market (something I’m doing a lot these days) and you need some tomatoes. You pass by a booth selling corn. You don’t need corn. You don’t want corn. You have a lot of corn. BUT, the person selling the corn worked hard to grow it. They spent money growing the best corn they could grow. How can you callously walk by without giving the person a long explanation of why you’re not getting corn that day while assuring the farmer that that corn is lovely? You can do it because you go to the market looking for a product and plan to buy the best available example of that product. Imagine if every person whose booth you passed by collapsed in a weeping heap or shouted rude comments at you for passing on the world’s best corn? Right, that farmer would have some problems making ANY money at the market.

Acquiring editors and agents are a bit like you shopping at a farmer’s market. They know what they need. They know what they’re capable of using. They might be lured into buying something else (just as I can sometimes be lured aside by a truly lovely golden plum at the farmer’s market) but they also know the things they flatly cannot use. Those things will not be bought. They won’t be bought even if they’re lovely because they aren’t what the buyer needs. They won’t be bought even if the writer worked hard and spent a lot in preparation of the story – because they aren’t what the buyer needs.

When you recognize that you’re the seller of the lovely corn, you can understand that not everyone wants corn – no matter how lovely it is. And if you’re a seller of something a bit off-beat like black beets or lima beans, you can understand that the folks looking for those things are going to be even fewer – but if you connect with the buyer looking for exactly what you have…you will make the sale. Don’t give up if the first person – or half dozen people – you offer your corn to are actually shopping for tomatoes. It isn’t about YOU.


Editorial response is a second place where writers feel the ouch if they’re overly bonded to their work. In this case, imagine you’re a seamstress who sells one-of-a-kind dresses – offering tailoring for a perfect fit. Now imagine that when it comes time to actually make the changes to fit the customer, you balk. You’ve already lined up a customer. Why can’t she adjust to the dress? Doesn’t she know that shortening the sleeve will mean removing some lace!! Doesn’t she know that if you take in the bodice, it will look different from the way you created it and wanted it!! Doesn’t she know shortening the hem will throw off the proportions you intended!! How quickly would you want to buy from a seamstress who expects you to change to fit the dress instead of the other way around?

For the most part, editors know what they need from a writer. And marketing is sometimes helpful to put in remarks about what they need to get tons of sales out of the book. These suggestions OFTEN don’t fit what you thought about the story, article, or book – at least at first. Tailoring your story in response to editorial input requires an act of trust, and that’s really had to do if you see that piece as a slice of you’re soul. What do they mean by saying my SOUL needs changing!! They aren’t saying that. They aren’t buying YOU. They’re looking for a product that meets their needs, the needs of the reader, and/or the needs of the market. It isn’t about YOU.


Mostly neither are amateur book reviews. Readers read a book in light of what they like. For them, it’s a bit like sipping soup. If they are sensitive to salt – the taster may complain that the soup is salty, even if it tasted perfect to the chef. Do you know what that means? It means the soup was too salty for that person – that’s it. That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean the person has no taste. It doesn’t mean the person hates the chef. It means the person didn’t like the level of salt.

Book reviewers can be the same way about a book. A reviewer can complain that a story you loved and labored over was too predictable, too racy, too mature, too immature, too preachy, or that it doesn’t do enough to uplift the youth of America. And for each review, the words that wrote reflect the reading experience of that person. It doesn’t just happen to new writers, best selling writers, religious writers, secular writers, good writers, bad writers – ALL writers get reviews that say things the writer would not agree with. That’s because the reviewer is a reader with his/her own set of tastes and values. It’s all about the reviewer and his/her experience with the story/article/book. It’s not about YOU.

AND guess what. If a reviewer didn’t like your book (or your favorite book) that doesn’t mean the reviewer is JEALOUS. It means the reviewer’s experience with the book was different from yours. Difference doesn’t mean invalid or jealous. Sure, if that gets you through the day…go ahead and think it in the quiet of your own head. But don’t post it online. It makes you look bad. Honestly; it does.

So when you get your rejections (and we all get them) or discover your masterpiece needs some rewriting (and we’ve all faced it) or find out not everyone loved the thing you wrote – even though you did – keep in mind. None of that is about you. You are not your book. You’re a person who is infinitely more complex and wonderful than the work you produce. Sure, it’s stings to get negative feedback on your art – but you can shake it off, you can keep moving forward, and you can at least put forth a public face that is professional and flexible. Don’t cry over your corn. It’s not about you.

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