Releasing Attachment to Results. Yeah, Right. Me, Neither.

One of the biggest issues I face as a writer is doing the work and then, as the Bhagavad Gita advises, releasing my attachment to results. As a philosophy, it makes a boatload of sense. If I could manage this, I could simply concentrate on doing the work and quit angsting over all the stuff that's out of my control, such as:

1. blowing the socks off some editor or other (or better yet, every single one of them. In the known world!)
2. making everyone at the publishing house so excited they not only make an offer, but get behind the book in a huge way
3. notching up sales, awards, royalties, etc.
4. meeting and exceeding my readers' expectations
5. earning the affection of every person on the planet (as if any author ever born has done that!)

The problem is, to successfully write a novel, you really, really have to care. You have to live it, breathe it, cry and bleed it. You have to plot and scheme and parse and anguish over every character, each chapter, every single sentence. And then you're supposed to suddenly cut the cord, turn your back on your progeny, and not even turn your head to check on its fate?

For most of us, it doesn't work that way. If we're pros, we go on to work on other projects to distract us. (Putting all your eggs is one basket is a recipe for disaster, and a having a shiny new story going really is the best inoculation against heartbreak.) If we're parents, we might think about the first time we handed our child over to daycare, kindergarten--or handed him the car keys. We were scared as hell, and a lot of us still pray each time we hear sirens. But we forced ourselves to let go. To let that child out into the world (eventually) to do his thing.

It doesn't make it easy. It doesn't make it hurt less. But if you want to be a pro (or raise a functional adult rather than a permanent basement dweller, come to think of it) you have to suck it up and do it nonetheless. And sometimes you have to willingly turn a blind eye to the stumbles along the way.

But that never, ever means that you don't care down to your bones.


Nancy J. Parra said…
Luv this! Thanks~
Thanks so much, Nancy!
Thanks, Colleen. That helps. I got into a conversation with an editor recently about this, and she said "you have to wait until you can live with any outcome" to be ready to send to an agent. Or something to that effect. And my first response was "If I wait until then, I'll never send it." Or "if I wait until there's nothing more I can do, I'll never send it." And both are true. It's the reason that I'm giving myself the permission to work on the book this one last time (I swear, I swear) and then start sending/querying, and WHILE that process is going, I'm going to start drafting another novel. But I can't begin the shiny new story until this one's done.

The hard part is when you realize you've written something that could morph into a series, but you're early in your professional writing life. That's what I'm struggling with now, although I'm fine if this novel stands alone and I end up moving onto something else. I just found that there's a whole generational saga here . . .
But if not, I'll be okay. Really. :)
Oh, and the other hard part is articulating to other people why you're working so hard and so long on something that "there's no monetary commitment for." I had a well-meaning friend ask me that the other day. "Is there a commitment for this work?" If I don't get a contract for this novel, I really won't feel like a failure. I've learned so much. I've grown so much. But it's so difficult to articulate that to someone else. Maybe there's no way to, really. Sometimes I wish I could have just stayed a closet writer, but the whole PhD in fiction thing sort of blew that out of the water. ;)
I wrote incognito for years because I didn't want to deal with people's remarks. Took me seven years of hard work to finish the first one, and I learned a mountain of stuff. Fortunately, I never had to repeat those particular lessons (though there were others) and subsequent manuscripts came much faster. That first ms. was my education though. I wouldn't take back one moment of the time I spent on it.

I always advise unpublished writers (feel free to ignore) that it's okay to think in terms of a series with the first book and sketch out ideas to expand on if it sells and your editor is interested. But the second book you work on should be a stand alone. This spreads your risk in case the first doesn't get the support you're hoping for.
Jeanna Thornton said…
Wow, thats good advice, Colleen. Amazing post!
Thanks so much, Jeanna!
Thanks, Colleen. Actually, I'm thinking I could have a generational saga of linked novels that would all stand alone. They would inform each other, but not depend on each other, if that makes sense. But I also have several other ideas for completely different projects too. Probably what I'll do when this one is FINALLY done is sit down and start brainstorming and playing around with index cards. I did this the last time, to a degree of success. Came up with several different ideas and went with one of them. The irony is that this novel was supposed to be a book of short stories originally, all centered around the fandom of then-famous figure skater Michelle Kwan. I was going to write stories about several different women who were rabid fans of Kwan, but then two of the stories intersected, collided, and pretty much exploded into what is now this novel.

And dang it, now there's hardly anything about poor Michelle Kwan. ;) But that's a good thing, because now most people won't even know who she is!

And thanks for the reminder that your first one took seven years. I really do hope to be done with this one soon, but I feel like I can't stop while I'm still learning and still growing with this one. It's weird--it's like I'm working feverishly to finish this draft, but I also know that by autumn, I need to be drafting something new.
I really like the idea of doing linked novels that can stand alone. I recently did it with Beneath Bone Lake and Touch of Evil and had previously done the same with Fade the Heat and Heat Lightning and with a pair of historicals I once wrote. You want the books to be easily readable in either order. This is especially important because there's no way to be certain the first book will be on shelves and/or readily available when the second comes out. If the first doesn't sell well, it can dramatically reduce the chances of a true sequel's success. But if the books are simply related stand-alones, you've doubled your chance to make a splash.