(If you’d care to read last year’s 2022 resolution — here ’tis.)
This year’s resolution is simple on the surface, if difficult to implement:
Be vigorous in your defense of your work.
Now, already I want to be clear that I don’t mean “defend it against bad reviews” or “against healthy criticism” or “editors” or whatever.
So, let’s unpack what I do mean.
As a writer, everyone wants a piece of you. They treat the act of writing as an unserious endeavor, failing to see it as the result of the three corners of art, craft and work. It’s something anyone can do, they think. You’re replaceable. None of this matters. And so on. But writing does matter, we know. Writing goes into everything. Writing is bricklaying — it holds up the world. The stories built from the written word can change the world, too. Maybe not the whole world, but often, one person’s world. And that ain’t nothing.
But I don’t know that everyone… agrees with that? Or understands that? And I think there’s a very real threat against writers that comes from all directions. People want your time. They want to take your place. You are the singular summation of your experiences and have stories to tell, but sometimes people want you to tell a different story — one better designed to sell books or one that is simply someone else’s story that they want to put in your mouth. And this is definitely the year where I feel like I’m hearing from a lot of writers who are feeling somewhat beaten down by all of it — by others’ estimation of writers, by the industry, by the doom of Twitter, by just the pandemic in general. They feel taken advantage of, in some cases. They feel whittled to splinters.
So, I think this is a good year to dig in your heels a little.
It’s a good year to ensure that you take the time to write when you need to take that time. And also to carve out a place — a literal place! — for yourself to write, be it a room, a desk, a kitchen table, a shed, whatever, wherever.
It’s a good year to worry less about killing your darlings and instead start to learn what hills you’re willing to die on.
It’s a good year to think about what you want out of this career — what matters most to you, what stories you want to tell, you must tell — and to seek out those desires as if you deserve them. (Because, spoiler warning, you do.)
It’s a good year to make sure you’re not sacrificing things to anyone (publisher, family members, whoever) just to further their needs and not the needs of you, your stories, your career. Don’t let them ding your future. You deserve to get paid. You deserve your rights. You deserve to have your voice heard.
It’s a good year to make sure we stop believing that writing and storytelling is just some precious privilege and you’re so lucky to be doing it that you should be willing to give everything up just to be allowed to stay near to it.
It’s a good year to understand your power and to hold onto it.
To express it when you can, or when you must.
Again, this is not an exhortation against criticism or review or editorial oversight. It is not to say your story is so good it must be published and damn anyone who doesn’t listen. This is not to say you are a perfect being with perfect stories. This is also not a refusal to compromise. Compromise is vital. Writing, even when it’s just you, is a collaborative act in a sense, and there will be compromises that must must must be made to improve the work at hand.
Rather, this is all a reminder that you do this thing because you love it, because you have stories to tell. And it’s a reminder that people will try to take a little of your magic away for themselves — and that this can come from people in your life, it can come from big licensed intellectual property machines, it can come from publishers, it can come from whoever and whenever, and it’s important to know when it’s time to say no, when it’s time to say I deserve better, when it’s time to demand respect in service to your art, your craft, your work. In a sense, this is sometimes about good relationships — and you’ll know when you’re in one because they’re going to join you in this defense of the work. That could mean a spouse, an editor, an agent, whoever. They can still challenge you, but that challenge is about bringing the best version of yourself and your stories to bear — it’s not about taking something away, not about reducing you, but sharpening the knife that’s already in your hand. Some people want to brighten your light. Others just wanna throw a blanket on it.
Stand tall for yourself and your work. And stand tall for others who need that defense, too. (For instance, keep up with the Harper-Collins strike here. Support them when you can, because a healthy bookish ecosystem is good for everyone. Look too to how Brandon Sanderson talks about Audible and how that affects authors.) Stand tall for your writing, for the writing of others, for the good of your own support systems inside the publishing machine.
We only get one good turn on this carousel, so make it count.
I hope your 2023 is a good one, a productive one, and one where you make a stand for the stories you want to tell.
I selfishly remind I have a new writing book out this year —
I mean c’mon it has a BIRD flying out of someone’s HEADCAGE.
Preorder from Doylestown Bookshop and I can sign and personalize, if so desired. Comes out June 6th, 2023.
Have a great year. See you in the word mines.