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Monday, January 28, 2013

Working the Negative

When you lift weights it's not uncommon for the trainer to remind you to "work the negative." This means that you don't let the weight drop on the release movement and instead control the downward motion. This prevents injury and gives you a better workout.

Outside of the gym Working The Negative is the active form of making lemonade with the lemons life hands you, turning a negative situation into something that makes you grow. In writing this means learning to understand why your "failed novel" is actually a good thing.

The Trunk Novel
Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Never tell a published author that your writing sucks and use your trunk novels as proof, they will beat you in that game every single time. Every author of note has trunk novels, abandoned stories lurking in the depths of the harddrive or in a box under the bed. Every single author I know has novels, short stories, and ideas that will never see the light of day.

These aren't a sign of failure. The stories you tuck away were a learning experience. No, maybe they weren't the Next Great Novel, but they are a stepping stone the Next Great Novel. Keep writing them and eventually you will have a story that you can polish and publish.

The Rejection Letter
Is there a tale of greater woe than this of the author sobbing over a well-phrased rejection letter? For too many authors the rejection letter is the epitome of failure. It has become the ultimate proof that the book smells worse than rotten eggs. Authors parade their rejection letters in front of writerly friends, "I suck! I can't write another thing! Look at this rejection letter!" Which is a lot like me sobbing and deciding I've failed at life because I only have one husband instead of an all-star harem. By Rejection Letter Logic you and your writing are only good if EVERYONE loves you.

Hop off that train and get back to reality. Rejection letters are like typos, everyone has them. A rejection is proof you're trying to get your work out there. No, not everything you write will get published. Some of those rejections will turn into trunk novels. There's no shame in that. You're working the negative and learning.

The Bad Review 
Every once in a blue moon I see an author declare their career over because they've received a negative review, or a slew of negative reviews. Bad reviews hurt, we all know that. No one wants to have their hard work vilified. But you're not going to please everyone, and sometimes authors rush ahead with the heady excitement of creation and publish something that isn't one hundred percent ready for the readers. Even if your book is flawless you're going to attract the Review Trolls who hate your book because of the price, or because you wrote a strong female character, or because you wrote an all-male cast, or because none/all/some of your characters are not the same age/race/gender/nationality/religion as the reviewer.

Take the negative reviews in stride. If a book is panned, learn from it. If you attract Review Trolls roll your eyes and be grateful that your life isn't so pathetic that you need to go around insulting authors for fun.

A Bad Day
Some days you are on fire, you hit your goals, your scenes flow from your fingertips like magic, and the whole world is your muse. Other days you stare at the blank screen in horror and the only words to appear are utter dross dredged up from an infantile muse that doesn't understand basic grammar.

Don't stress it. Everyone has ups and downs in their life, it's called having a pulse. When you flatline you're dead. So run with the bad days even when they are consecutive. You're alive. You're writing. You are trying to do something. That's what matters.

When you hit a rough patch this week, as we all inevitably will, Work The Negative. Take whatever good you can find in the situation and put it work making you a stronger, smarter, better person. You got this.