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Protect the Work

I think I first heard (read) Alison Kent say that one of the most important things a working writer must do is PROTECT THE WORK.  At the time, I didn’t quite understand the implications — because it’s really a very personal thing.  What I need to protect my work from is not the same as you or another writer.  I have my own set of neuroses and challenges!  Many of which I’m still learning to understand.

Of course, on the surface we learn to protect the work by managing or limiting our internet time or household chores, but that’s really only scratching the surface.  As I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I realized there are emotional attacks — many unintentional — that we must also protect our inner artist from. 

For instance, there are certain blogs that are toxic to me.  I just can’t read them.  They make me insane, tie me up in knots, and make me question everything I think I know or understand.  So why read them?  Exactly.  Protect the work!  Of course, you don’t know what will bother you until it’s too late at least once, but it’s definitely saved my sanity to simply remove a few blogs from my daily feeds.

Or how about the well meaning internet friend with whom you’ve traded e-mails or blog comments with occasionally.  Sometimes you lose contact with these people for months at a time, and then whammo, out of the blue, they contact you.

“Hey, did you ever get an agent?”

“Did you ever finish that book?”

“Did you ever hit the NYT list?”

And then a few days later you find out this so-called friend did get an agent herself, finished an incredible book that everyone’s salivating after, or made the bestseller list for the first time herself.  Emotionally, this can be hard to deal with.  Professional jealousy happens to everyone, whether they’ll admit it or not.  In the midst of that green-eyed monster, it’s easy to convince yourself that this “friend” was merely rubbing it in.  That she deliberately contacted you to gloat.  

Negativity feeds the jealousy, and if you’re (I’m) not careful, it defeats my artist.  Maybe this friend’s intentions were perfectly innocent.  My response is mine to control, and if I let myself dwell on how many agent rejections I’ve gotten or how I can’t seem to finish the “big” book, then I’m going to get depressed in a hurry.

Protect the work.  Protect your artist. 

Lately, my biggest struggle is choosing appropriate projects (see January’s struggles).  Why was that month so hard?  Because I allowed myself to get distracted by something that wasn’t on my planned list and worse, didn’t fit within my brand.  To protect my work going forward, I have to limit any kind of anthology calls.  As soon as I read some cool short story or novella call, my mind is GONE.  I want to come up with the perfect story.  Sure, some of these calls have led to sales (although not to the anthology itself – I seem to have lousy luck in that regard, ironically), but I have many documented ideas that could already be contracted.  If I finish them.

Letting myself accept an impossible challenge only manages to stall my work.  I know I can write a novella in a month.  I’ve done it.  Hell, I’ve written 50K in 11 days.  That’s not the point.  I have to stay the course, keep my eye on the prize I’ve already chosen, and protect that work.

As a new month begins and you begin setting new goals, is there anything you plan to do to protect your work?

6 thoughts on “Protect the Work

  1. Great post. Very honest! I never thought of it as protecting my work, but you are so right.

  2. Good post, great point. Thanks, Joely. I can drive myself crazier than I like to admit second-guessing, regretting, envying, dreaming. But I’m only a writer if I write, so that’s what I have to protect.

  3. Tia, anything that messes with your mind or derails you in any way is something to watch for. I always thought it was “organizing” or “time management” but that’s only a tiny piece of PROTECT THE WORK.

  4. Jenny, absolutely, I do the same thing. What if this never sells, what if I should submit it to Y instead of Z, etc. Meanwhile, I could have written another book!

  5. I struggle with a variety of work pitfalls, but the worst mind-killer for me is doubting my process. So, so many ‘how to’ books and folks trying to make it seem like their way is the only way. It’s not. Everyone is different. I write how I write, and I might never get more than one or two books done a year, but that’s okay. {{huggs}}

  6. I need to protect my work by ignoring all the stuff that tries to tell me I’ll never be published since my book: is too long/written in the wrong POV/has too much romance/has not enough romance/science fiction, which is “over”. I don’t want to completely ignore publishing realities (like length, which I’m trying to keep from getting out of hand), but I’m writing the book I need to write, and the book I personally would want to read. That’s the best I can do right now.

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