Thursday, 28 February 2008

The writer's arsenal

I'm doing my best to cultivate the twin habits of Determination and Indifference, a tip I picked up from The Writer's Book of Hope (which isn't as banal or patronising as the title suggests). I've always had more than my fair share of Determination. Call it obstinacy, cussedness, what you will. For those who believe in that sort of thing, I'm a Taurean, so bullish by nature. Indifference is another kettle of cats. It means not minding when people reject your stories, not investing too much in the submission process, caring enough but not too much what other people think of your writing, so that when the inevitable rejections come along, they don't dent your resolve or (this happened to me countless times in the last three years) stop you dead in your tracks. There's the added bonus of being pleasantly surprised by success when it arrives.

To be armoured in Indifference seems to me a crucial requirement for a writer. I'm not talking about arrogance, or not wanting a reaction from your reader, and I certainly don't mean not caring about your craft or your characters. I'm talking about riding out the waves, refusing to let the slings and arrows daunt you.

I have a project out there right now which I'm telling myself is No Big Deal. If it comes off, terrific, I shall be ecstatic. If it doesn't, pfft. On to the next one.

Detecting a note of Bluff in the above? You bet. I'm not armoured just yet. But I've got the breast-plate gleaming, and that's a start.


Vanessa G said...

aebooeHi Sarah

Neat blog. Thanks for linking.


'Determination' I agree with.

'Indifference'? No. I read this a while back and have been mulling.

Yes, of course, you need to cultivate a bit of a thick skin where rejections are concerned. To be able to differentiate between rejects that are meaningful, and those that are meaningless.

Then the meaningless ones, you can shrug and move on.

But the meaningful ones, maybe offered with a little advice, or from somewhere that would have 'said something' about the work, the writing... it's not a good idea to maintain the 'indifferent' stance, I don't think.

Inherent in the word is a carelessness. And if all the writer does is shrug when lessons come their way, then.... they never learn anything.

I know loads of writers who reckon they are faultless, and the world is always wrong, and one day they will be recognised as geniuses. They people most writing groups Ive ever been in!

I think we should CARE. Care about getting it right. Care about not letting our characters down. Care about the prose. Care about every single facet.

Unless we care, why bother?

I reckon a bit of hurt didn't do anyone any harm. No pain without gain!

Sorry for the ramble.

And thanks for a thought-povoking post


Vanessa G said...


the type-in letters got added in to the post!! how weird.

Sarah Hilary said...

Hi Vanessa, actually I think we're saying the same thing and it boils down to a bad choice of word on my part.

You're right that the word Indifference implies a bad attitude and very new writers can be tempted to go down the route of saying, 'They just don't GET it,' when an agent or publisher turns them down; I know I used to do this, when I was fresh to the game. Since then, I've learned to listen, to take criticism and to make use of it, and that's without doubt an invaluable skill to acquire. But I do wish that I cared a little less about the rejections - that I didn't let them crush me so hard I failed to get up again straightaway and start back at my craft, applying the lessons I'd learned. If I regret anything it's the time I've wasted when those rejections knocked me so far back I had to struggle not to give up. I think enough Indifference to see me through that inertia would be a good thing.

I suspect I didn't apply enough caveats to the use of the word. I think it's vital to care about my writing (and its reception by readers), absolutely vital. But I don't think it's so vital to tie myself in knots worrying what others will think that I lose focus. This is what I did with my last ms (if you read the post that precedes this one, you'll see what I mean).

It's all shades of grey, but I do think that at a fundamental level, you and I are in agreement here.

Thanks for responding, your post really helped me get a clearer grip on exactly what I meant.

Vanessa G said...

I think that's why it's so important, when we're learning, grappling our way up our own mountains, to work with good solid intelligent writers who will give straight, unflowery, in-depth and sometimes tough feedback.

It helps!

Sarah Hilary said...

True! It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that writing requires confinement, isolation. Ultimately, yes, you have to shut yourself away and get it done. But the interaction is all-important, too. It's taken me a while to get to a place where I can balance to two things, and I feel a little like a lonely cave-dweller, emerging into a nicely sunny spring. :)

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi Sarah
I forwarded this blog entry to a writer friend who is pissed off about a rejection today. I'm sure it will help her get perspective.
Nice blog!

Sarah Hilary said...

Hi wrw! Thanks for dropping by (do we know one another or is it a question of mutual friends in common?). I know just how your friend feels re the rejection. It's damn hard. I would recommend Keyes' book which really helped me turn a corner in my attitude to this part of the process. Best of luck to your friend; tell her to hang on in there.

Women Rule Writer said...

Hey Sarah
I find blogs through other writing blogs. I haven't a clue how I got here today! But I recognise Vanessa G who made the first comment. I think we all just start bumping into each other cos we are moved by writing. I'll add you to my blogroll,
All the best

Sarah Hilary said...

Yes it's a great way to meet new writers. Thanks, WRW!