You Can’t Be A Wimp

This writing business can break your heart.

I say this now, despite the recent rash of good news I’ve had, despite my recent Edgar nomination and VANISH hitting the UK bestseller lists. The recent dust-up over my Edgar nomination, reflected in the less-than enthusiastic comments about VANISH over at Sarah Weinman’s excellent blog (www.sarahweinman.com) reminded me that writing is like walking out in public without wearing any clothes. We reveal our assets (or lack of them) for all to see. And critics feel free to laugh at us, or throw rocks.

While the whole time, THEY get to keep their clothes on.

But that’s just how the business goes. It comes with the territory. We have to develop a thick skin. We have to get used to criticism.

I have to confess, though, I’m still a wuss. No matter how long I’m in this business (and after 18 published books, folks, you know I’m no longer wet behind the ears) I still feel the painful pricks as acutely as I did when I was starting out. When I’d tear open an envelope from a publisher and feel devastated by a rejection letter. Despite all my successes, I’m still the timid little girl in the elementary school class whose greatest fear was that I’d …

disappoint someone.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? I’ve worked as a doctor. I’ve raised two handsome, strapping sons. I’ve hit bestseller lists. And I’m still terrified of hearing someone tell me: “Your last book disappointed me.”

That’s why you won’t catch me criticizing another writer in public. You’ll never catch me saying anything bad about Cornwell or Dan Brown because I know that, despite their successes, they’re also human beings who probably feel the stings as acutely as I do. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just a weenie, but I suspect not. I suspect that even those at the top of the bestseller lists — Patterson and Crichton and King — still die a little when a reviewer says “their latest book stinks.”

Still, that’s the territory. We accept it and keep writing because that’s what we do, and we can’t think of anything else we’d rather be doing.

If you want to be a writer, get ready for editors telling you your manuscript isn’t good enough, critics telling you that your book is lousy, readers whining that they wasted twenty five bucks on your opus, the bloggers saying they’re appalled you got nominated for that award. There’s no way to avoid it. You’ll get rocks thrown at you, and you might as well prepare for it now by hitting your head against the wall a hundred times, just so you get used to the feeling.

But if you’re a writer, you’ll keep writing anyway, even if you disappoint your readers or your editor or your agent. You won’t give up, because then you’ll disappoint the one person you can’t afford to disappoint.

Yourself.

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