As I’ve mentioned to all of you too often, I’m an avid amateur photographer. Or not quite amateur anymore, if we use the International Olympic Committee’s definition of the word. I’ve sold a couple dozen photos out of galleries over the past few years. I’ve had a few photos published in magazines and have been paid for them. But when it comes right down to it, my photography is more hobby than profession. I’ll probably never sell a picture to the Sierra Club for one of their calendars, and I’ll never make enough as a photographer to do it full time. And that’s okay.
I take pictures because I enjoy it, but also because I like being able to look at the work I’ve done. I use my photos as desktops and screen savers for my computer, I give them as gifts, I decorate my house with them. Are they as good as the photos of Art Wolfe or David Muench or Jack Dykinga? Not even close. But they’re pretty good, and they mean something to me.
Probably you know where this is leading. Or maybe not. You don’t have to publish your writing to take pride in it. You don’t have to be George R.R. Martin to enjoy your own work. And neither do I. I handed in the second Thieftaker book on Friday. And I love it. I enjoyed reading through it, even as I edited and revised. I had several of those “Wow! Look what I did!” moments as I read, and I think that my readers will, too. I don’t know if the book will be successful. It’s going to be so long until it’s published that I’m not even sure books as we know them will still exist when it comes out…. But it’s a good book, and I wrote it. Nothing and no one can take that away from me — not reviewers or marketing people, not a cover art disaster or a disappointing royalty statement.
Of course, I intend to do everything in my power to make the book a success. I’m working right now on revisions of book I, because if the first Thieftaker is really good, the second one has a better chance of succeeding. I’ll attend conventions and set up signings. I’ll do whatever my agent and my editor suggest as far as promotion activities are concerned. I’ll blog about it and create a splashy cool website for “D.B. Jackson.” And I’ll also continue to work on refining my skills as a photographer. I’ll display my work whenever I can. Maybe I’ll enter a few photo contests and submit my work to new places.
This isn’t a post about complacency. If I contract a book, I’ll try to write an award winner. If it wins an award, I’ll work to make it a bestseller. If it becomes a bestseller, I’ll do everything I can to get it made into a movie. It’s great to have dreams, and to do everything in your power to make them come true. In fact, with the end of 2010 approaching, this is a great time for you to set some goals for the coming year. I know that I’m setting goals for myself, and they’re incredibly ambitious (I’ll post them later this month or early in January).
But the point of this post is a little different. You probably have a book you’re working on. Maybe you have several. And you probably also have books that are done, or stories that are finished. You’re working to make them submission-ready. Good for you. May I suggest, though, that you take a moment to read them, not for a new round of revisions, not to look for your crutches or tautologies (though, of course, you should do that at some point). No, this time I want you to read your work and look for all the great things you’ve done with it. Take this opportunity to appreciate your accomplishments. Because even if there is stuff in your story or book that makes you cringe (I have LOTS of stuff in my work that makes me cringe — that’s why I edit everything I write before I send it out), I guarantee you there is also stuff in there that will put a smile on your face, that will make you say “Wow! Look what I did!”
I’ve often said that in order to be successful, writers need to learn to self-edit; they need to learn to recognize the flaws in their own work. I think too often I forget to say that successful writers also have to recognize the things they do well. Writers should be able to take pleasure in their own work. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s not ego, it’s pride; it’s not self-indulgence, it’s self-confidence. So, take a minute today to look for those shining moments in your work. Enjoy your accomplishments — they’re real, even if you haven’t yet met all the goals you set out for yourself. And as you see all the great stuff you’ve done, remember that no rejection letter or naysayer can take them away from you.David B. Coe