Tools for Damage Control

When-the-Hero-Comes-Home-2-coverThis month we’ve given you some ideas about what to do when everything goes wrong.

It can be frustrating, even scary, when you feel that everything is happening to you, for reasons you couldn’t have foreseen. Negative things are coming your way and they’re not the consequences of your actions in any way that you can identify. What do you do when bad stuff just seems to be thrown at you, the undeserving target?

We’ve had advice on what not to do. Public tantrums in the name of venting won’t do anything for your reputation as a professional. Take some time, talk in private, cool your head, and approach the problem calmly and thoughtfully.

Rejections can become similarly emotional, particularly when you’ve invested a big piece of yourself in your work. It’s hard not to take rejections personally. But rejections can be a tool for improvement if you’re able to analyze why you got them. And sometimes, you get them for no apparent reason–maybe your tastes just don’t match the editor’s–and all you can do is carry on.

Similarly, it’s difficult to offer your work up for edit, or to receive a copy back from a publisher demanding major changes. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to accept those changes. If you can recognize that your work isn’t perfect and understand that your editor is trying to help improve your work, you’ll be better positioned to judge whether a change truly threatens your vision or whether it simply makes your story more appealing.

Criticism: what is it good for, anyway? Thoughtful criticism can point out areas of improvement. Often, though, critics are looking for something different than the story you provided, and they’ll say so with varying degrees of civility. It’s hard to divorce yourself emotionally from negative reviews, but where is your energy better spent: being upset that someone on the internet didn’t like your book, or concentrating on making your new book the best that it can be?

It would be great if stories wrote themselves smoothly from start to finish, but few of us are that lucky! Sometimes we have to make minor revisions to get our stories back on track–and sometimes we need to make major revisions. Don’t use a band-aid when surgery is required (or vice versa; the art is learning to tell the difference!)

Stories aren’t the only things that can require major surgery. When you’ve got a health crisis, a family emergency, or financial struggles, a previously balanced life can fall wildly off-balance. Take care of yourself and your needs and, when you can, write.

And, of course, there’s things we can do in advance to help stave off crises before they happen. Backing up our work, understanding our contracts before we sign them, investigating publishers before we submit to them, keeping track of submission deadlines: these are all examples of how a little work now can save a lot of grief later.

One of the major differences between amateurs and professionals is in how they respond to crisis.

If you’re a hobby writer, then it’s perfectly okay to give up writing if your real life gets stressful or if the story’s not working out or if the hobby just isn’t fun any more. If writing’s your career, then it’s not as easy as finding another interest. Either you find yourself another career, or you do some damage control and keep your writing career afloat. When you encounter rough waters–as all of us do–hopefully this month’s ideas and tips will help.

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