I Am Not Your Bitch

I know I am full of unpopular and unconventional opinions, so let’s skip the over-acknowledgement of that and get to the point.

I’m pretty transparent about my writing process, sharing my highs and lows, thinking-out-loud on this blog about how to do things better next time, or about mistakes I’ve made that we can all, hopefully, learn from. Today’s ultimate realization is this:

I am no one’s bitch.

I am not my (current, potential, or future) readers’ bitch.

I am not the publishing industry’s bitch, independent or big six.

“Well, of course you aren’t, Maddie. Why do you feel the need to waste your time blogging about that?”

Because for the last six months, on some level, I believed I was. And I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of struggling, blocked writers out there who unconsciously believe the same thing. Of course, it is unconscious, or at least so deeply denied and buried beneath the idea of being flexible and humble and market-savvy that it doesn’t occur to us. But there you have it: My name is Madeline Claire Franklin, and for the past six months I have been acting like I am the publishing industry’s bitch.

Let’s take this back a step. How do I know that’s what’s going on? How do I know I’m not just stuck on some plot problem, or out of motivation? To answer those questions, I only need to answer one basic question: why do I write?

I can’t answer those things for you, but I think that a lot of our answers are going to be the same. I write because I LURV it. I write because I MUST. I write because if I don’t write I am a cranky awful person that no one wants to hang out with. I get kicked in the metaphorical junk with Inspiration and the only way to alleviate the pain is to write the story down.

It’s this tricky little bitch called Inspiration that makes us storytellers, that takes us from mere trade professionals to artists. (I know, a lot of people don’t want to be associated with that word and all it has been used to excuse in the past, but deal with it. If you write because you have a soul, not because you are a machine, you are an artist.) And it is Inspiration that drives us through draft after draft, that makes the rejection and criticism worth it, to hopefully someday see our story in print and know that it’s reaching someone outside of ourselves.

So what happens when you get close to your goal–when agents come knocking–when editors say tell me more? For a lot of us, we come undone a bit. Inspiration is no longer what drives us through difficult times, but the gleam of gold in the distance–that greatly desired validation of selling our book to a publisher. So when Agent or Editor asks us to emphasize this, and get rid of that, we want to be willing. Often, we are more than willing. And that’s when Inspiration can get tossed out of the manuscript, like so much excess fat from a liposuction patient. (Picture that. It’s disgusting. So is losing the soul of your work.)

This is a personally motivated public blog, so I’m not going to deny that THIS HAPPENED TO ME and that’s why I’m writing this post.

Agent: “Oh we love this, and your writing is enchanting! Please change this and this and I will represent you.”

Me: “Der, OKAY!” [Proceeds to die a slow painful death in the name of her CAREER]

And now I have a draft of a book that might sell to a publisher, might get repped by an agent, but is missing the soul of what it was originally meant to be. It’s no longer fun to even think about, let alone write. And it’s the first book in a trilogy–how can I slog through two more novels without the soul of the story to urge me along?

I let myself become an industry bitch, and I suffered for it. I’m coming out of one hell of a rollercoaster ride of creative manic depression, days upon days of “I CAN’T WRITE” and “THIS BOOK IS DETROYING ME,” when all my little inner artist/writer ever really wanted was for me to be loyal to the story she wanted to tell to begin with, not the story that a few people thought would be more saleable.

I want to make a living from my writing, and I know that I have to consider my audience when I am writing a novel. But that’s not the heart of writing, and it’s not what makes me giddy when I’m struck with inspiration for a new novel. The heart of writing is the story (which is so much more than just conflict and resolution). And if I give up on that, hack off its beautiful nose because people said it was crooked, or dye it’s chocolate colored hair because someone thought it was mousy, or give it chin implants because someone else likes cleft chins and said we should too–then eventually I won’t even recognize the story that I birthed onto the page. I know, because that’s what I was looking at a few night ago: my poor, poor, unrecognizable baby.

So I’ve made a choice, a commitment, for the sake of my sanity and the sake of my soul: I am not going to be anyone’s bitch. I am going to remain loyal to my stories. I am going to do the best I can by them, even if that means reaching a smaller audience. Do I sound idealistic? Sure. But my heart cannot take another estranged novel-child, abandoning me because I tried to make her something that she didn’t want to be. 

I don’t know what my financial fate is as a writer. All I know is that I need to write, and sacrificing my inspiration in exchange for the possibility of success is a path that is doomed to fail from the beginning. Trust me.

What about you? Why do you write? Have you ever been asked to cut out your child’s heart and toss it in the trash bin? Inquiring minds want to know (and misery loves company)!

 

4 thoughts on “I Am Not Your Bitch

  1. Pete says:

    “…and I know that I have to consider my audience when I am writing a novel.”

    This is the only bit that I have a slight contention with. The fact is that you have no audience until the novel is written and published. Before that, you aren’t writing for anyone other than yourself. Even established writers who have readers of their books don’t have an audience for a book in the process of being written. Remember – readers choose YOU, not the other way around. That’s why it’s vital to write what’s important to YOU, so that like-minded people will enjoy your story as much as you do.

    Everything else in your post I agree with 100%. :-)

    • Madeline Claire Franklin says:

      Oh, this would make a great topic for another post. Or a live discussion! Or an essay collection on the philosophy, morality, and ethics of writing fiction… (damn it, let’s start a writer’s salon!)

      Point taken, though. As a permanent fringe-dweller myself, I can’t imagine constricting my novels to a single specific genre (which at least has something of a definition), let alone a specific audience, which is imaginary. It’s too reminiscent of middle school concepts like identifying as a “goth” or a “skater” or a “preppy.” Maybe it’s smart marketing-wise, but… you know. See above.

  2. Katharine says:

    I agree with you on not corrupting the soul of your work to make it marketable, but I think it is such a fine line between that and allowing someone to make *potentially* helpful suggestions that might spit-polish a work. That’s the true danger in the self-publishing model that Pete (and I eventually) follows – that a work is put out less “finished” than it should be.

    I just finished editing Pete’s debut novel, and I had to tell him to re-think something that he was kind of beating over the readers head, and I also had to tell him to do a thorough line-by-line editing of the second half of the novel as it seemed less polished than the first half – two major edits that will push back the release of the book. He could release it as is and garner fans for it because it is such a compelling story, but I would rather him take one more pass at it and push it to the next level. It hurt having to tell him those things, and of course he immediately came back with the “so you’re saying my writing sucks” to harass me about it, but I think sometimes we need that voice outside of our author self to say “this section doesn’t flow as well as this section” or “you are assuming your readers are all stupid here”.

    But I think you are right on track with the realizations you’ve been making lately! You fell under the siren song of potential immediate success and were wooed away from your strengths for a while, and now you are coming back to your true center which is wonderful.

    • Madeline Claire Franklin says:

      Ahh! So true!

      The really hard part is knowing when your negative reaction to a critique is ego or instinct. I definitely made some major improvements with this novel based on feedback from an editor (hi Jenn!!! LOVE YOU!), but it was actually the opening scene she suggested I ditch that got the attention of several agents (after I cleaned it up a lot). So instinct prevailed, AND amazing editing! It was when I ignored warning signs in my gut, blaming my ego because I didn’t want to think that my brief agent affair was already over, that things went waaaay off track and I mutilated my novel. :(

      Live and learn, I guess ;)

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