I think every writer has a turning point in their craft when their emotional investment in their work shifts and changes. There was a time when I focused on pleasing others with my writing. I twisted myself up and worried excessively about pleasing this one writer “friend” in my life. I used to freely share my work, my time, and my ideas with her. She had the most access anyone has ever had to my writing process. I allowed her an immense amount of influence regarding my characterization and my plots. I would say that she was instrumental in shaping the process I have today though not in the way she’d like to think.
Let’s call her Petty Patty. I suppose the nom de plume is a dead give away as to where this is going, but it is what it is. To say that I trusted Petty Patty is a bit of an understatement. I valued her opinion, and her approval meant a lot to me. I can’t say she wasn’t knowledgeable about the craft of writing or the publishing process as by the time I met her, she’d been published for two decades.
There came the point when I realized that while she expected me to take and implement every single piece of advice she gave me about a project, she never once give a single piece of advice I gave her a moment’s consideration. If I offered her a suggestion to improve her characterization or plot, she would react like I’d slapped her in the face. You see, she was the mentor, and I was her less talented protégé in her mind.
The breaking point came when I had an idea for a book. The book that would eventually lead to me being published. I laid the book out for her—spoke to her about the themes that I wanted to explore and the characterization elements I was essentially married to when it came me to the book. She tore my idea to pieces and point-blank told me I wasn’t talented enough to pull it off. I was hurt and furious, so I ignored everything she had to say about it and hammered out that 75k novel in a month. I did two more drafts, and I submitted it.
A week after I submitted my novel, she demands I meet her for lunch. When I get there, she smugly drops a stack of paper down and tells me she’d written my idea. She’d even used my character names since I didn’t have any need for them. I stared at her for a moment then told her that I’d written the idea myself and had already submitted it to a publisher. I’d mailed it out a week before. Petty Patty was furious. She said I wasn’t ready to submit, and I’d ruined everything since she couldn’t use the novel she’d written now. I’d wasted her time, and since I didn’t have the talent to truly do the idea justice—I’d wasted a decent idea because I was an impatient child. I was 29.
I left without saying a word to her and made sure to not even touch her manuscript. I went home and told my husband what had happened then blamed him since he was the one who suggested I join the local writing group. I wouldn’t have even met Petty Patty or been a part of her writing group if it weren’t for his ass. He patted me and bought me chocolate. So, he gets some points for that shit, I guess.
That book was published a year later. I sent her a signed copy. If she was writing this, this is where she’d start calling me That Bitch. In fact, she’s been calling me That Bitch for the better part of 15 years. She likes to tell people that I asked her to write the idea for me, and when she tried to get paid for “ghostwriting” the book that I refused to pay her.
Practically anyone who’s ever spent time with me knows that I’d never, ever use a ghostwriter. I have nothing against ghostwriters or ghostwriting. I’ve considered doing it myself to make money on more than one occasion. I certainly consider it a viable option, but I’ve never had to go there professionally. It’s just when it comes to the execution of my own ideas—I like to be in control.
Sometimes, I cross paths with Petty Patty, but I don’t speak to her unless she speaks first. She hasn’t published professionally in about ten years and throws up a self-pubbed project on Amazon once or twice a year. Sometimes it’s a story she’s retooled from her backlist and other times it’s a formulaic old-school romance with an alpha male character who treats his love interest like she can’t make a single decision for herself. If I still talked to her, I’d tell her that 1985 called and they want their plot back.
You might be wondering what the point of this story is and what Petty Patty has to do with my turning point. The thing is that Petty Patty taught me I must be careful about who I allow into my creative process. I don’t mean the alpha/beta thing that goes on in fandom. The process for creating a novella or novel starts long before that for me because I’m a plotter. Trusting someone with your naked ideas is daunting and, at times, scary. Petty Patty taught me what I can expect from some people and how to spot that potential for terrible behavior in other writers.
It’s my inclination to always engage positively with other writers, and while the Petty Patty incident did change me a bit, she didn’t take that away from me. What she did teach me is when to stop engaging with another writer. She taught me to never invest myself in a writer who doesn’t value my time or attention. Finally, she taught me that focusing on pleasing someone else with my writing was the road to a hurtful place.
This emotional shift in my creative landscape matured into the foundation that I stand on today as a writer. My own emotional investment in my work must come first because that’s the only healthy choice to be made. This is especially true in fandom, where you literally only have to please yourself.
It’s nice, of course, when other members of fandom enjoy your work, but it’s not a good idea to invest yourself in that approval system. Kudos, likes, and glowing comments are fantastic to receive. It’s exciting to know that other people love something you’ve labored over. But if you balance your self-esteem as a writer and as a person on the approval of others, you will eventually fall.
Maybe you’ll even get pushed.