Writing and Sanity—Two Lists

One do list. One don’t list.

First the do. I posted this elsewhere recently and the response suggested that it was worth showing to larger audience. It’s about how you balance your mental attitude about your writing and stay sane in a fundamentally irrational business.

The six stages of engagement with a story.

First, the way you should feel about whatever book or story you are writing this very minute, is that it is absolutely your best work ever and will be irresistable to readers.

Second, whatever book or story you are revising or getting critiqued at this very moment, is a solid piece of work that can and will be improved if you work at it and learn from comments.

Third, whatever work you have just finished, is ready to go out to agents or editors and you’re excited to get it in the mail.

Fourth, whatever work has been bought or is being shopped around, no longer exists until and unless a decision is called for on your part.

Fifth, whatever work has been published or set aside is complete and an example of your work at the time, not something that reflects the writer you are now.

Sixth, whatever work you are going to embark on next will be made better by what you will learn from the completion of what you are working on now. So much so that once you have finished the current work, this new project will be the best thing you have ever written, bar non.

Repeat as often as possible.

And now, the don’t list. This came out of recent discussion of how to deal with one’s Amazon reviews.

The seven steps of Amazon Madness.

Step one is checking for reviews and counting the stars.

Step two is reading the reviews.

Step three is engaging with the reviews.

Step four is taking them seriously in any way shape or form.

Step five is trying to do something about it.

Step six is engaging with the reviewers in comments.

Step seven is where your editor has to call to have nice people in the white suits haul you off for some “rest.”

Don’t do this.

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There are 5 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Adam Heine

    Man, that Do List is awesome. I especially need to hear #2. During revision, I tend to bounce between the extremes of feeling that my story is perfect as is and the critics just don’t understand my genius, or feeling that the story is terrible and not worth revising and I’ve wasted years of my life even thinking about it.

  2. 2. S. M. Payne

    I love the DON’T list! The do list is good too, but I have the hard time of not feeling that so strongly.

  3. 3. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    You forgot something on the Don’t List. What about the Amazon rankings obsession?

  4. 4. David B. Coe

    Love the “do” list — guilty as charged on the “don’t” list, though I no longer engage with readers. And Di has a point. The Amazon numbers obsession is truly dangerous.

  5. 5. Kelly McCullough

    Adam, glad you like it. That’s a hard one. So much of staying sane in this business is accurately identifying what we can and can’t change and where we need to focus our efforts and where we need to walk away emotionally.

    S. M. Payne, thanks. The do list is definitely more abstract and harder to manage since it’s so much more about attitude than action.

    Di, good catch. I should probably have called it Amazon Review Madness as the two are related but not identical phenomena. But I’m much more susceptible to the whole rankings thing, so it’s not really madness…right?

    What, David answers that below? Fair cop, David. Haul me away.

    On a more general note I’m thinking I should probably call that first list “the six ideal stages of engagement with a story.”

Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.

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