Monday, February 3, 2014

All the Feels: On Boundaries

First things first--Congratulations to Becky Fyfe who won my query critique during my last All the Feels post! Becky, I’ll be contacting you via email today!

We live in an age of disappearing boundaries. There is no such thing as TMI on Facebook or Instagram. It’s not even a big deal when a celebrity has a sex tape now.  And there were—I kid you not—two pictures of male anatomy on my twitter feed in the last month. I mostly follow WRITERS, you guys.
In a culture where boundaries are increasingly viewed as a bad thing, I’ve sort of stopped being surprised by most of this.

But in your writing life? It’s really important to have good boundaries. Here are just a few reasons why.

1. At the End of the Day You, and Only You, Are Responsible for Your Writing Life.

You choose what you write about, nobody else. You choose the image of yourself you decide to present to the world in everything from your themes and characters to your avatar on G+.

Nobody can make you write a book you don’t believe in. And nobody can pen your name to a book you think sucks. In the twitterverse and elsewhere online I see complain about their agents or publishers or covers or whatever. It’s a lot easier to point the finger at someone else.

In some ways your book is not that different from a baby human. Would you drop your kid off at a day care without touring the facility first? Without asking questions about what their policies are or what your baby’s day will be like in their care? Once you drop them off, they may fall on the jungle gym. Or get picked on. Or feel homesick. You can’t control that.

When you sign a contract, you choose who champions your book, be it an agent, publisher, or both. After you make that choice, there will be other choices that are taken completely out of your hands, but by signing that contract, you are agreeing to give your choices to those with whom you contract. For many people, this leads to the decision to publish independently. For others, it leads to a sense of relief.

It’s best for your book and your mental health to decide up front how much control you need and how much you’re willing to surrender. An important part of setting boundaries is trusting your gut before you trust other people.

2. In the [Very] Mortal Words of Dr. Phil, “We Teach People How to Treat Us.”

I volunteered for a project recently where a number of the participants had a hard time saying “no” to things that were asked of them. Consequently, they were overburdened, stretched to the limits, and left the experience feeling resentful. Some even made personal sacrifices they weren’t entirely okay with.  But not everyone had that experience. Some of the volunteers said “no” or “I don’t have time” or “this isn’t what I signed up for.” And they were right.

There are definitely people in this world who take advantage of kindness, who will flood the balloon with water until it breaks. But only if we let them. We have to set limits on what we are willing to do, particularly when it comes to something voluntary. We can’t control other people’s unrealistic expectations, but we can control whether we decide to own them.

The same goes with the professionals we depend on for our literary success. If you’re not communicating with your agent about what you want and need, how can you expect them to deliver? They might not be able to, but if you don’t tell them what you’re missing, you’re not giving them the chance to help you find it.
If your critique group isn’t giving you the kind of feedback you need to make your manuscript better, if they’re not giving you as much as you’re giving them, or if they’re harming your progress more than they’re helping it, you’ve got to decide if that’s a partnership worth maintaining. Is it an easy thing to do? No. But it’s so important. Your writing time is precious. Don’t waste it.

3. There is One Universal Truth in Publishing: Not Everyone Is Going to Like Your Book

People are going to say bad things about your writing. Things you think are unfounded and hateful. You might be right, but it doesn’t matter. They’re going to say it anyway. They’re going to write ranty GIF-filled reviews on GoodReads about how much your book sucks. And other people are going to like those reviews. They’re going to reblog them and other people are going to laugh at them, too.

There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop this.

Well, there is one thing. You can decide not to publish your book.

And for some people that might be the better choice. There is some truth to that whole ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’ thing.

But if you want to be a published author, a little acid rain will fall into your writerly world. And you’re going to have to be okay with that. Or you’re going to have to choose not to check GoodReads. And Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Pretty much forget the whole internet exists.

Yeah, good luck with that.  

Here are some [more realistic] tips for setting healthy boundaries in the writing world.

1. Have a clear idea of who you are and how you want to be viewed. Don’t let your anger, hurt, jealousy, or any other negative feels jeopardize that. Don’t ever let your desire to be a published author cost you your integrity.

2. Think before you act. Whether it’s saying yes to a contest, joining a critique group, or signing a contract, think about the decisions you make before you make them. There are some decisions you can’t take back.

3. Get comfortable with the word “no.” For some people this is easier said than done, but it’s important in a world where we operate as many small islands that you know how to protect your land. Besides, publishers and agents get to say no all the time and people still talk to them. Why shouldn’t you?

4. Keep in mind publishing is a business. These are professional relationships we are building, not friendships. Sure there’s some crossover, but that’s the same with any job. You’ve got to decide where your limits are. How do you want to be viewed by your coworkers? By your prospective employers?

5. Above all else, remember this--You have absolutely no control over how other people behave. The only thing you can control is how you respond to it.

A Taste of My Own Medicine.

I knew what I was planning to write this post about a couple weeks ago, because it was a hot topic of conversation among my writing circle. I had a lot of hurdles to getting it written. As I finally sat down to put this post together on Sunday night, I realized that I wasn’t listening to my own advice where protecting my writing is concerned. In addition to juggling a day job, several manuscripts at various stages of readiness, reviewing books, and my editing business, I’ve been judging and hosting contests and blogging my patootie off. Oh yeah, and I have a family that—at one point—actually liked spending time with me.

I’ve officially come to the place where I’ve taken on too much. And I have to make a tough decision and say no to something I really enjoy. For me, that’s contributing to this group blog. It became glaringly clear this week that it’s one extra straw I don’t have time to burden right now.

This will be the last All the Feels post from me. I fully intend to stick around and stalk my fellow contributors and cheer you all on as we continue this wild ride that is publishing. I’m just choosing to enjoy this aspect from the sidelines.

So, keep in touch, okay?

Dannie Morin is an author, blogger, and freelance editor. She's currently contemplating seeking help for her social media addiction. In the meantime, you can find her on Blogger, Facebook, Goodreads, & Twitter. Dannie is repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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