The writing life is full of learning curves, but the steepest one for me (at least so far) arrived when May B. debuted in 2012. The writing I’d done privately for fourteen years was suddenly available for public consumption. I had to decide how I wanted to function in this new-to-me phase. I ended up writing three blog posts about my thoughts at the time, which I called Navigating a Debut Year. I condensed these posts into my Writer’s Manifesto, a print of which hangs over my desk. While I don’t look at it everyday, these concepts guide my choices and gently remind me of what I want to do with my work — and what I want to avoid.
A few weeks back, I visited Prince Edward Island with my dear friend, Jamie Martin. She’d just released a new book into the world with huge success. (We’re talking in the top ten books for all Amazon titles, people!) As conversation turned to the writing life, I found myself referring to the ideas in my manifesto. It was interesting to note how much these concepts have taken hold. Do I do all these things perfectly? Absolutely not. But by simply having named them I’m one step closer to the author I want to be.
Here’s my Writer’s Manifest0:
In my public life I will…
- Be generous in my interactions with others. This doesn’t mean committing to every opportunity or request. It means being warm, friendly, and supportive of the writing community and the publishers, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers who make it all happen.
- Speak well of fellow writers: Whether I know them personally or not. Whether I like their work or not. These people are my people. This is reason enough.
- Conduct myself in a becoming way: While I can’t control what others think of me, I can choose to present myself in a way I’m proud of, whether that be in person or through social media. I’m in no way perfect, but I can strive not to embarrass myself, the children I write for, or the people who publish my writing.
In my public life I won’t…
- Add to or perpetuate gossip: In my first months as a debut, I heard things about fellow authors that broke my heart. Whether shared maliciously, as some sort of cautionary tale, or just for fun, it was more than I needed to know. I choose not to participate in spreading the stories any further.
- Disparage others’ books, genres, or talents but will find value in what they create: Many writers talk of becoming more critical readers the longer they write. For me, some sort of weird opposite has happened. Because I know first hand of the hard work the writing life demands, I’m learning to appreciate books, topics, and styles I would have ignored years ago. The books I don’t connect with aren’t really my concern: they weren’t written for me. There is an audience for them somewhere.
In my private life I will…
- Err on the side of love: I got this beautiful quote from author Irene Latham, who first heard it from her mama. It’s a good way to think about the world in general and is especially important in our small community. Assume the best of others, their intentions, their actions. It will make you happier and kinder, too.
- Let go of what I can’t control: This covers everything from how my work is received by professional reviewers, bloggers, readers, and friends to sales, publicity, and marketing efforts out of my hands. I can do what I can, and that is all.
- Be real with other authors in a safe, closed community: It is vital to have a group of friends I can go to for support. This life is full of experiences only other writers can truly appreciate and understand. Knowing I can go to these stellar people with anything has helped bolster and encourage me.
In my private life I won’t…
- Hold my colleagues to unspoken expectations: This one is easy to do without even realizing it — trusting a colleague will read my book as I have read hers, assuming someone else will talk up my titles as I have for him, and so on. Insisting others are beholden to me because of what I’ve done for them is a sure formula for heartache, especially when those friends have no idea of my expectations. Maybe they haven’t read my book yet but still plan to. Maybe they have, and out of an attempt to be courteous haven’t mentioned it because it wasn’t their thing. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be my concern.
- Compare or begrudge the successes, sales, or careers of others: The drive to compare is such a gut-level thing it’s sometimes hard to avoid. Some people are able to use comparison as a sort of motivation for their own work. Not me. Comparison leads to frustration and feelings of inadequacy…or feelings of superiority, neither of which benefit me. My friends’ successes don’t somehow negatively reflect on my own efforts. Just because my career will unfold differently from someone else’s doesn’t make it wrong and shouldn’t make me bitter toward others’ success.
In my writing life I will…
- Write the stories that speak to me: I will continue to write what nourishes and interests me first and worry about the market second.
- Seek guidance, support, and direction when needed: I will ask questions of my agent and editor when I’m unsure or need help. I will go to other writers in the same life phase or those ahead of me when I need assistance.
In my writing life I will not…
- Lose my love for story, kids, or words: Once you’re published, art becomes commodity. It’s not right or wrong, it just is. I want my motivation and passion to remain firmly in the place it always has been. While there are no guarantees of success in writing this way, there is much joy. This is more important to me.
- Compare my work against itself: I choose not to be paralyzed by comparing my titles to previous books I’ve written. Each manuscript deserves to stand alone and has its own merit. The rest of the publishing world has the freedom to compare if they choose. For me to do so is unfair to new stories beginning to form.
With the wisdom of four more years of writing, I’d add these two things:
- I’ll continue to learn what it means to write smart and not scared.
- I will hold to this belief: If I am proud of my work and my editor is proud of my work, this is enough. Reviews, sales, or awards (or the lack of these things) do not equate a book’s worth.
Have any of you written a Writer’s Manifesto? If you have, I’d love if you’d share. If you haven’t but are toying with the idea, might you leave in the comments things you’d include in yours?