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Blow It Up

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Fireworks by Donald Lee Pardue

Sometimes in life everything goes your way.

And sometimes in life, you need to blow stuff up.

I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. (Ignore the boxes of fireworks stockpiled in the corner for the Fourth of July.) Please don’t go buy explosives. Instead, think about what dramatic change in your writing life — in your writing relationships — would look like. And keep in mind that even metaphorical explosions can change your course.

As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to be better. Better at my craft, better at promoting myself, better at finding just the right niche for my manuscript. But sometimes no matter how hard I work — no matter how many writing workshops I attend, how many books on writing I read, how many readers I connect with — I don’t get the results I want.

In addition, my desire as a writer to improve often comes in conflict with my desire as a person not to rock the boat. To be quiet, to be grateful, to be happy with whatever fate hands me. To remember how lucky I am to be a writer at all, even if it isn’t always on my terms.

When faced with a situation like above, where something — your manuscript, your effort, your professional relationship — isn’t working, I’ve come to believe there are two choices.

We can keep trying. Sometimes that is the right option.

Or,

We can recognize that the desire to be comfortable, to avoid change, to keep the status quo, is holding us back. Like the quote says:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same exact thing and expecting different results.”

For example, have you ever found yourself

  • sticking to a writing routine that doesn’t give you the word count you need?
  • writing the same type of story (or maybe even the same story) over and over, without moving to the next step of submitting it for publication?
  • attending critique sessions where nothing ever gets critiqued?
  • promoting yourself through traditional methods without seeing any increase in sales?

If you aren’t getting the results you want, maybe it’s time for a change. Time to make it impossible for yourself to keep on the same path, to keep being comfortable. Because being comfortable? It’s nice, but it doesn’t always get you the results you want. Sometimes you need to blow it up.

A Checklist for Blowing Stuff Up

Trust your gut. You know that little voice in your head that keeps telling you something isn’t working? That’s your gut. Your brain will say “Hey, you invested a lot of time in this manuscript. If you just did X, Y, or Z, it would be a best-seller.” Your gut doesn’t care how much time you invested. It cares about making it right. It cares about the truth.

Likewise, you know that agent/editor/critique partner relationship that makes you crazy? The one where they are perfectly polite, but they never answer your calls or return your emails? Your gut is telling you that it’s not working, but your brain is telling you “Hold onto this with both hands! You don’t know when you’ll ever get another agent/editor/critique partner again?”

Listen to your gut.

But — check your facts. Once your gut tells you something, look to see if you can corroborate what it is saying. If your gut says your manuscript isn’t working, put it away for a while and read it with fresh eyes. Still feel the same way? Ask a trusted beta reader for their opinion. List the ways the manuscript could be improved, and see if those changes would make you feel differently.

Breathe deep and then weigh the consequences. Give yourself a set amount of time to consider your options and make a decision. What’s the worst that will happen if you toss this manuscript in the trash? Remember, we’re writers — not brain surgeons or hostage negotiators. Words are important, yes. But as profound as your words are, it’s unlikely anyone will die if your novel isn’t published. Conversely, it is equally unlikely anyone’s life will be saved if you make the best-seller list.

But dumping your manuscript does mean you will be tossing months, perhaps years, of work. Even if that work made you a better writer, it can be hard to acknowledge it will never find an audience. On the flip side, walking away could open you up to the possibility of newer, better stories. It’s a tradeoff.

In terms of your writing relationships, think about what would happen if you cut the ties you’re unhappy with. Yes, you may never land an agent or editor or critique partner again — that’s always a possibility. But it’s equally possible that you may find a relationship that suits you better. What are you risking? What’s the reward? Which are you willing to live with?

Light the match. Let me be clear — I’m not saying to be rude, to burn bridges, or to trash something you honestly feel is still salvageable. I’m saying if something isn’t working, if you’ve tried as hard as you can and you aren’t making headway, you need to make it impossible for yourself to keep doing things the same way you are comfortable with, because being comfortable isn’t getting results. Force yourself out of that zone. Lock the manuscript away and start from scratch. Ditch your marketing efforts and do something new. Send the email ending your relationship and find one that meets your needs.

Blow it up. And take a moment to enjoy the flames.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever blown up a routine, a manuscript or a relationship? What happened?

About Liz Michalski

Liz Michalski’s first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she’s downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.