Permission to be Stubborn
Hey, I’m a Taurus. On the up side, astrologists describe me as persistent and determined. Great qualities to have as an author to get through the myriad of hurtles, heartbreak, and Haagen-Daz you need to succeed. But on the flip side of my astrological coin, Bulls are also known for being inflexible and obstinate. Now if you spend more than five minutes with me, you’ll learn I have a heavy dose of people-pleasing-itis running through my veins, but I’m human. I think it’s natural to become too adamant about my work. I get so close to the fun plot or my beloved characters that I fail to see the story’s inherent flaws or the honest ways I can improve it.
I am not talking about that.
There is countless advice out there, which I wholeheartedly agree with, telling authors we need to remain open to criticism. We do. We also need to be willing to kill our darlings to make the story tighter, the pace faster. The beautiful story of our heart we’ve slaved over for years without moving forward may have to be set aside so we can better listen to our muse whisper shiny new ideas. While it’s true that in many ways we write for ourselves, my guess is if you’re visiting this site, you’re not trying to write in a vacuum. You want readers, so that means you need to keep an eye on the market as well.
These are not areas to embrace your inner-bull.
What I AM giving you permission to do is hold tight to the story you want to tell. The core of your book. The things that turned you onto the shiny new idea to begin with. About a year ago, I read that author Stephanie Perkins always makes a Love List for her works in progress, and now I do, too. I’m a total plotter, so while I painstakingly map out my story in the beginning I now also make my own Love List.
I record each of those little things that make me smile, that make me giddy, that make me want to get out of bed, sit in front of that computer screen, and type each day. And when other voices and well-meaning advice start crowding my mental space, I pull my Love List out and remember the essential things I will refuse to budge on.
For Maggie Stiefvater, her core thing for SHIVER was the mood. She was willing to change most everything else, was open to suggestions and critique, but she knew the story she wanted to tell, and she tenaciously held tight to that. And we all know how well that worked for her.
For my upcoming debut, MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY, my Love List looked like this:
- a beautiful boy
- fairy tale
- dresses and balls
- Renaissance art
But what made me choose to work with Lauren is that she understood the story I wanted to tell. I got wonderful feedback from the other agents who read my manuscript, and while some may not have loved it quite enough, or felt it just wasn’t right for their list at this time, I also got two requests for R&Rs—Revise and Resubmit. One of those requests led me to discover a hidden side to my antagonist, which I absolutely freaking adore and completely fits with the mood I was aiming for, but the other completely didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, the ideas were great. The story the agent suggested I tell would’ve been filled with drama and snark and intrigue. It would’ve rocked! It just wasn’t the story I wanted to write. I took out my handy dandy Love List and saw that I would lose almost every single thing that I loved about my kernel idea when I first sat down, the things that inspired me to type furiously for months. It would lose the fun, romantic adventure that I wanted attached to my name. I know there are probably a bazillion writers out there who think I’m crazy for rolling the dice and not making the changes that would’ve obviously told a great story, and for not seizing the opportunity to be represented by a very well established and respected agency.
But I decided to be stubborn.
I held out. I kept my pretty little manuscript the way I wanted it, although I did tweak a few things that I agreed with, suggestions that I liked that also happened to fit within my framework. I chose to believe that someone else would fall in love with the same quirky, romantic fun that I loved. And I was right.
In the next batch of queries I sent out, I got my agent. She loved my story as much as I did and only had me tweak a few things for clarity. A week and a half later, we entered our first round of submissions and ended up getting an offer from Entangled Teen the next month. My editor, Stacy Cantor Abrams, loves my story, the one I always wanted to tell and believed in from the beginning. And MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY will hit shelves this September.
So, see? Sometimes it pays to be a little stubborn.