Monday, June 30, 2014

Dear Published Self--by Ellen Jensen Abbott

Dear Published Self:

The assignment this month is for you to write to me, your younger, Unpublished Self, but right now, as you wrestle with your first book after completing the Watersmeet trilogy, you need to hear from me. Sure you know more about marketing, publishing, editors, agents, Amazon and Barnes and Noble than I do, but at the moment, I’m far more in touch with why we began this journey. 

When I write, I relish the joy of creation—coming up with new worlds, new characters, new plot twists. Sometimes, I ask, “Do I dare?” when a particularly outrageous idea occurs to me, but I have no voices telling me to stop, so I throw caution to the wind and dare.

When I write, it’s not because I’ve done market research or because my editor told me what kinds of things she was looking for. I write because there is a character in my head whose story demands to be told—in her way, not the way that seems hot right now. I don’t analyze the habits of book festival patrons. I just think about my character and what she needs to say to the world. 

When I write, I have a lot of fun. Yes—fun. I have no voices in my head that say, “Oh that won’t sell,” or “That’s more MG than YA.” I have never even heard of Kirkus Reviews.  I just have the characters and the words and the time—something that you have, too, dearest Published Self. No one is waiting for my book so I am reveling in the writing process, writing pages and pages that will never be part of the finished book, but are teaching me about my characters, my world, and my craft. I don’t feel like this is time wasted. All the struggles—because, of course, there are struggles—are worth it because I get to see this person I have in my head come to three-dimensional life on the page.

Even better than the fun of writing is the fun I have when I revise: cutting away all the extra stuff and exposing the lines of the story, the arc of the characters; adding a bit here, a bit there to make sure that I’m communicating with my reader; taking the roughhewn version I have at first and making it a solid piece of craft. So don’t worry so much on the first pass. There is time—and joy!—to be had in the second, third, and fourth passes. 

Published Self, right now, you need to listen to the voice of inexperience.  Although you’re writing your fourth book, you’re in a slump because the previous three were all set in the same world, following the same characters. You’re worried that you had one story to tell and now you’ve told it. Echoing through your head when you put your fingers to the keyboard are all those voices—editor, agent, reviewer, reader. Many of them are encouraging and supportive, but what you need to hear right now is your voice. You need to remember the fun, the joy, the excitement of writing. Otherwise, what’s the point?

With love,
Your Unpublished self


  1. This is really so clever. Sometimes the voice of inexperience has a lot of value...

  2. "Stay gold, Ponyboy."

    (Geez, I hope you've read THE OUTSIDERS!)

  3. What a clever take on this. Our younger selves didn't know so much - and that's freeing!

  4. Thanks for the comments! And yes, Jen, I've read THE OUTSIDERS! I'm trying to keep the faith....

  5. Loved your approach to this! Ah, to go back to a time when I'd never heard of Kirkus.