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Robert's Rules of Writing #28: Overcome Your Separation Anxiety

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

I've posted these two rules one right after the other because of the way they go together. In his previous rule, Masello advises writers to let a manuscript sit for a day or two (or longer) before sending it out. But with this rule, Masello warns about the flip side, about writers who hold onto their work too long. Oddly enough, in this particular essay he doesn't discuss writers who revise their work over and over, although he does mention that type of writer elsewhere. Here he just mentions the phenomenon of a writer who has completed a manuscript and is just letting it sit in the house, even if editors are asking to see it.

Why does this separation anxiety exist? Masello suggests that the culprit might be perfectionism or a fear of rejection, but in the end it doesn't matter. If the manuscript doesn't get sent out, there's no way it can sell and eventually be published. And if the manuscript is timely, it's possible someone else will get to the idea and publish their own version before you do.

Although Masello doesn't focus here on perfectionism and fear of rejection, those are the two aspects of this rule that I'd like to discuss briefly. At times, I'm guilty of both. I constantly worry that the stories I send out aren't as good as they could be and that if I only had more time, I could make them even better. Well, that may be true, but the fact is that I don't always have the time. And if the story is of publishable quality and needs to meet a deadline, it's far more important to meet the deadline than to make the story perfect. There's an old quote that is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci -- "Art is never finished, only abandoned." Almost every writer I've discussed this quote with tends to understand what it's about.

As for fear of rejection, well, I understand that one too. Every rejection comes with emotional baggage, the worry that maybe you're no longer any good at writing, or perhaps you were never any good at it in the first place. But there's another famous quote, this one attributed to Robert A. Heinlein, that takes on rejection. One of Heinlein's five rules of writing is that you must keep a work on the market until it is sold. One way I've done that is by keeping a new copy of every submission ready to go the instant the previous one comes back as a rejection. That way, you have no time to marinate in your anxiety, and you really do end up seeing rejection as just part of the process.


I've seen similar patterns with workshops, where a story is workshopped over and over and over again, but the writer never quite gets to the point of sending it out. I wonder if part of that comes from a fear of sending out an imperfect work, so if anyone in the workshop has any problems or complaints, that's taken as a sign that it's not ready yet.

...as opposed to being a sign that different readers have different tastes, and you're never going to write a story that everyone loves.
One of the rules I always try to follow in a workshop is that we don't critique revisions of stories already read. My rationale is as follows.

Let's say we critiique a story by writer X, who then brings the story back for a second run-through. Either writer X will have adopted the changes I suggested, or he/she will not have done so. If writer X did follow my suggestions, then what else can I say? If writer X did not follow my suggestions, will making them a second time do any good?

There comes a point when you have to decide that the story is as good as you can make it at your current skill level, and set it free.
There comes a point when you have to decide that the story is as good as you can make it at your current skill level, and set it free.

And if it doesn't sell, you come back to it in five years, figure out why not, fix it, and send it back out. (Says he who recently sold a five-year-old story after a major overhaul...)
I've tried doing that with some stories. But I tend to find that most of the stuff that's old I've lost interest in, and I shake my head at its quality (or lack thereof).
Different writers, different rules...

What I found with this one was that the core idea was still powerful. I just didn't know quite how to write the story at the time I tried.

I've got at least one more like this, where I love the idea, but I suspect the execution was a tangled mess. I'm planning to go fight that one once I finish the novel rewrite.

The ten-year-old stories, on the other hand ... I try very hard not to look at those anymore :-)
Fear of rejection has never really be a problem with me in itself. My fear is that I can't really figure out whether or not the manuscript is good enough to send out.

On the other hand, I've only got two finished short stories still sitting right now because I'm almost 100% positive they're not good enough to send out yet, and about twenty items circulating, so I suppose I shouldn't be kicking myself in the head over it too awfully much.

BTW, got a schedule for RavenCon yet?
RavenCon has sent me a list of program items, so I'm just starting the process of figuring out a schedule.

There's a lot of coordination to be done. Nomi and I have to figure out which trains we're taking, and which train station we're going to, as there are apparently two in the Richmond area. Then we have to figure out how we'll get from the train station to the hotel, which is aparently located quite conveniently for people arriving at the airport. Then we also have to coordinate with my younger brother and his wonderful family; looks like we might spend Sunday night at their place, and he'll take us to the train station on Monday, so that's probably all set.

Not to mention the question of finding a local supplier of kosher food who can deliver to the hotel...

December 2016

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