I have on this site a historical catalog of all my book covers. Those of
you who scroll to the very bottom of that list will notice that for the
first two years of my publishing endeavors, I did not publish under my
This is because I thought myself not good enough. I was worried that no
one would like my stories, and that I would be belittled for having the
audacity to put my work into the world and presume that anyone would
It took a lot of time, but I found morethana fewwhodo care.
With time and experience, I came to value my writing and I’m now able to
talk about my works’ faults and merits at both length and depth. In
other words, I gained the confidence that is justified by experience. As
a result, I began putting my own name on writing.
I have touched on bad pieces of writing advice before, but today I want
to address a new one. I have heard it discussed in writer’s groups
(particularly the bad ones), and I have even seen it promoted by writers
at science fiction conventions. The idea is this: You, the author, are
not your writing. While this may be literally true, the metaphorical
implication is that the author should divorce themselves from their
writing so completely as to become capable of absorbing any feedback
that might be hurled at them. The individual at the convention suggested
going as far as to repeat a mantra of “I am not my manuscript,” then to
take a physical copy of one’s writing, put it on the floor, step on
it, and then tear it in half, so as physically reinforce the writer’s
supposedly appropriate apathy toward their own work.
Such writers, to my mind, have missed two very important elements of
First, because a story is about character first and foremost, writers
who focus on their characters must necessarily build those characters
from their own life experiences and their interactions with other
Second, the principle presumes that there is some kind of “objective
truth” about a literary work that the writer needs to be exposed to in
order for them to be capable of making it better. I find this one
particularly amusing, because it means that the feedback giver is
presuming to have access to an objective truth that the poor, naive
writer is oblivious too.
The writing group members who have I have heard push this principle have
all been, without exception, abusive feedback givers. Your writing does
not deserve to be stepped on, torn, or verbally savaged. If it is your
unique expression, then, in the most important sense, it is “you,” and
just like you, it deserves a modicum of respect.
Good feedback givers will seek to understand what you were trying to
express. If they don’t understand something, they will highlight the
phrase or sentence in question and ask you what you were trying to
express. If they think that the narrative flow is off, they will tell you so, but also ask
what you were trying to achieve with your structural choice, and so on
with every other conceivable narrative problem. At no point will good
feedback givers pretend to have access to an objective truth and tell
you what it is, regardless of what you may have been intending.
Writers agonize over how we will be received, because we are transmuting
our experiences into words that represent and communicate those
experiences without literally being them. Do not let your work be
verbally or physically manhandled for the sake of getting better at your
craft. That road leads somewhere else entirely.