Get Over Yourself

12 Jul

By

Sarah J. Maas

~~~

I’m going to confess something. Back when I started writing QUEEN OF GLASS (like, years and years ago), I was arrogant. And I knew it. I embraced it. I thought my book was the greatest thing ever written, and that everything I wrote was perfect. I sneered at my classmates in my creative writing courses—I scoffed at my teachers (one of whom deserved to be scoffed at, though, so I’m sorta justified). I thought I would never, ever, EVER have to change a word of QUEEN OF GLASS.

Well, I was a dumbass back then. Eight years and about five major rewrites later, I could seriously beat the crap out of my sixteen year-old self for thinking what I wrote was untouchable.

Nothing you write—especially a first draft—is perfect. And even when you’ve revised and polished until your eyes cross (which, believe me, they will), odds are, you could still revise and polish a little more. Sometimes, doing that billionth rewrite means the difference between publication and…more submissions. Deciding to do a rewrite—even after years of revising—means accepting that your work is not perfect, that you are not perfect. It means getting over yourself.

With QUEEN OF GLASS, I’ve had to get over myself a lot. But somewhere down the road (I’m pretty sure it was when I was about to query with a 240k word manuscript, and Mandy Hubbard was like: “Um, NO.”), I realized that I was the only thing standing between myself and publication.

I realized that cutting out 100k words wouldn’t kill QUEEN OF GLASS, nor would cutting out another 20k words, nor would another massive rewrite that required the removal of a major plotline and some beloved characters. I realized that I had to let go—I had to stop being narrow-minded about my vision for my book, and I had to consider whether keeping that one character or plotline was worth the cost of not being published.

And one day, I realized that all those changes had made the book stronger. Better. Something that I could actually be proud of—an awesomeness that I wasn’t entitled to, but rather something that I’d earned.

A lot of aspiring writers wonder if they’re selling out or sacrificing their artistic vision by doing extensive revisions to please an agent or editor. You’re not. Listen to your gut, but use your head: are you clinging to that character because he/she is necessary to the story, or just because you like them because of that one cute scene? No one in their right mind would have published that first draft of QUEEN OF GLASS. Or it’s 240k word version. And I’m glad. Because those drafts weren’t the best possible book I could have written.

But in order to learn that, I had to start looking at my book from an objective perspective—I had to let go of my sentimentality and arrogance. I had to let go of my fear.

Don’t be afraid of rewriting your manuscript, even if it means deleting 90% of it. Don’t be afraid of failure, or of ‘running out of time’ to get published.

But do be afraid of becoming a writer who refuses to change a word. Be afraid of becoming a writer who doesn’t listen to others when they offer great critiques. Be afraid of becoming an arrogant writer, who thinks they’re above rewriting.

Because the writers who rewrite, and who listen, and who polish until their eyes cross? Those are the writers who make it. Those are the ones you see on a shelf. Those are the ones who got over themselves.*

*Well, to some degree. 😉

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

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29 Responses to “Get Over Yourself”

  1. Samantha K. Walker July 12, 2010 at 2:41 AM #

    You can get over yourself, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never get over how epic QOG is (though this will probably change when I see the new and improved book version ;D)

    • Sarah J. Maas July 12, 2010 at 1:55 PM #

      Haha, I’m so glad you still think so highly of the FP version! 🙂 I sometimes forget that while *I* hate the first draft, so many people (from FP) really loved it. I’m just really excited that you guys will get to read the new and improved version next year!!!!

  2. tymcon July 12, 2010 at 5:10 AM #

    Great post. I’m pretty sure every beginning author feels that way at the start. Oh my god when i was writing fanfiction a few years ago I was awful-l-l. Strangely enough i thought i was he best. Well i thought i was the best for my age, but still arragont.
    I recently went back to it and this was one of my lines: Miles from Bain there was a government car heading to the perimeter.
    Ugh. I still get embaressed when i read that story:S

  3. Aurora Blackguard July 12, 2010 at 5:23 AM #

    This is inspiring 🙂 I get the whole crappy teachers thing. I also think that maybe getting really high marks in an english exam is bad for the ego. And maybe for my respect for my teachers.

    Thanks, Sarah, for sharing! 🙂

    • Kayleigh July 12, 2010 at 8:46 AM #

      “I also think that maybe getting really high marks in an english exam is bad for the ego.”

      I agree. Ever since the age of 11 when I started having English lessons (I go to French schools), I’ve always either had the best English average or a close second. (As in the best was, let’s say, 17 out of 20 and I had 16.5.)

      When I started writing, at the age of 13 and a half, I NEVER edited. I wrote a story and directly posted it on fiction press. I didn’t believe in editing.

      3 years later, I am happy to say that I am over myself. Before, when writing a story, I’d think it was the best thing ever and would never need editing. A few months after completing it, I’d realize it was crap and wouldn’t even edit it because I knew it didn’t deserve it.

      Now I know it’s crap while I’m writing it. Or rather I know it’ll need editing. Thinking it’s crap still comes months after completing it. But I only know it’s bad, so I can’t do major editing myself–I need somebody else to find the badness, so thank God for critique partners.

      -Kayleigh

    • Sarah J. Maas July 12, 2010 at 2:01 PM #

      YES. I definitely developed a sense of superiority in college, because I’d spend 2-3 hours writing a paper that my classmates would slave over for weeks, and I’d wind up getting an A, while they got a B-. I didn’t have to TRY all that hard in English/creative writing/writing-based classes, which led me to have this sense of entitlement. I’m really, really glad that it’s so difficult to get published, because querying definitely knocked me off my high horse. Thank God. 😉

      • Gabriela da Silva July 13, 2010 at 12:59 AM #

        OMG, college was totally like that for me too! I did all my final essays in one or two days (research+outlining+writing) while reading comics on the side and still get the highest grades around.

        …then the time for writing my thesis came ’round, and suddenly I had to work hard. Never had a better reality check than that, but I’ll get ready for Reality Check #2 when I start querying 😛

  4. Savannah J. Foley July 12, 2010 at 8:48 AM #

    Kickass post, Sarah. Sooo applicable to a lot of people, myself included. ❤

  5. authorguy July 12, 2010 at 9:06 AM #

    My publisher is doing a reedit of my first novel. The editor got about 140 pages into itadded 40 pages worth of notes, and said “Go and do like this.” I ended up deleting about 15000 words completely on my own. 10 years later, with 2 more novels and a bunch of short stories under my belt, I could look at that text and say “This is not needed.” My other books are much shorter. I’ve sometimes wondered if they were too short but now I see this one was too long.

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

    • Sarah J. Maas July 12, 2010 at 2:03 PM #

      WOW! That’s a major edit! I’m really impressed!

  6. knightlee July 12, 2010 at 9:17 AM #

    This is the best post ever. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I used to think that I used to be huge perfectionist that wants to get everything right on the first draft, but it was only yesterday that I realized that I am *still* that perfectionist. I am so happy that I found out, because now I can learn how to fight that part of me, and turn it around to use it for good.
    I need to print this post out and post it near my writing area.

    • Sarah J. Maas July 12, 2010 at 2:04 PM #

      Awww, thanks! 🙂 I’m so flattered!!!

      Good luck with the writing!

  7. Rowenna July 12, 2010 at 9:19 AM #

    Great post–I love what you said, that we hit a point when the writer is the only thing between the book and publication. We’re our own roadblocks, whether it’s arrogance or laziness or refusal to think outside the box we make. As someone in the throes of revision, I know (right now haha) that it’s hard to see scenes you love go–but you’re right, keep your eye on the goal. Is this scene worth not getting the whole thing published? Probably not 🙂 (And if it is, time to write a different book, this time built off that one scene! 😉 ).

    • Sarah J. Maas July 12, 2010 at 2:06 PM #

      Yep! So many writers get SO emotionally attached to stuff that it winds up being their downfall.

      OR, on the opposite end of the spectrum, they face a little difficulty with their ms and give up completely. Those kinds of writers–the ones who try to avoid failure as much as possible–also don’t make it. There’s a really fine line between knowing when to retire a ms and knowing when to keep submitting.

      Good luck with your revisions!!!

  8. Angela July 12, 2010 at 10:03 AM #

    That was deep. I like how you tell us how you learned a lot of lessons through writing QoG.

    I never felt arrogant about my writing, but there were a few times where I`m ashamed to admit that I acted stuck up.

    Like my first years in Japan. I was the only bi-cultural person in my class, and I thought I was more open-minded than my classmates because I was accepting of other cultures.

    Turned out that my thinking was seriously close-minded and bratty :/

    • Sarah J. Maas July 12, 2010 at 2:08 PM #

      Thanks!!

      I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting you were stuck-up…I think it’d be shameful if you were stuck up/close-minded and didn’t even realize it! 🙂

  9. Gabriela da Silva July 12, 2010 at 1:17 PM #

    I think that acquiring the ability to put critical distance between you and your own text is one of the most important steps to become a published writer.

    Man, it was hard for me to put critical distance between me and my favorite books – how could I manage to do it with my own writing?

    I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I’m definitely more open to criticism (when I was young it was more like THAT COMMA IS PERFECT WHERE IT IS DON’T MESS WITH IT) but I still like to discuss stuff – that way, I feel I can learn more than just by following whatever the critic says.

    But you are completely right, at any rate. Change is important for every aspect of our lives – why not allow our own texts to change and grow as we do?

    • Sarah J. Maas July 12, 2010 at 2:10 PM #

      You’re so right–a lot of writers need an explanation WHY that comma doesn’t work, or WHY that character/scene needs to be cut, rather than just being told to change it.

      And you hit the nail on the head–we change, so why can’t our manuscripts? 🙂

  10. David E. Minor July 12, 2010 at 4:36 PM #

    I really liked your last few thoughts. The line that said “…even if it means deleting 90% of it.” got my attention.

    After fruitlessly applying all the paper clips and duct tape I could to my own WIP, I’m throwing out and re-writing the second and third chapter’s, even though some of the scenes are my favorites. But Kat Zhang, who so kindly critiqued the first two chapters of it, pointed out that the second chapter just didn’t really connect with the first. She was right. It took a fresh, experienced pair of eyes to point that out to me and the willingness to see it on my part.

    Hopefully I won’t have to replace 90% of it. 🙂

  11. Georgiana July 12, 2010 at 5:08 PM #

    This post really made me smile. Partially because I think every writer goes through this mentality at some point in time. It’s a good stage to have :). We have to be able to believe in our own work before we submit, because no one else will believe in us if we don’t. Then growing up is the realization that yes, the work has potential, but my words are not infallible. And editing is an author’s best friend.

    The other reason it made me smile was because about 6 years ago I joined fictionpress, and QoG was one of the first stories I stumbled upon there. Back then I think you were posting some of your first chapter versions. I could instantly tell that it was a fabulous piece of writing, but it was so long! I thought we had another Tolkien epic on our hands. Every once in awhile I would check back to see that you were editing, reposting, and at one point you stated you rewrote it pretty much completely. Your dedication to consistently improve your work really told me to look hard at my story and do some modifications of my own. It was a wonderful source of inspiration, and I’m glad it paid off!

    • Angela July 12, 2010 at 5:20 PM #

      Yeah, if it wasn`t for Queen of Glass, I wouldn`t have found LTWF, and I would have never considered writing my own stories.

  12. Caitlin July 12, 2010 at 7:13 PM #

    “…I had to consider whether keeping that one character or plotline was worth the cost of not being published.”

    I think this for me is the ultimate take-away from this piece. A few weeks ago Alexandra Bracken made available a chapter she’d cut that had been her dad’s favorite. Reading it I was struck by how easy it was to see why it had been cut (don’t know if I’d have been able to make the same decision though.)

    • Caitlin July 12, 2010 at 7:14 PM #

      Sorry, that was a chapter Alexandra Bracken cut from her debut novel, Brightly Woven.

  13. Vanessa July 12, 2010 at 7:47 PM #

    Sarah, this was such a great post!

    I have such incredibly fond memories of QoG… I absolutely LOVED it! So i’m definitely looking forward to reading your new version when it comes out!

    I have to admit, though, that it was my ego that got me REALLY writing in the first place. I remember reading a book and being so utterly disappointed, and thinking, “I can do SO much better!”

    Now, I’m much more humble. I’m actually the opposite; I’m never fully satisfied with my work. I’m ALWAYS itching to revise it. But I’ve come across a lot of writers who still think they’re above revisions. I can only hope that they’ll eventually learn to get over themselves too.

  14. Georgiana July 12, 2010 at 9:54 PM #

    Oh and I just remembered a tip for those who know they must cut scenes out but can’t bear to part with those characters-

    Set up a ‘trash file’ where you cut&paste your deleted scenes and miscellaneous bits and pieces that never made it into the book. That way all your work will always be there, and you can go back and look at it whenever you want! [Maybe even realising it was good to cut it in the first place :)]. And that way it’s preserved in case you want to use it in future books as well.

  15. Lissa Matthews July 18, 2010 at 9:11 AM #

    Is it just as arrogant to think that your books isn’t the greatest thing ever written or that you know you need revisions? Nothing I write, do I ever think, ‘this is perfect, wonderful’. I’m quite the opposite actually. My editors ask for revisions and I add and cut and change from beginning to end. I can always tweak and one of my editors even mentioned to me the other day that writer’s are like hairdressers…always tweaking, never able to keep your fingers from messing. I agree with her, at least when it comes to me. If an editor asks me for major revisions, I do major revisions, usually thousands of words major. But I know some authors that add a word here, a word there and say they never find anything wrong with their books and have no idea what editors are talking about. There definitely are two trains of thought when it comes to this kind thing… too much or too little? I usually fall into the ‘more’ category.

    Excellent post.

  16. Cheyenne April 14, 2011 at 6:05 AM #

    Just read this and had to comment. I started my current WIP 5 years ago, and SO much has happened to me that regardless of the fact that 98% of my original words were crap, *I’m* different and I can see that I am only just beginning to learn what makes a sentence flow, or a paragraph tighter, or that I actually needed to rewrite the majority of it (which I’m doing now). I’m the kind of person who wants everything done now, but it’s teaching me patience and to be aware of how little I know so that I can go find out the things I’m missing.

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  1. Your Ego is Not Your Friend – How to Take Criticism « Let The Words Flow - September 23, 2010

    […] (which Sarah talked about here; and how to get over yourself… which Sarah also talked about here). Because for me, the most difficult part about being a critique partner is being […]

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