Staying True to Your Art: Life Lessons

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I originally had another post planned for today, but this topic kept me awake last night. I apologize if this comes off as angry. It is. My anger is directed exclusively toward the place it belongs: right in the mirror. We all make mistakes, but this one is a whopper. My hope in sharing this life lesson is to help others avoid the same pitfall.  I think it’s something every writer, artist and performer should keep in mind.

Stay true to the art you were given.

In the early 2000’s I began writing an intense epic fantasy about brother against brother and the sacrifice required from men and women of honor. It was a project that consumed me for several years. The epic consists of 9 “parts” at 110k words each in draft form. This story is one that I have to tell no matter how long it takes.

I decided to hire an editor to review the first book in the series. She had some great insight that helped me to improve my writing skills. Unfortunately, she gave me some bad guidance that sent me down a rabbit hole I’m still trying to climb out of six years later.  The well meaning editor convinced me that my book was a YA novel. It was, after all, during the Harry Potter craze and wasn’t everyone writing YA? I did a very stupid thing. Rather than trusting my instincts and staying true to the story I was given, I changed my character’s age and took out the dark fantasy elements. I forced MY story into someone else’s box. I tried pitching the book for three years, but no takers. People can tell when something is forced for the sake of a trend.

This week I’ve taken up the story again. Digging through old boxes of the story’s hard copies and searching e-copy versions, I see the multiple times I’ve tried to start over. Each failed attempt was yet another effort to shove the story into someone else’s box. Of course I failed. So, why is this time different? I’ve learned a few things over the past few years:

  • First – I know what I write and it isn’t YA.
  • Second – I have a unique voice. It isn’t for everyone, but I love it.
  • Third – this is an unstable business with many pitfalls. It’s better to make yourself happy by being true to your art than trying to please the trends of an industry constantly in a state of flux.

In June, I received notification the small press that published my dark fantasy, Phantom Harvest, was gobbled up by an outfit in New York City. This is either a good thing or a bad thing. Time will tell. I had intended to start work on Book Two, but the sale has brought about a little uncertainty for the series. Not to worry. I will complete the remaining two books in the Mutant Casebook Series no matter what. Just not right now. The sale and my experiment with indie publishing has given me the freedom to start my epic fantasy again. This time on my terms.

Final thoughts – it took six years, but my situation has started to right itself. I got lucky. Others might not have the same experience. So before you change your art for the sake of a trend, think about the consequences as well as the benefits. What’s it really buying you? If the answer is air and promises, I’d think twice.

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