Own Your Story

“No man but feels more of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he can call his own.  However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property.”  ~Charles Dudley Warner

Sitting down to a new story, is like opening your vehicle to that, oh—so—wonderful, new car smell. You know what I’m talking about. It permeates everything—the seats, the trunk, and if you have a leather interior you get that old spice suave smell in addition to it. And like cars, stories need gas. What sort of gas am I hypothetically talking about? Well, that depends on you. Fuel is fuel. So what fuels your story? Some require premium, others you can get by with the cheapest stuff available. But there is a larger question at hand here:

Are you leasing, or buying?

You might not think there is a difference, but there is, and that difference determines how you’ll treat that story. Renters tend to ignore all of the little things because they aren’t fully invested in their acquired merchandise, or where they live, or what car they drive. When you first see that story, when you open the door and smell that delicious smell, you’re making a choice right then, whether or not you’re going to be with this thing for the long haul. You might not know that, but you are. Please trust me on this, you are.

If you’re buying, your maintenance will be more regular (usually), the grade oil you use will be higher (let’s assume for the sake of conversation that the oil here is the level of time you spend invested into your craft to make it all run smoothly), and you’ll take better care of it. Why? Because you envision a future with it. You make a commitment to it.

Is it your first work? Are you afraid those bloggers might be right? You know the ones—the guys and gals who emphatically state that all novels are total shit up until your fifth or sixth (or whatever the trend is at the time)? Whether or not you are a beginner, pro, or indeed a writer of total shit, you’re still making a call when you sign up for a fresh work. If you go at it with half your heart because deep down you’re letting your insecurities and fears make your decisions for you, then you’re leasing. If you go at it with all your heart, even if you’re scared to death of the commitment, then you’ve purchased.

Sounds too simplistic doesn’t it? It isn’t really, not when you look at it carefully. Contracts are sticky, complex things. And after all, any agreement between two parties is nothing more than a contract. You’re laying out your terms, and so is the story.

So what are the story’s terms?

Well, here’s some insider information—stories don’t like to be leased. They’ll offer you all sorts of incentives NOT to lease, but if you aren’t paying any attention, you’ll look right over them. Reminds me of rebates on cars—if you don’t ask, they don’t have to give them to you.

Stories don’t want you to bail after a certain number of rejections. That’s leasing. That’s turning it all back in, after a certain number of months (form letters from agents, or publishers, or both). Less the damages of course. And whatever damage you’ve done will cost you if you invest in another story at the same dealership. You’ll carry the cost over, just like you’ll carry the wounds of rejection letters over. And the thing is, if you’ve purchased, you don’t have to deal with that—not in the same way.

When you buy, you have the right to do whatever you want to with it after the title is in your name (that would be finishing the story). You can sell it if you’d like, pocket the profit, or keep it till it has to be retired. Bottom line is that the choices here are all yours.

When you lease, you don’t own anything. You aren’t investing in anything. Sure, there are perks. It’s cheaper, for starters, to lease than to own. Maintenance is taken care of (those are all of those classes and online critique groups you’ve spent years in). The second something is “wrong” and deemed beyond repair, it’s covered and you get to turn the thing back in, whether time is up on the lease or not.

When you buy, anything beyond the warranty is your responsibility. Yet, here’s the thing: Despite all the upkeep and the hassle, once it’s paid off, then it is truly YOURS. Forever. No take backs.

For better or worse, it belongs to you. And there isn’t anything better in this world than ownership. I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “Quit laughing jackass, it’s paid for!” You might not get published right away. You might never get published. You might get published, but not make a huge career out of being an author. But, it’s PAID for! You wrote the novel(s) that most of the world merely wishes to write. Don’t ever, ever forget this. It’s the only thing that matters.

So, you tell me: Are you leasing or buying? Really look at this question and answer it for yourself as honestly as you can. It’s really easy to say, “Yes I am buying.” But are you? Do you have one foot out the door, just waiting for something better to come along so you can slide out of one lease and move onto another one? When you get a form letter, or personalized rejection in your inbox, do you console yourself by saying inwardly, “Well, it’s not my best work anyway. I can do better. Maybe they’ll like the next thing I write?” Nothing wrong with hoping for better luck next time, but my point here is this: Are you giving your story less credit than it deserves because you really don’t plan on being with it for the long run?

The new car smell fades, yes. And it’s exciting to jump into a new car every couple of years. But nothing smells as good as a title, (pun intended) fresh off the press and I can guarantee you that with a lease, you’ll never see a title. You’re only borrowing it from someone else who will one day own it.

Which I suppose brings up the final question: Are you prepared to give it up to someone else? If not, then might I suggest you renegotiate your terms before your time is up?

It’s been long enough. You’ve waded into the shallow end. Take the plunge and OWN your story!

7 responses

  1. Thanks, Breanne! That’s real honesty that a lot of us writing need to remember. And you’re right. I know of people who lease and end up hating what they write.

  2. Oh, I own my story… I started out leasing. I’ll admit it. I’d barrow all these little parts of the story here and there, I never saw myself sitting down with it for the long haul. I just wrote little mini stories that I never had a plan for and drew little pictures that were just fun. But as I spent years in the lease, I fell so deeply in love with these books, these characters, that I ended up buying it. After ten years I best own the damn things… I’ve ‘spent’ enough on it. Yeah, I’m scared that others won’t love it too, yeah, I’m scared it will never be what I imagined it as… but, I don’t love it any less. I’ll always love it, it will always be mine, and I’ll always be proud to call it so. It’s become such an intricate part of me that I’m not sure it will leave me completely ever. Yeah, there’s a future there. No matter what. We’re in it for the long haul together. lol.

  3. I agree with you 100%. When I get a rejection, I pack it up, and ship it out to the next person. I don’t give up on my babies. Damnit, I poured my soul into this, and if you don’t like, well, screw you: It’s a good book.

    It may be a fluke that first time writers get published, I know that. But it happens. Robert McCammon’s first novel Baal just so happened to be his first written novel. If I have a few trunk novels, then so be it, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll give up on them. I own my house. I own my truck. Why the hell would I lease my books? (Can I lease my in-laws though? Please?) People who just put their work aside and say “Oh well, it just wasn’t good enough,” they don’t care about anything: not family, friends, or themselves. These people are truly alone.

  4. In my case it wasn’t so much owning my story as my story owning ME. I felt I had no say in whether I worked on it or not, I simply HAD to. The characters and the ongoing story demanded it. The same applied to the question of whether I ought to submit it for publishing – there just WAS no choice.
    You see, I didn’t set out to be a writer. Actually, that’s not true – I’ve always written, always loved writing. What I mean is, I didn’t set out to be an “author”. When a simple exercise to relieve boredom one day suddenly exploded into nine (yes, nine!) connected fantasy books, no one was more surprised – and scared, truth be told – than me. And when the plot and characters of those books took my head over, I was putty in their hands.
    Yes, I did, and still do, feel vulnerable about whether people will like my work. In fact, I realize that many won’t. But that’s ok – no writer EVER pleases everyone. But even if no one likes it, I’ll just have to accept it. The books DEMANDED to be submitted and I always knew that sometime, somewhere along the way, they’d get published. It took a damn long time, let me tell you, but finally we’re here.
    What this will bring, I simply don’t know. But I’m emotionally and fundamentally owned by my work, and I’m happy with it being that way. I don’t think I could write if I wasn’t.

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