Stick To Your Literary Guns

I can't take it!
I can’t take it!

As a writer, you’re going to have moments of self-doubt – sometimes coming from people who are actually trying to help you.

Recently, we discussed perseverance, HERE

When my wife and I were building our house, there came a time where we had to make a lot of decisions. What kind of cabinet pulls do you want (knobs, but they aren’t all knobs; some are recessed, and if recessed, then a pull), what color pulls, what kind of hinges – hidden or exposed, or this or that. Just to open a fucking cabinet. Multiply that over a whole house and you can quickly go crazy from too many choices.

It was crazy.

Me, on Bourbon Street.
Me, on Bourbon Street.

But before we got that far, we first decided to build a house. So we bought a parcel of land to call our own – and promptly took a vacation to New Orleans. Ah, the Big Easy, a place we love for its great food, and great partying, great architecture, ambiance – you name it. On that trip, we went to Oak Alley plantation, a beautiful “antebellum” mansion with gorgeous columns surrounding the house.

The tree lined driveway was majestic, and coincidentally we had just purchased property with a lot of trees on it.

My wife made a comment about how pretty this house was, and that she’d love to have a house like this.

Hmm... what DO I want?
Hmm… what DO I want?

I thought about it, studying the old structure, and posed a hypothetical question. If I could get you a house that looked like this, would that be what you’d want?

Because before you get to decide the seven or so very important questions pertaining to cabinet pulls, you must also decide the general size and scope of your dwelling to be. One story or two? Sizes of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, types of windows – and we still weren’t even decided on a floorplan yet!

Long story short, an antebellum home is just like any other house, to my eye…

I grew up in Ohio, so there are lots of two-story houses that are boxes. Antebellum homes are just boxes with columns out front. It didn’t look too different from my brother’s house, as far as I was concerned – but I was in the minority.

Let's see here... four walls and a roof, right?
Let’s see here… four walls and a roof, right?

So I designed the house myself. When my wife looked at the plans, she said “This place looks spectacular.”

A box, like my brother’s house – with columns.

When it came to the columns – the crowning piece of architecture – everybody who looked at the plans worried that they were wrong. They were too fat, too massive, too big, too tall, too everything – according to everyone who looked at the plans.

Everyone thinks it's wrong for different reasons.
Now what? Everyone thinks it’s wrong for different reasons.

And everybody looked at the plans.

The main thing that everybody in the world was going to see when they drove up to this house, the main thing that made this house unique among every other one in our very nice neighborhood, was the columns. You mess that up, you live with it forever.

And everyone thought they were wrong.

They thought I was wrong.

Everyone.

I re-checked my drawings. I went out and I took circumference measurements on columns at the courthouse. I made a scale model paper house using paper towel cores for the columns.

I don’t think there was one person who agreed with me, not even the builder, and I said, “No, I’m right.” I stuck to my guns.

The columns went up.

From that date to this one, everybody – to a person – has said how beautiful our home is. The columns made all the difference. They are not too tall, they’re not too skinny, they’re not too fat; they’re just right.

Totally saw that coming.
Totally saw that coming.

I stuck to my guns, and I won.

And if I had caved in to any that great advice, I don’t think people would walk up and say how ugly my house is, but it would not be as beautiful as it is.

You know your voice. You know your story. You know your characters. Maybe in your first paragraph you don’t, but very soon after that you do, and it something that’s yours. Take advice from people who have your best interest at heart, but in the end all decisions on your story are yours.

I helped!!
I helped!!

If your book becomes a home run because of their input, there’s more than enough praised to go around.

If it fails, what is the saying? Failure is an orphan. That’s okay. Have the courage to stand by your convictions. In the final analysis, it’s your story. Sink or swim, rise or fall, you make the calls.

If it’s a mistake, you’ll learn from that – as much and maybe more than if it was a success.

And sometimes you learn a lot from a success, too.

You learn to trust yourself.

house dec 2014

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Your humble host.
Your humble host.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE.

18 thoughts on “Stick To Your Literary Guns

  1. I know… been through it, done that.. but the moral of the story is : Build a house before you get married 🙂 Never mind the parents and the relatives 🙂
    We wanted to design another house and we have been arguing about it for the last seven years. Cannot even agree on the basic designs.. let alone cabinet hinges or knobs 😀 But this house, the one I built before I got married – that is mine and mine alone, no one can complain about it and it is unique.. structural engineers come to visit this place to get ideas 😀

    Ok, enough of me.. nice one, Dan.. loved this post.. coz I can relate to it.. completely. book as well as house 🙂 Thank you..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all, your house is just beautiful.
    Secondly, I like how you’ve written about sticking to your voice. That can be a tough battle while working with critique partners. I imagine that it would be even TOUGHER while working with publishers.
    After a my little sabbatical from working on my book I feel like I’ve almost lost my voice entirely, and every keystroke is pretty painful. But, I know that the only cure will be writing everyday, and not falling off the band wagon AGAIN. Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s a tip to getting it back after a break.

      I have a story that basically takes place in the past, book-ended by two chapters (first and last) that take place in the present. I should write the TWO chapters at the same time to maintain the same voice. After putting down 30+ chapters in between, the writing will probably be different.

      What you can do is read a few chapters of your story. You’ll be re-engaged and remember the voice, and it’ll help kick start the engine.

      Like

  3. When I was pregnant, my husband and I chose boy and girl names and everyone hated the boy name we chose. Then at 5 months they said we were having a girl, everyone loved the girl name. Ten days before we had our SON we found out oops, it’s a boy and we tried to come up with a different name than the one everyone hated but every discussion devolved into my husband saying William Robert(Billy Bob) and me saying Tortuga. Flash forward a few years and everyone who meets my son thinks his name totally suits him. When I tell this story they can’t imagine another name for him either… Sometime you just have to accept not everyone has your eyes, therefore they don’t see what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. Compromise is important, or even changing your mind if you’ve made a mistake. Trusted peers are great fr that. There’s difference between being stubborn and sticking to your guns. (I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure there’s a difference…)

      Actually, the difference comes when you’ve done your homework. Then you have the confidence to stand by your decisions.

      Like

  4. As I was reading this I thought: “He better have a picture of this house so I can see the columns!” lol And wow! What a gorgeous house! And great post. Very inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on The Beauty of Words and commented:
    I love this post. I’ve finally been through enough critique cycles that I can really appreciate the wisdom of this. Get beta readers. Be a good beta yourself. But don’t take all the advice, and don’t be disappointed if they don’t take all of yours. My take may not suit your voice. Rise or fall on who you really are.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is so true! I’m on the verge of publishing my second book, and have had quite a few reviews on my first (positive, thank goodness). Still, I feel pressure to deliver with the second part of the series, and have had doubts about a few parts of the story, even though once again the feedback has been good so far. If I analyse where those doubts come from, it’s from outside. From comments made by others. If I look at the story as I wrote it and consider it, deep down, I know it’s right. It’s the second part of a six story arc and I can see all the elements. So I have to push the doubts aside and move forward, sticking to my guns, as you say. So thank you, this was just what I needed to hear today.

    Liked by 1 person

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