Rob Parnell - Author

Rob Parnell - Author
Writing faster than the speed of night...

Monday, July 8, 2013

If You Love Your Stories, Set Them Free

Sometimes it's hard to let go.

Our stories are like our children. They may have been fun and rewarding in the confines of our minds and our home. But the time comes when they must leave the nest and find their own way in the world.

You might be forgiven for thinking that online writers post every thought and sentence they've ever constructed. That may be true of a certain breed of 'serial sharer'. But as a wise person once said, "A writer is one for whom writing is more difficult than for most people." Hence, writers who take themselves seriously are actually less prone to releasing their babies into the wild.

I've belonged to numerous writers' groups over the years - and one thing is clear.

Some writers get very attached to their children - over-protective you might say.

But it's not so much that they fear losing them or having other people love them too. It's more that they fear criticism.

Your stories can be superb, enlightening, full of meaning and powerful - until someone else reads them - and then they often become just another bunch of words.

Worse - your carefully crafted creations may become things that nobody seems to care much about! 

Some writers will go to great lengths to avoid putting their work out there, lest they be judged. They will keep their stories close to their chest, editing them to perfection, or editing them beyond recognition, only to have to start again - and re-create the magic that was once so compelling.

They will say, oh, they're not quite ready yet. Or, they're part of a collection - and I need to write a couple more…

But there are many reasons why we need to get our stories seen - if only for our own sanity.

Submitting stories to magazine publishers can be a long and frustrating business. Endless rejections take their toll. But it can also be very nerve wracking once a story is accepted - conditionally.

I've had several stories accepted where the editor or magazine publisher has asked for changes, subtle and not so subtle. Even Stephen King has had this happen apparently. In one of his later short story anthologies, Mr King talks about the mighty New Yorker asking him to change the ending of one of his masterpieces - to perhaps make it less horror oriented.

A publisher once asked me to change the gender of a character so that the story might better appeal to their target audience.

A writer friend of mine was asked to change the location of a story - from the future to the middle ages! She refused and was never published again.

Sometimes zealous editors make mincemeat of a writer's work - in the name of house style.

But all this pales into insignificance when the big test comes: release!

So what exactly happens when you let go of your stories and allow the world to see them, feel them, poke and prod them and generally chew them over?

As I say to many writer struggling with releasing their stories, actually nothing much happens.

It's hard to make an impression these days.

Once in a while you'll get an email from a fan. More often you'll get contacted by a writer who wants to share their own work in the same genre - or point out some error you've made.

Again, Stephen King said that if he had to judge his success by his emails, then he would have to conclude he was a terrible writer. The people who actually like and buy his work apparently rarely contact him. Millions of people read King's books and short stories and yet they rarely let him know if they enjoyed them. But he does get many emails pointing out inconsistencies and logic flaws!

I've known writers fret for years over letting other people read their work. They often want to use pseudonyms, fearful of people they know recognizing their words.

I always advise writers to get their work out into the open - and learn not to fear the consequences.

Simply because, there seldom are any consequences - especially in the short term.

Over the long term you may have many people contact you about your work but usually by that time, you don't care what they say anymore! By the time people start emailing you about your work, all the nagging self doubt and nervousness has generally dispersed.

So, if you have some stories that need to be seen, don't be afraid. Set them free!


  1. Boy do I fit into this category. It's only been recently that I have let a chosen few out to explore the outside. However the majority are still at home and safely in their rooms. But I'm working on it.


  2. Debi, Rob, Me too.
    My name is David and I am a Writer. On my author Blog of my only published book I said those words. I keep saying it. "My name is David and I am a writer. It kind of sounds like I should be standing in front of a group at a weekly AA (Authors Anonymous) meeting. I guess that’s how I feel about writing now: It’s addictive. Especially when a work is finally released."

    I agonized over weather to release Light Surfer for two years. I actually wrote two, three and four before I even sent it out to the first publisher.

    Criticism was the monster lurking in the dark confines of the literary world I was staring at from the other side of the grand dark chasm. I had already seen it. It is a nasty beast with wiry hair and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth ready to rip my heart from my chest in one savage attack. My throat clinched every time I thought of throwing my baby across the gorge of public whispers; the monster would surely rip the very words from her pages.

    Criticism is the beast and from the very first person (a friend!!!) who picked at my fleshy wounds to the first editor who tore my beating heart from my chest with her careless, vicious words I felt like I was under attack.

    God has ways of putting things into perspective, calming you down, even if you don't believe.

    A cancer scare gave me all the courage I needed to face the beast. The cancer that never was held me in its burning hands and slapped my face a few times, even kicked me in the guts before it asked... "Would you rather I take you, or the monster over there?" while it blatantly pointed at the criticising details of my editors report.

    I only have one life. I have one chance to see if my artistic soul has what it takes to scrape its way out of the canyon. Pit him against the other writers of this world.

    Tell you the truth, I cant write. My English skills are not exactly the best, my uneducated mind has a gift however and that's all I'm selling. My story. How I tell it is irrelevant, that's the bloody editors job. if there is a mistake in the plot, the spelling or the definition of a word its her job to fight that monster.

    My liberation from the monster came when I got my first review. It was a fantastic feeling to hear someone else sing your praises. Now I ask myself "What monster?" There was no monster. Like most writers my imagination got out of control.

    Good Blog Rob.

  3. Thanks, David. From your post, I don't think you have need to worry about your talent. T'was a gripping read in itself!

  4. Hello Rob Parnell,

    At the beginning of your article "If You Love Your
    Stories, Set Them Free " you say that there are many
    reasons why our stories need to be seen, but I have not
    identified them in the article.

    Instead I have identified what you believe happens when
    the stories are released, which is "nothing much". So what
    are the reasons for showing one's stories,clearly?

    I agree with you that we should not be too worried about
    how other people will view our stories. If I compare the
    graphics of my computer game, PHL's Air Flying game, to
    those of many other video games I could be discouraged if
    I didn't know and accept what I want(my taste and style)
    and what I can do(my limits). You cannot please everybody.


    1. The webpage says that I posted my message at 5:50am. But the time here in Cameroon is almost 2pm(1:54pm).Note that I wrote the previous message about 10 minutes ago so don't use this time for accurate calculations of time difference.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Tamajong. It could be that 5AM was my time - downunder!

    You're right, I didn't specify the reasons for getting stories out - because that could become a book. I'm sure it's something I can write about soon. Thanks - and you're right, you can't please everybody. You've just got to believe in what you do.


  6. Rob, Thank you for creating your blog and sharing with us your words of encouragement and wisdom.

    This posting on the fear of setting your stories free, exposing your soul to the world, resonates with me. It's something I have struggled with for a long while. It's quite selfish now that I think about it.

    It reminds me of the parable Jesus told about the talents. The man who took the risk to put his talents out to the world reaped the reward of increase, success, and fulfillment. The man who, out of fear, kept his talent safely close to him ended up being called selfish by his master and loosing what he had.

    Thank you for hitting an uncomfortable chord within my creative soul. At the end of my life, it is not the words of the critics who matter, but the words of my Spirit/Creator saying, "well done, you have been faithful in what I gave you to work with."

    Thank you for your generous spirit.

  7. Hi Carmen,

    Thanks for heartfelt post. If we're using Biblical metaphors, isn't there another one about 'hiding your light under a bushel'?

    I think we need to overcome fear and let people see what we're like on the inside!


  8. Good advice. It is hard to let go, and I think that's what brings on wave after wave of procrastination to avoid typing the final word. They seem to go hand and hand for some writers, myself included. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. Agreed - in the past I've spend ages over getting manuscripts perfect - but really as a way to avoid anyone reading them. Talk about counter-productive!

    All the best, PJ