Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Ink-Stained Lens

A friend of mine was once turned down for personal health insurance.  When she asked why, she was informed that it was because of her profession.

She is a writer, you see. 

When she pressed for further information on the refusal, she was told: "Writers are a high insurance risk. They are prone to alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide."

I privately suspected that writers are at a higher risk for not paying insurance premiums, but refrained from saying so.  It was more fun to listen to her rant.

Regardless of our insurability shortcomings, it's no secret that we writers are an odd amalgamation of ego and insecurity, hubris and fear. 

A writer can read a two-page, mostly glowing review, and fixate on the one sentence that suggests the reviewer wasn't completely enthralled with every aspect of the project.  This fixation can last for days, leading to binge chocolating, spousal arguments, and planned career changes.  ("Maybe I should just go flip burgers.  No one calls a burger-flipper's third act "shoddy with lazy pacing.")

A writer can also read a short, terse form rejection and feel compelled to respond to the industry professional in question with a lengthy diatribe, posturing like a bantam rooster before a peacock and destroying not only his chances of ever working with that pro, but also ruining potential professional relations with every publishing insider that pro knows.

We writers see the world through an ink-stained lens.
Take, for instance, the movie "Ask the Dust," which is billed as a tragedy. 

In the movie I saw, the eternally delicious Colin Farrell plays a struggling writer with an editor who's an unfailing cheerleader and who sends him a sizeable amount of money as an advance to write his book.  The editor is the only stable relationship sweet, naive Colin has.  His scheming, manipulative, selfish girlfriend only distracts him from his work.  She dies at the end.  So what? He gets a book deal!

In the final scene, he stands at her grave, reading to her excerpts from his recently published book.

Ask any writer, and they'll tell you: this is a feel-good flick, no two ways about it.  Someone believed in a beginning writer.  Someone took a chance on him.  Someone told him he was talented.  And -- most importantly -- he got paid!

Last night, I watched "Serious Moonlight," which I missed when it screened at the Austin Film Festival & have been intending to catch ever since.  

I enjoyed the film far more than I should have, not because I have any intention of duct-taping my husband to the toilet... no, no, but because it is so similar in tone to "Jobe's Pride," a darkly comedic suburban-noir I've written. 

The whole way through the movie, my Inner Writer's Voice kept whispering, "See?! The genre does exist!"

Through my ink-stained lens, that's enough vindication to keep sending out submissions and queries.  And to keep me from submitting that Mc Donald's application for a bit longer.

Through my ink-stained lens I see inspiration and possibilities when the world's windshield shows only unrelenting reality.

The industry calls the stuff we write "spec" and "slush" -- both of which sound vaguely like epithets.    I defy you to name any other legal, legitimate profession that regularly employs words like "unsolicited," "query," and "submission" in its practice.  And yet we keep on.

There is an old joke that goes:

Q:  How does a book get published?

A:  Someone forgets to say "no."

If you need a "yes" in your life right now, here it is:  YES.

Should you keep writing, even though you don't have an agent?  YES

Should you tell people you're a writer, even though you haven't yet been published?  YES

Should you pick yourself up, dust off your manuscript, and submit it to someone else, even though your dream publisher passed on it?  YES

Should you continue working, reading, writing, and revising, struggling with the words and the language in order to get the story out?

YES.  Oh, YES.

To all creatives who are struggling with the should-I-flip-burgers conundrum, I offer my ink-stained lenses.  Feel free to borrow them as long as you need.  And when you're done, pass them on to someone who needs them.  Then, keep on keeping on until someone says "yes."


Simon Kewin said...

Fantastic post - yay for you and your positivism and especially thise lenses! It may take more than just self-belief to bake it but you surely won't get anywhere if you don't back yourself ...

Kira Stann said...

Thanks for this wonderful inspirational post. I'm going to keep saying YES too!

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thank you

Jessica Penot said...

Wonderful post. Sometimes every day is a struggle when all you hear is no,,, and the yeses just aren't the right yeses. I really appreciated this!