Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Words You Need To Hear (If You Wonder Whether You Have What it Takes to Be a Writer)

NOTE: You may not need to read this post today. You may not need to read it tomorrow. But if you're a writer, especially one still looking for his or her first byline, you will need to read it at some point.

One day you're going to get a rejection that stings, or see a less talented rival's name on the bestseller lists, or hear "it's just not right for us" one too many times in a week, and you're going to wonder-- "Is this writing thing really for me?"

That will be the time to go back into your bookmarks and find this post. It will be here, ready and waiting for you, with words -- honest words that even your mother might not tell you -- that you really need to hear.

From the in-box:

"I think it is that time where I do a life eval again.  Hate those.  So anyway, I was browsing the new releases aisle at my local ma and pop book shop (favorite place to be as it is an old timey joint with no caffeine and the actual smell of books to it.  Love it) and was reading a few dust jackets.  Aside from the fact that I can't believe the drivel being printed, I noticed a frightening mass of books in my genre and style of writing.  Makes me wonder how well my book (should it ever be printed) is going to fare.  

"Not only that,  but I've been chatting around my hook line [of current project] just to see how it would be received.  That's not going so well either.  My friends "get" the concept. Yet there was little excitement on the idea.  That gave me pause.  Was it a dud?  To date, I have written five duds. Five!! 

"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Doubt"
"Regardless of all this, I know I can write.  I finally figured out my voice and how I like to move my stories.  I have the plot for [current project] mapped out with a shocking twist that even surprised me at the brilliance of it. However, I don't want to fall in love and get my heart broken yet again and again and again.  

"Did you know: all of my writer friends (7 total) have been picked up by agents? Six have publication dates and 1 with a deal on the table.  I've been at this for four years and I still can't take my books past a partial or a full request and a boat load of rejections. Makes me wonder. What is in my writing that I am missing?

"I've met a lot of amazing and creative folks. Maybe I'm not one of them and ya know what?  I'm becoming okay with that..."

This is the second time in as many weeks that a writer wanted me to comment about the "dud-ness" of his or her book. I responded to both writers in the same way. Then I thought I'd share my thoughts on dud books & determining the merits of a project with other writers who might have the same questions but were afraid to articulate them to anyone but themselves.

Wonder if your book is worthwhile? Here's how to tell:
Live! L-I-V-E!

The only one who can determine whether or not a book is a "dud" is you. Not the public. Not the editor. Not the publisher. Not the readers. If you love it and are willing to fight for it, rewrite it to within an inch of your life, polish it till it gleams like chrome, and promote the heck out of it when it's finally in print, then it's not a dud. If you're not willing to do those things, then it's dead as soon as you drop it.

See, IMO, the writer provides the book's heart, spirit, brain, and soul. The author is responsible for the book's very existence. The author is the one who conceived it, carried it through to completion, wrestled it into reality, and unleashed it on the world. If, at any time, the writer turns her attentions to a different creative project or outlet, the book's development stops. It literally requires the writer to enervate it and breathe life into it.

Dud or bestseller? Some see dead fish. Some see tasty trout.
Asking whether or not a book is a dud is like asking if one's child is a dud. There are many, many, many books out there that I, personally, would have considered "duds" long before they got published. ("Twilight," for instance. "50 Shades of Grey." Anything by Nicholas Sparks. ::shudder::) Those books don't speak to me. Regardless of the stories they have to tell, IMO, they're so poorly written, with such cardboard characters, and so reliant upon emotion rather than reason, that they could all benefit from a major edit & rewrite. Which certainly hasn't stopped them from being wordwide bestsellers. Their "dud-ness" is not up for debate, because their writers loved them enough to keep pushing them out into the world.

I hate to tell ya, sweetie, but you WILL fall in love and get your heart broken again. It's going to happen. Also, you can't judge your writing merits (or the lack thereof) against your agented, published friends. That would be like judging your worth as a woman by whether or not you have a husband. Or children. It's a dangerous, slippery slope of self-loathing. And it's bullpuckey. So what if your writer friends have agents? So what if they have multi-book deals, and movie deals, and are being feted by press and public alike? They aren't you. They haven't written the books you've written. Their success has nothing to do with your lack thereof. You are just on a different rung of the same ladder.

Lots of good, if not great, authors are out of print. (For a fascinating look at the vagaries of the publishing world, watch the documentary "The Stone Reader" some time. Eye opening on many levels.) Lots of crap, no-talent writers get published. The question is not one of "dud-ness," but one of diligence.

Keep on keeping on. If I'd given up after 4 years of not being published, I'd still be unpublished.
Turning 30 was extremely hard for me. I wasn't published & felt that life just wasn't going according to my plan. In hindsight, I see now, that it was probably all for the best. If I'd have experienced early success, I might have thought that it was because of something *I* did. I might not realize how fickle the industry is and might not be willing to work with struggling writers now -- something I really love to do.

Early success doesn't mean your book is great.
Just as lack of success doesn't mean it sucks.
Lots of writers who experience early success think they are Hot Shit on a Silver Platter when, really, their easy accolades rapidly render them merely cold turds on a paper plate.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: All books have merit, as long as their writers remain passionate about them. Just because your book isn't ready to shop around yet doesn't mean it's a lost cause. If you are tired of working on it and never want to see it again, that ultimately renders "unsavable" because it will have lost its champion before it was ready to be cut loose.

What's missing in your writing? Difficult to say. Chances are, if there's something really missing in your mastery of craft, you know what it is. You know if you have trouble with dialogue, or grammar, or character. You know in your heart of hearts if your plotting is predictable or your pacing flat. You owe it to yourself and your future readers to work at improving your craft. But even before you fill in all the missing pieces, you can find publishing success.

Mastery of writing is a process -- a lifelong love affair with words. It is a thing quite apart from finding a willing publisher or a rabid readership. One does not necessarily lead to the other. The common thread that unites your craft and your commercial success is your passion. As long as you have that, your words will live.

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