Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Things no writer wants to hear

Much of the time my writer friends and I spend is in trying to encourage each other and suggest ways to improve something that's already there. But there are those other things that we don't like to think about, that we gloss over and pretend aren't there. Today I'm daring to think about the big, bad things that make writers question their existence, and trying to see if there's any hope to be had. This is not directed at any particular situation; I'm just thinking about things I've felt in the past or been aware of, and since I'm having a fairly good day at the moment, it's probably a good day to confront these issues. But if you are having a bad day, have just gotten a rejection or are questioning why you are even writing at all, DO NOT READ THIS.

1. Your writing is good, there's nothing really "wrong" with your book, and it isn't a clear clone of something else--it just doesn't stick out enough to sell. That is bad news because if enough people say that, there may be something wrong with the core of your book. Like, you might have to just scrap it altogether. RIP. Thinking about this, though, I wonder if a story that "doesn't stick out enough" is another way of saying that "it isn't personal enough." Maybe there's still hope if you dig deep enough and reveal enough of yourself that it starts to hurt? (This is probably tied to the elusive "voice.")

2. You pay big $$ to go to a writing event and an editor raves about how much they love your work. You send in your stuff to them and hope, and a year goes by before you get a [form] rejection. What went wrong? I've heard editors and agents say how incredibly hard it is to reject someone to their face. They want to encourage writers. But encouraging someone to keep on writing until they get there and seeing something that's ready right now are two different things. Again, looking for hope: they may see the kernel of talent in you and want to encourage that, if even you aren't there quite yet.

3. You write a book. You go through critique and revision multiple times. You have major Good Vibes about writing being your thing, and about this book. You get all rejections back. Say you even feel confirmation that Writing is What God Wants You to Do, and yet, things don't work out. Well, now we get into questions of self-worth and maybe even God, and How Could He Let This Happen? Since I hang out with writers/artists as well as religious people (including people who are both), this is something I am well familiar with. The hard fact: yes, your book can be the best thing you have ever written. You can feel inspired as you write. But it can still not be at the level of craft it needs to be. And this is a very hard thing to take. Looking for hope: the market might not match what you're doing right now. True. But also, if you're willing to make the sacrifice, there might be more in it for you than you originally dreamed of. I like to think of Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who got off as much dragon skin as he could in that pool in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But it wasn't enough. And when Aslan came and tore off huge clods, it hurt. But that was the only way he could reach his goal/potential. Maybe you aren't there yet. But I still say to listen to those voices that tell you Writing is For You if you feel them, because the potential you're capable of reaching has got to be even better than what you can imagine right now. So keep working.

Okay. End of depression warning!


Sarah said...

The idea that a book is not unique or original is scary.

It is even more scary because I can't come up with a sentence to include in a query letter of how the book is unique. Yikes. And I did read your depression warning...

Nice post.

Rose Green said...

Man, I hope I didn't scare anyone/send them into depression! I'm just confronting things for myself, and I do that better in writing. I wrote a picture book once that was almost entirely drawn from life, and the response was that it was too similar to a book the publisher already had (which I had never read or even heard of). It was really depressing to realize that even my life wasn't original! So um, I don't think it's even possible for a book to be completely unique. But I do think there's hope for those of us who get told our books don't stand out enough, and that's to make the writing as personal as possible, letting our natural voices come out. Because then it's really yours, not someone else's. (But it still works better in a novel than in a pb, sadly. My voice was way different from the other book that I eventually found, but the theme was still the same.)

As to queries--different animal entirely. Why is it possible to write a 400-page book and still not know how to write a one-paragraph hook? If we ever have a power crisis and have to burn our own fuel, I have plenty of query attempts that will keep us warm all winter.

Chris said...

Hi Rose,

Visiting from Verla's and enjoying your (frighteningly familiar) insights here. Should I be worried that #3 seems to define my current state of existence? :)


Rose Green said...

#3 is definitely one of the hardest things about the whole issue for me. I think a lot of (gifted) people (who would ultimately succeed) give up because they can't reconcile the strong impression to write with the rejections in the mailbox. I'm learning to let go of my preconceived time line. I don't want to let go of the writing itself, because regardless of external responses, I still feel inside that writing is a Good Thing for Me to Do.

Writing takes more faith than is commonly advertised, I think.

Sheri said...

Boy do you hit the nail on the head!
Good thing is that I think that many many of us feel this way so I guess that makes it normal. =)


Rose Green said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one (I think), although I sure hope our encounters with these things are brief!