Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This Writer's Life

There are hundreds of platitudes about writing. And although platitudes are overused expressions and sometimes trite, these little tidbits spring from somewhere. The original message may contain a nugget of wisdom but overuse often causes any kind of insight in the original words to wear thin.

I recently read the following at Mud, Mambas and Mushrooms a blog written by middle grade author Kurtis Scaletta:

I’m not a big fan of platitudes, and they abound in writing (or any creative endeavor): that you should follow your dreams, that persistence will be rewarded, that you have to believe in yourself, etc. My main opposition to such platitudes is that they are untrue. Which is not to say they are false, just that they just don’t have enough substance to have a factual status. I think people become preoccupied with the platitudes, thinking of themselves as that storied ant with the rubber tree plant as they query an eighth round of agents, rather than taking stock of the situation after the seventh round of rejections. The truth is that the secret to success at anything meaningful is impossible to condense into a memorizable principle.

While I agree with Mr. Scaletta on some level, I also believe that platitudes do serve a purpose. They encapsulate a belief, a truism, that upon further inspection can push a writer through a tough time. I do agree that some authors rely on platitudes instead of doing the necessary work. On the eighth round of rejections you are no longer the proverbial ant but a writer with a problematic manuscript. There can be any number of problems but there are problems and you, the writer must address and determine what you want to do to fix the challenges present in the writing.

The first challenge can be that the writing isn't there yet. I think after eight rounds of rejection you must assess your skill level. You need to determine *what* exactly has gone wrong in the pages. Ask yourself some hard questions about the work. Join a critique group. Workshop your pages/manuscript. Take a class. Read craft books. Pick up information from the rejections you receive. It's not easy sifting through the rejection letters for nuggets of gold but they are often in their. Take the bits that confirm what the nagging editorial voice in your head has been telling you about the piece and fix the problem.

Another challenge, which I see more and more is that the publisher doesn't believe they can market the work. This is a tough economy. There is little margin for error in any industry much less publishing. If the marketing department can't tell you exactly where the book will be shelved, and who the target reader is then guess what? An editor can *adore* the project and still you will not sell. But there is a big difference between the first challenge and this one; the editor will tell the author that they adore the project. So please, don't mistake the eight rounds or rejections with a marketing department that is unable to market your masterpiece. There is a fix for this challenge too and neither is pleasant especially if you have a piece of work that editors rave about but can't seem to get traction within the house. An author with this challenge can rewrite or wait out the market.

With both of these challenges I believe that: you should follow your dreams, that persistence will be rewarded, and that you have to believe in yourself. Any creative endeavor requires the belief in all three. Not a blind unseeing faith that all will work out if only the writer recites the above as if a creative mantra. But instead as a credo that can get a writer through challenges. You must do the work. A platitude does not replace the necessary work. The hours at the keyboard. The weeks spent rewriting, editing and rewriting again. A platitude is never a substitute for taking a hard look at the writing and diagnosing the problems. But the little platitudinal words, may, on a bad day (and their will be bad days) help you to get through to the next page.



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