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First published Jan 13, 2009
The Writer's Middle Finger Part Two (On Avoiding Disappointment.)
So, you’re ready to write what you want to write. You’re ready to ignore dumb advice and name your characters Saffron or Millicent and have them drive obscure cars named after small South American mammals. You’re ready to hoist those middle fingers and say, “Screw you world! I’m gonna write something TOTALLY ORIGINAL and not think about what shelf it might land on in a bookstore!” Some business-minded readers are shaking their heads. This is not the way to sell books. True, maybe. But I think it’s definitely the way to become a writer.
Growing a writer takes time.
Do you remember those people in junior high school who arrived in Izod sweaters, then met the weird girl in class, and suddenly chopped their hair, layered on the eyeliner, and bought a Clash album? Those might have been the same people who moved up to high school and traded in their Clash album for rap music and a pair of baggy jeans. I mean no offense to anyone who did this. We all did this in our own way. We were growing and learning and figuring out who we were. Bravo to us. But it took a while, remember?
I like to think that writing has an adolescence period, too. Like life-adolescence, writer-adolescence is an awkward and exciting time, filled with the influence of whomever you allow in. Be careful. A few cynical thoughts from the wrong people can steer you away from yourself. There are plenty of bullies and downers and know-it-alls in this business – people who want to startle you with publishing “facts”. You need to remember why you’re here. You want to write, right?
Publishing and writing are two completely different things.
Only fifteen years ago, it was hard to find out about publishing. You had to buy Writer’s Market books and read trade magazines and find real flesh-and-blood humans to talk to about how to write a query letter, or what a royalty statement meant, or how to double check your contract. Now, with the Internet, we can find out a lot about publishing in a matter of days – which is a great thing and also not a great thing. I’m all for being educated, but I meet a lot of writers who are over-interested in the publishing side of things before they really start writing. After a story or two, or even a novel, they ask, “When should I just give up?” Give up? Give up what? Are you writing? Are you enjoying writing? Isn’t that what you’re here for? “I do like writing, but I thought I’d be published by now.” I understand this. I understand that it’s nice to be rewarded for hard work. I understand the need for concrete success. I also understand that every time you tell someone you’re a writer, the person asks, “Are you published?”
For this scenario and others, I feel fortunate that I grew my writer’s middle finger in a cave. No Internet, no email. No outside opinions, no unsolicited advice, and no dangerous comparisons. Once I got a computer, my worst procrastination enemy was solitaire. I didn’t talk to anyone about writing. I didn’t read about query letters or the publishing world – I don’t think I knew what a query letter was until I was writing my third novel. I’m glad I didn’t, too. My writing pretty much sucked.
Here is a picture of my writer-adolescence.
|Actually, only part of it. There are four more novels in a drawer somewhere.|
These were written on a typewriter, so they're easier to take pictures of.
Look. While you suck, embrace your suck.
Really. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Writing isn’t everything. It probably isn’t going to make you much money. It especially isn’t going to make you money in the beginning, because we all suck then. Yep. Beginners suck. Saddle up. Set realistic goals and have some fun. Work until you can tell what sucks and what doesn’t, all by yourself. You don’t want to be one of those totally-sane-yet-tone-deaf American Idol contestants, do you?
On one hand, you can ask every passerby, “Do these jeans make my ass look fat?” and you might learn something about other people’s perceptions from their answers. On the other hand, you’re the only person who matters. If you think your ass looks fat in those jeans, no one else’s opinion counts. Once you embrace your suck, you are less likely to believe it when your mom says your sucky story about robot kittens is “Just wonderful!” but you’re also more likely to believe it when your gut tells you how good something is, no matter who doesn’t like it. (Because someone will always dislike it.)
While you rock, embrace your rock.
Life is hard is hard enough without having to fight yourself through the good times. Don’t be one of those downers, okay? When you finally get a story or poem accepted, say, “Yay!” and not, “Whatever,” and when you get suggestions or rejections, try to learn from them gracefully, but hold your ground about your ideas. Anything can work if it’s done well, no matter what the so-called experts say. In your beginning years, celebrate every improvement and aim always for better writing. This leads to a healthier personal writing environment – which you’ll need, because one day, if you keep at it, you’ll be juggling copy-edits, future proposals, promotion, and events while you’re writing the next two books. There will be no room for negativity.
Isolate yourself from time to time. Turn off your internet. Blow off your writer’s forums*. Stop reading the deal pages at Publishers Marketplace.** Listen to your gut – even if it suggests something completely insane. You will know when you are on the right path for you. I once owned a Human League album and had a hair tail that I dyed pink. I once wore a white beret and pierced my nose. While I loved both looks, and know they served their purpose, I’m still glad neither made it to the author page of The Dust of 100 Dogs.
|That is a white beret.|
** Similarly, she loves Publishers Marketplace and means no offense to it or anyone affiliated with it.
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Tomorrow: WMF #3
Tomorrow: WMF #3