Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One Writer's Bad Day

Last night, I couldn't get to sleep. I felt like my head wrote a memo that hadn't reached my heart and the question 'what am I doing' rang through the night. I imagine all writers feel this way at one point or another, or am I completely alone in the frustration and disappointment that accompanies putting your work into the world? Maybe it was the article about the plagiarising that swept the Internet last week, the casual way an agent writes back 'not for me' thirty seconds after a query is sent, or seeing the struggle of many authors--some good, some bad--as they clamour for the lusted after spot with an agent, and hopefully a publisher.

The age old saying, "Anyone can write" is true through and through, but the debate over whether everyone can write 'well' is still being had. Can creativity be taught? Can we all learn to be excellent writers? What is the difference between natural talent and learned talent? Which one reads better? Do you have the characters? The plot? What is voice? Do you have it? And in the end, who will hold the holy grail, stand on the mountain with it raised over their heads and shout, "I did it"?

These are questions I cannot answer, though they say it is the dedicated ones who will persevere. Doesn't that thought break your heart? It is not the ones with the best novels who will win out in the end, just the ones who never give up. How...uninspiring. That means many writers, who write sheer crap, could very well be published simply because they don't listen to anyone or take any one's advice.

And maybe I am one of them. The first rejection I received was scathing. I was young, inexperience and, after rereading it last week to a dear friend, I have no idea why I didn't throw the towel in then and there. So, perhaps I am the dense of mind and heart. The agent pretty much flat out told me that my bad writing wouldn't get me anywhere...and so, I have been told. Should I have listened?

After spending an exuberant amount of time on the Internet in the last year and a half, I've seen it all. I've seen great stories with bad writing, bad stories with great writing, bad stories with bad writing and great stories with great writing. And the common thread these stories shared? For the most part, they were unpublished and unagented. The slushpile truly is the great common denominator.

As they say, we are all in it to win it. But the cold, dead-fish of truth is, we all can't win it. Only a select few of us will win it. And right now, it's all about being a stubborn git who refuses to back down. If I was Rocky Balboa, this might not be such a tedious task, but I don't have arms the size of hams, and I am growing weary of the fight...and watching the fight. Isn't that the nitty gritty? Because not only are we ringside watching everyone else battle it out, but we're also in the ring with them. This is why I choose friends who don't write my genres, so I don't feel like I am trying to pummel their faces with my meaty fists in order to get to the top of the pile of manuscripts--some good, some bad.

From the inside, it feels like a rat-race. And I can only imagine what it looks like to the agents and publishers. Oh, and here's the most depressing thing. With Twitter and blogs and vlogs and newspapers and facebook and social-networking, we don't even have the luxury of thinking agents/publishers are evil, moustache-twisting, sadist who set our manuscripts on fire to light their two thousand dollar cigars. Nope. They're people.

Thank you social-networking for taking away the people I wanted to blame for my misery. Now I have to take responsibility and act like an adult about it. Phooey.

To make matters worse, there are so many bloody rules. Agents have rules, publishers have rules, other writers have rules and every one's opinion of what's hot and what's not is different. No adverbs, no 'ing' endings, don't use "should, could, would", watch the personal pronoun starts, there's not enough names, too much tell, not enough dialogue, don't have more than one POV per chapter or book or series or page.

Well, here's a big fat weary sigh for you.

Last night, I picked up a book someone bought me. Upon review this could have been the catalyst of this blog. The book was terrible. I won't tell you what book, because I am don't participate in the name game, but it was published by a very big press and was a national bestseller. Well, kick me in the head and call me Suzy. It broke every rule! It jumped POVs like a Mad Hatter, it was over run with adverbs, the characters were flat, everything started with "he,she,her,him" and to make matters worse, the author was really unfortunate looking. This only confirmed my greatest fear, I will never be published because crap like this is eating up the paper my books should be printed on.

Excuse me while I clear my throat and take a chill pill.

Is this jealousy speaking? I suppose in a sense it is. What I want is a gypsy woman with a gold tooth, purple and green shawl and glass ball to tell me yay or nay. That's it. If someone could just tell me one way or the other if I will pass go and collect my two hundred dollars, I would be forever in their debt. If yay, I will plug away, edit, revise, write and create. If nay, I will do the same thing, but at least I can smother this little ball of hope keeping me up at night.

If only there was more good news. You know? Lately it seems as though the publishing contracts and acquisitions by an agent are a trickle. And bad news is aplenty. Books are dying, they say! Agents are quitting! Slushpiles are growing! Publishers are closing! Half as many books are hitting stores! People can't read!

Give me good news or give me death, I say.

Don't get me wrong. There are the shining few who come through with a post, status or thread about how they're holding their golden ticket, but they are the minority, and lately there isn't enough of them to encourage me. Of everyone I know who has snagged an agent from the publishing ether, they all say the same thing. Landing an agent and publisher is all about two things. Timing and luck. Which does two things, it makes us think, some day it will be my time to get lucky, and, so the heart, blood, sweat, tears, and cookies I fed into my manuscript doesn't matter?

And last night I had this sinking feeling that my time was running out and I had to confront the fact that I'm not very lucky.

People write for very different reasons. Some write because they had a dream, some because they see how easy it is for some authors who have dreams to get published, some because they want to dabble in something arty, some because their bored, but then there is a select few who do it because they have to. Does that sound odd?

If you're a writer who HAS to write because you do not have a choice, because you would go insane if you didn't, please line up on my left.

A very loving and caring man took the time to try and reassure me with tales about hockey players and athletes. But there was a point to his rant about natural athletes, how Michael Jordan was cut from his high school Basketball team and how some hockey player from Princeton was flat out told he wouldn't play in the NHL because he was too big but who then went on to be place with a great team and make a million dollars a year. The point was that some people have tenacity. It seems simple enough, doesn't it. And he only reiterated what everyone says, perseverance and determination, but he said it in a way that made sense.

Sometimes it isn't easy, not even for the people who have natural talent and the drive to do it.

I'm not saying I am one of the ones who has this coveted 'natural talent'. And, at this point, after my crappy writer's day, I don't even know if I have the perseverance for this whole slushpile mess, but what I do know is that I am one of the ones who has to write. Is it physically impossible for me not to write? No, of course not, I can put the down the pen (how old fashioned!). But my brain won't stop going. And while we sit around for a friend's birthday or Christmas dinner and everyone is thinking about awesome memories and the year gone past, I will be wondering how Falcon will get out of the situation she is in, and if I ever will write that storey about Mason and Lena set in San Francisco. It's just how it works for me.

The irony is, I'm not even querying right now. I just had a bad day. O-o


pennyjars said...

My writing week has been terrible. But I expect it, it happens every few months or so. I crawl into my pit and slink about until the piss and vinegar starts boiling again.

A while ago I picked up a book that made me laugh it was written so badly. I mentioned it to a writer friend and she loves the author! What's up with that?

Just to say, I feel it.

Write hard!

Classic Jef said...

Sessha Batto said...

I've been having a bad writer's week . . . to be honest, the entire month has been awful. Is it worth it? nope. Will I stop? Hell no.

Jane Lovering said...

I hate to say this but - it took me THIRTY YEARS to get into print - I started as a child, obviously - but now I have my fingertips grasping that Holy Grail and I am prepared to claw and bite to get it into my greasy little palms.

Hell, after thirty years you'd think I'd be entitled. But no, I'm only as good as my last book and only as saleable as my next. And I know I'm lucky and I'm living the dream, but I still have a day job and housework to do. So, my motto (or my point, whichever comes the sooner) is - don't give up. Believe. Because success might be just around the corner. Or it might be thirty years away. Either way - you have to be in it to win it.

rodgriff said...

Yup, been there done that, thought that.
I really would like to read someone somewhere tell a story or two about how bad books got published.
Just like you I've read lots that break rules for a passtime and don't even produce a good effect by doing it. Someone somewhere must have thought it was good. Why won't they own up and tell us what was going on in their head