we looked at some of the nuts-and-bolts problems that keep manuscripts
from transitioning from slush pile to contract.
Potholes in the road to
publication, so to speak.
But there are more subtle
potholes a writer needs to avoid. These subtle potholes are less about
format and style and more about the internal workings of the writer.
Or, in the words of Pogo Possum, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Often the main thing that keep
writers from publication is the writers themselves. We can find more
reasons not to write, more reasons we can’t write, more reasons nobody
will buy our writing, more reasons somebody should have bought our bad
writing, more reasons we have run out of ideas, more reasons we have so
many ideas we don’t know where to start, and a few excuses to round out
In short, our attitudes and
habits are major factors in our publishing success. Just think, if
James Patterson had sat in his office all day thinking, "I can do
better than this," stayed in advertising instead of studying what works
and what doesn't, and writing/collaborating on 275,000 or so books.
If Stephen King had said,
“Tabby, nobody is going to buy a book about a girl with telekinetic
powers,” then he might still be teaching English, working in a laundry,
and Carrie wouldn’t have been the first step of his
becoming a bazillionaire. (Okay, Tabby pulled the manuscript out of the
trash, told King to finish it, and sent it off, but you get the point.
He followed through.)
Suppose every time the ideas
stalled, Frank Peretti picked his banjo instead of pushing ahead with This
In Sharyn McCrumb’s early career
she was working on an advanced degree, writing papers on Chaucer,
raising her children, and still writing a book a
Attitude is a major factor. And
our attitudes are the cornerstone of our writing. Attitude is a key
indicator of the kind of writer you will be, because attitude (combined
with your level of motivation) dictates how you will approach the
subtle (and not-so-subtle) elements that contribute to and detract from
the writing life.
Let’s consider a couple of
writer has to be able to determine if a piece of writing is good. That
being said, it is time for a hard truth: Sometimes the writing is not
very good. Sometimes it smells up the room, wafts down the hall, and
begins to kill the grass around the front porch.
Deal with it.
But bad writing can be fixed.
Though nobody wants to hear that what he or she wrote is not very good,
it happens. And it often happens when we try to be somebody we’re not.
Remember in the previous article we talked about developing a writer’s
voice? If not, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:
Writers develop their voices by putting hundreds of thousands of words
on the page consistently. It comes from listening to good critiques and
developing an ear for language. Does the dialogue ring true? Are the
situations believable? Is the imagery there?
gazed at her strong steed. The flaxen mane glistened in the sun. The
horse was a goddess, the personification of dreams and all that is good
in the world. She looked into her steed’s eyes and garnered from them
the promises of eternity. She rolled her eyes toward the woods and
listened. Sure the killers were coming in their military vehicles with
their guns and stuff, but Rosewater Flaxen Bouquet III would keep her
pause here for those of you
who need to grab an airsick bag. To put it mildly, this passage stinks.
The bones are there, but the language sounds like something out of the
diary of a thirteen-year-old girl. For example, it must have hurt when
her eyes were rolling toward the woods. And I hope the phrase guns
and stuff isn’t too technical for you.
Sadly, I have seen passages
similar to this, and in some instances the writers took great offense
that someone had the audacity to criticize their literary effort.
I’ve also seen writers who dug
in to fix it.
Which type of writer do you
think will eventually be published?
This may be a writer’s worst enemy. Why put off until tomorrow what you
can put off until the day after? We touched on this idea in a previous
column, but it is important enough to resurrect for a moment.
Practiced on rare occasions,
procrastination is a luxury. When it becomes a habit, it is a career
killer. And procrastination is often a thin mask for a deeper problem.
Sometimes it is a mask for boredom. And if writing bores you, it may be
time to ask yourself the tough question: Do I really want to be a
Occasionally procrastination is
a way of “dealing with” difficult assignments. Like in many other
endeavors, we often do the easy tasks first and put off the difficult
tasks until we absolutely must complete them. Writing is no different.
Sometimes procrastination is a
thin cover that we have not developed the discipline required to sit at
the keyboard for extended periods and, in the words of Larry the Cable
Guy, git ’er done.
To publish, or not to publish.
That is the question (to paraphrase Bill Shakespeare). It is hard work.
There are a thousand distractions. And sometimes what you have in your
head fights you every step of the way. You feel like you have to
wrestle every word onto the page. Some days it is an absolute joy and
others it is a pain in the butt.
I love being a writer.
How about you?
Till next time, go out there
and be somebody who would make your mama proud.