Every accomplishment starts with a decision to try.
Writing can be a discouraging business. Less than 1 out of 100 writers who completes a novel can get a literary agent. Those lucky and/or talented enough to be in that 1% are still not guaranteed the joy of seeing their book in print. Only something like 60% of agented books sell to publishers (That includes books from established authors).
Once the reality of the stats sets in, a writer reaches a decision point. He must ask himself, “Do I give up and do something else, or do I learn how to play this game and stick with it?”
Now, I’m not making light of this business by referring to the process of getting published as a “game.” It is a game in that there are winners, losers and rules–lots and lots of rules.
First of all, you have to learn how to write. Really write, not put a story on paper. One of the rejections on a full request for my first project was telling. It said something to the effect of:
Your story and characters are intriguing. I was disappointed that the writing didn’t live up to the premise.
Okay. Well, crap! I had all my commas, semi-colons and quotation marks in the right places. No run-ons, no sentence fragments that weren’t intentional. Gah! I even had all the formatting correct. So what gives?
Well, DUH! Writing isn’t grammar and punctuation. Naturally, a writer has to be able to write correctly, but a writer has to write well. I majored in English Literature in college, so I’m the master of the thesis paper and formulaic literary analysis. Writing fiction is a different beast.
I was disappointed that the writing didn’t live up to the premise.
Yep. There it is again. I see those words every time I sit at the keyboard with the intent to write. The fix? I read everything I could get my hands on in the genre in which I write and paid attention to the writing itself in addition to the story. And you know what? I realized my writing stunk.
At this point, I had written the sequel to my sucky first novel and had begun my third, which was unrelated to the first two. I intentionally simplified my style and intensified my characterization. I then found a critique service through a university graduate program. The professor critiqued the first thirty pages of my first and third novels. She found the things I do consistently in my writing that weaken it.
I focused on the third book, which was superior to the first (Huge understatement–the first one was…well, it was a typical first novel: Over-written and as a result, way too long). I applied her suggestions from the first thirty pages all the way through the novel.
You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.
I researched the process of querying and followed all the rules. I was amazed at the difference between the reaction of agents to my new manuscript compared to my first one. Night and day.
My writing gets better every book I write. I am so grateful to the agent who was honest with me and didn’t just say, “No thanks,” or, “Not for me, but another agent might feel differently.” She told me, in essence, “You have a good story but your writing sucks. Quit or fix it.”
Imagination is something we are born with, but writing skills are learned. I’m sure I’m going to look back on my novel, SOUL PURPOSE, and think it is a total piece of crap, but it did the trick and I got the agent. And twenty years down the road, when I begin to feel like my writing does live up to my premise, all I will have to do is read the first few pages of a novel like THE GRAVEYARD BOOK or MARY and O’NEILL to bring myself back to the reality that I will always have a long way to go.
In the meantime, I’m going to press on and keep writing and growing. I didn’t even hesitate when I reached the point where I had to ask myself the question, “Do I give up and do something else, or do I learn how to play this game and stick with it?” I’m in the game.
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press-on” has solved and has always solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Now, I’m not solving the problems of the human race, but the quote shoe fits anyway. I’m persistent if nothing else.
Have a great weekend everybody!