Friday, April 23, 2010

I Wet My Pants

Not me - ahem! - It's a quote from a favorite Shel Silverstein poem:

The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
It always comforts to know that someone older, wiser and more accomplished feels exactly the way we do sometimes.

Ever feel you have to fit yourself into an impossible mold formed of the expectations of editors and the reading public if you ever hope to see your book in print?

e.e. cummings would slap your back and tell you to join the club. He wrote:

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

On Monday, we laughed over Margaret Atwood's oh-so-relatable list of things people say to authors, and the things authors actually hear when they say them. On Wednesday, we explored the ways each of us expresses his/her faith in the writing.

Today, lets consider how much faith it takes to remain fully the writers we are, with all our insecurities and rejection slips.

cummings had some of his own. In 1935 his mother paid to self-publish his book, 70 poems, and in the book, he offered this dedication in the shape of a funeral urn, to all the publishers who had turned the book down:

Farrar & Rinehart
Simon & Schuster
Limited Editions
Harcourt, Brace
Random -House
Equinox Press
Smith & Haas
Viking Press

Don't you love his spirit? Is there any doubt that it was this same spirit that made him the unique, unforgettable - and well published poet we remember today?

I'd like to suggest that to keep writing in the face of economic setbacks and rejection slips, to keep on when there seems no practical reason we should, is to trust in a creator who keeps his reasons to himself. Remember? When Job asked why God had allowed so many calamaties to befall his family - financial ruin, the loss of his children, the loss of his health - what did God answer?

"I made the Leviathon."

It does make sense, if you turn your head the right way. You have to trust him without explanation, because of who he is. Because his ways are higher than ours, higher than the stratosphere.

As I write this, it occurs to me that there truly are advantages to writing a novel without a publisher. I meant to list several, but it's been a long day and I can think of only one. Still, it's a good one:

You can totally write what you want. No expectations to fulfil. No assigned topic, no one to displease. You can gather all your experiences, dreams and passions into the biggest snowball ever, drop it from the cliff and watch it explode into something spectacular.

(This, in my opinion, is a pretty good way to write something worth publishing.)

Now help me out: what are some other advantages to writing without a publisher? Make it your exercise to think of at least one, and tell us what you come up with, please. We want to know what you have to say.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Okay, here deadlines or pressure to build a platform.

The line about knowing someone is wiser and more accomplished feeling the same way--that's one reason I click here so often. You ladies have a wonderful way of educating with humility.
~ Wendy

Terri Tiffany said...

I love your blog!
Um --your friends and family can brag about you sooner:)

Lori Benton said...

Your post title gave me my first bleary-eyed grin of the day. :)

I haven't written for an editor yet, or been told what to write, or been in any of the situations you've mentioned. But I do wonder, under the circumstances you mentioned, if the sense I often have of me and God creating something in partnership and intimacy might be diminished or even lost? I hope that hasn't happened for you! I think this is a good thing to keep in mind when praying for the published authors we're linked to.

I love what Wendy Miller said about your knack for educating with humility. It's also why I never miss a post here.

Anonymous said...

I think it's kind of like what Paul said in 1 Corinthians, about a woman who is unmarried can focus entirely on her relationship with God. A married woman divides her attention between her husband and God.

Writing without a publisher does allow one to focus just on what you believe God calls you to write. But just as marriage isn't bad in itself but it calls you to apportion things, so does having a flesh and blood editor with preferences and a publishing company with an established profile (and stewardship!) they want to maintain.

Relationships cost an individual. Of course they bring great rewards as well. But just as a newly-married woman has to discern the godly calling of marriage and see how that intersects with her relationship with God, so does a Christian writer who submits himself or herself to the authority/relationship/strictures/rewards of having a publisher and editor.

Footprints From the Bible by Cynthia Davis said...

Wow, this post was affirmation for the 'still small voice' that's been whispering in my ear. "Write for Me and for joy of writing. That's all that matters."
It's true, for me, that writing for a publisher can put me in the mindset of trying to meet the expectations of what the editor thinks the reader wants.

Kathleen Popa said...

Wendy - good thinking! Though the lack of a deadline can become a lack of motivation, it can also give you plenty of time to hone your manuscript into something wonderful.

Terri, I'm glad you love our blog, and I'm so glad your friends and family are bragging about you.

Lori, I think Latayne's answer is a good one. Having a publisher, having readers changes things, but not necessarily in a bad way. It's a lot like the difference between marriage and the single life. A single woman can put her life on hold, waiting to find a husband, but that's not the best use of her time. Much better to live her life to her god-worshiping fullest so that when she enters into a marriage, she enters as a whole and healthy partner.

In the same way, a pre-published author who throws herself into smashing that snowball sets herself up to be the best kind of published author.

Remember that the kind of writing you carry with you into publication will help determine what publishers and readers expect from you in the future. So write what you love. There's no better time to define yourself as an author than right now.

Nicole said...

I'd written five novels before I queried one. I only know the advantage of writing from the heart, of putting the passion to the page. The Lord has spoken these words to me along the way when the writing times seemed to evaporate: "If you pick up the pen, I'll give you the words." I did, and He did. (My first novel of monster size was written in long hand.)

One thing I've learned: if it's not there, I can't force it. And He determines who I ultimately write for beyond Him because neither can I "force" my work into a royalty publisher's hands. I have no idea how I'd do with an idea someone else provides . . .

Bonnie Grove said...

They say you have a lifetime to write your first novel, and six weeks to write your second.

No publisher means you can take the time to craft a near-flawless novel - as long as you sustain the effort to write and don't let yourself be fooled into thinking you're writing is mere hobby.

These are great answers! Great post for a Friday morning, Katy - gets the energy flowing.

Randolph Lalonde said...

The way I see it, I'm accountable to my readers. That's all. They're the ones who make it possible to be a full time Indie writer, and I work harder for them than I ever would for an editor.

The feedback is much more colorful from my readers than the notes I get from my proofers and editor too...

Melinda Evaul said...

I poured two years of my life into a novel. I have a group of supporters waiting to read the story. Some lived the dream with me by assisting with research or proofing a section. They helped create the work. They deserve a finished product and don't understand the complications of rejection and the slow moving publishing world. Contracts mean nothing to them. They ask, "If you're a writer, where's the book?" I let them down when I can't provide a copy.

Kathleen Popa said...

Randolf, yes, ultimately it's the readers you're writing for, and I think most editors know that. The aquisitions editors are the gatekeepers, however, unless you self-publish - in which case you can write a snarky dedication after the manner of mr. cummings.

Melinda, one lesson I'm trying to learn is that I let no one down when something happens (or doesn't happen) that's beyond my control. Stewing in that pot only saps energy that could better go into writing my best work.

Lisa Lickel said...

I like what Latayne said. I think you have to determine a purpose, though, because getting the work of your heart published most always means bending to someone else's will eventually. Only you can decide if you want to do that after all the work you put into crafting something you thought was special. I went all out for Meander Scar, and only about two-thirds of it passed into print, leaving on the floor the one scene a former agent thought made the book saleable, and my favorite character. After a few rejections, I did just what you said - rewrote whatever I wanted. I think I even said that to my crit partner. Then, when it got a bite from a publisher, I had to be willing to chew...and swallow.

Lori Benton said...

Latayne, you gave a wonderful answer that speaks so clearly to the issue. Yes, yes. I can see it that way perfectly. How comforting. And confirming to the word I received this morning; right after I read Katy's post this morning I dove into prayer time with that issue at the top of my list! Thank you ladies. Great discussion today.

pat jeanne davis said...

I loved this post with the comments. Thanks Kathleen and all here. I've worked with editors for non-fiction pieces and have accepted direction from them. But as an unpublished novelist I write what I want to read and not what the market tells me is hot now, and I can still work at the speed at which I'm presently able. I know a large part of being published in fiction is marketing your work. So as a yet unpublished novelist I can concentrate on the writing for the time being. Have a wonderful weekend everyone and don't get discouraged.