Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Dissect A Writer

The posts and comments this week made me cringe, knowing how it feels to have to tell someone, no I can't write your book for you, no I wouldn't presume to edit your work.

And of course, I've been on the other side, and I know that feeling just as well.

Before I was a published author, I hated admitting to people that I wanted to be one. Let the word get out - often from the lips of my dear, supportive husband - and near strangers would give me that look. If you're a writer, I'm sure you've seen it: the patronizing smile that verges on ridicule. (Remember the scene in "The King's Speech" where Lionel Logue auditions in vain for the role of King Richard II before a smirking panel of ... snots? That look.)

Let me recount a nightmare from those "before" days:

I served on a church committee with - among others - an accountant, and as a committee we were charged with - among other things - writing a skit for an upcoming event.

When the writing assignment came up in a meeting, all the members looked at the ceiling and sat on their hands. As much as I hated to expose my dream, I lifted my hand just to shoulder height, but with the quietest thrill of anticipation. Wait till everyone saw what I could do with a story.

I did mention the accountant, right?

Now understand, this was a one-person assignment. Other people had their jobs; this was mine. But when, after hours of love and labor I proudly turned in one doozey of a skit, the accountant took it home. And brought it back. With red ink splashed so thick you would think someone had been knifed to death on top of it.

Trust me when I tell you, he'd ruined my work. He'd put in fifty-cent words (the more obscure the better) where two bit words were just right. He'd made my down-home characters all talk like members of parliament. He'd drained the life right out of my darling, and when he handed it back, he gave me that look, and said, "Everybody thinks they can write, but you know, it actually takes a lot of work."

I did know.

And now that my name shows up on books you can buy, people think I can take their manuscripts to my agent and get them a contract.

I have to be gentle. I know how they feel. I know how wrong people - even writers - can be. And best of all, I know how dramatically, and how quickly a writer's work can improve. Because while my skit didn't need an accountant, I'm sure it did need a good editor. I was not then the writer I would become. For more on that story, you might want to look back on a previous post, "Everything Can Change."

For now, let me say how proud we are of all of you, how thrilled we are over your successes, and what hopes we have for each of you. Do keep writing, if that is your call. Do keep coming here. And do tell us about the "accountants" in your lives.

We love to read what you have to say.


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Your accountant story actually made me groan aloud. I bet you wished you could do something else with that red pen of his.

I understand your frustration. Someone I know recently wrote a picture book for small children, and her husband illustrated it with computer graphics. She ran off some copies at the local printer, procured an ISBN, and had it listed on Amazon. Now she tells everyone that she is an author, and because she's aware that I've been struggling to break into the industry forever, she said to me, "I'm happy to give you some pointers if you'd like to know how to take your book to this level."

Hard to swallow? Yep. But a great exercise in grace and humility. I thanked her and said I'd keep that in mind.

God's had a lot to teach me in the area of pride. When I hear the question, "So why hasn't your book been published yet?" for the fiftieth time, my natural tendency is to justify and defend myself. Point out the progress I've made, the good feedback from editors, the near misses. But slowly God's been getting me to the place where I can say, "My work isn't good enough yet" - and know that it's true - and be fine with that. Because I'm learning and improving every day, and really, that's all that matters.

Thanks for your encouragement, Katy. It means so much.

Latayne C Scott said...

Now, you readers see why we NovelMatters ladies treasure Katy. Her gentle and empathetic spirit is a jewel in our ministry's crown.

Suzy Parish said...

Oh thank you for this post! I have been working on a manuscript for three years and have experienced this attitude. Last year after I attended a writing conference I had coffee with two friends (not writer friends).An agent had read my first three chapters and requested three more, and I was still giddy from the experience. As we had our coffee, my friend to the right said, "Oh, you look different, like you have found your calling in life." (I love her!) The friend to my left looked me cooly up and down and proclaimed, no, you don't look any different to me."I could see the message in her attitude, "What is the big deal?" Well it was a big deal to me. I chose to focus on the encouraging friend. She has since been a great help to me and constantly asks how my writing is doing. The other friend? She suggested I re-enter the work force as a health care worker.Not that I have anything against health care workers (I did that for 20 years) but I need to be who I really am now, not just survive.Thanks again for a wonderful post.Blessings! Suzy P.

Unknown said...

my 'horror' story that I wrote about yesterday (the eccentric neighbor who wrote the novel of absolute drivel) actually turned into a novel for me. The main character has a similar personality to the eccentric neighbor! And there are some bizarre happenings in my novel, much the same as with my neighbors.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Oh sweet fallible being, write to meet Me on the bridge and all else is Mine to manage.

l said...

Ouch. I never had anyone mark up my work with a red pen like that, but I did have a couple of The Looks from relatives when, in my senior year of high school, I announced that I would be taking writing classes instead of going to college.

A couple cousins told me that I'd never get anything published because I wouldn't have a college degree. Another relative pointedly asked when I'd go to college and "get a real job."

Thankfully, they're coming around now & have been an encouragement. rather than a hindrance.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Yes, Latayne I see it. The humility in this post makes me smile.

I'm encouraged here often. Certainly a reason why I keep coming back.

Have a great weekend, ladies!
~ Wendy

Marian said...

Thanks for posting this. I can feel the heartache. Yet, I find it difficult to believe the villain was an accountant. I married one of those and he's not at all like that.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

I've been encouraged by your post, Kity. That's why I come back here often even if I just lurk. All of you are a blessing in my writing journey.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Oh...I was shredded by someone of a completely different genre. SHREDDED! I was told that I would need to change the entire POV should I expect anyone to "wade through it". Ouch. And that my writing "bogged (her) down".

I felt like I had been smacked in the face. And I was embarrassed that I'd ever written in the first place. I was ready to give up.

Fortunately I have good friends. And they reminded me that most of her comments were a matter of taste. It took a little while to heal from that. Ugh.

Megan Sayer said...

This - and the other post you linked to - was so encouraging for me.

Last night I had one of those "I GET it!" moments about an aspect of the craft I thought I understood. It's humbling to learn how little I know, yet humble is the best place to start.

I'm so glad for God's involvement. I'm glad for the encouragement that I can change and grow as a writer. And I'm so glad for your words "I was not then the writer I would become". I pray that one day I too will be able to say that about myself. Thanks!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Megan, right on! God's involvement is essential!

Sharon said...

You are the best Katy. I always said that. I like Latayne's comment.

Kathleen Popa said...

Wow, I leave the house for the morning, and find you've been here talking. How cool to see all these comments.

Karen yes, it does take grace and humility, doesn't it? And at the same time a level of confidence. You must remember that people can simply be wrong. It encourages me a great deal to know that you, and others here as well, continue to write.

Latayne, thank you. I wish it were true.

Suzy, you were so right to focus on the encouraging friend. Your other friend clearly had too many issues of her own to actually see you, at least for that moment.

Emma, the ultimate revenge: "Careful, or I'll put you in my novel. After I've moved a hundred miles away."

Henrietta... what?

Heather, I'm glad you're still writng.

Wendy, I'm encouraged here, too. I'm glad you come around.

Marian, I've met some very nice accountants. Even some creative ones. (Scary thought, isn't it?)

Pat, we're always glad when you comment. Thanks for being part of our community.

Susie, I'm convinced that good friends are key to your success as a writer.

Megan, humble is a very good place to start. And yes, I think progress often leaps forward in big "Ah ha!" moments. May you have many.

Kathleen Popa said...

Thank you, Sharon. I'm glad we do this together.

Myne said...

That was such and amusing, and alsi seriously encouraging story. Thanks for sharing.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Thank you! For sharing, and for your ministry.

H said...

I see that my post was not understood. "Oh sweet fallible being, write to meet Me on the bridge and all else is Mine to manage." This is what God says to me each time I ask 'Who's going to read my story?" The pleasure of writing is meeting Him on the bridge of words. Maybe someday He'll find me a reader but He is more important right now. I study and polish up my faults so that He will shine brighter in the words. Does any of this make sense?

Lisa said...

Ugh - I know several 'accountants' - people who say - anyone can write that's not a skill. Drives me INSANE. Like I don't actually invest time, passion and energy into growing my talent and dream. I say Boo! on them :)

Kathleen Popa said...

Henrietta, ah, now I understand. Yes, it makes great sense. That's lovely.

Lisa, yes, Boo on them. Except the nice ones.

Myne and Cherry, I'm glad you're here.

Carla Gade said...

I'm always so encouraged to come here. The down to earth, honest, conversations are so refreshing...and challenging. Love you gals!

Anonymous said...

Carla, we love that you're a part of this blog. Thank you for what you contribute.