Monday, January 7, 2013

Burn the "How to" List--2013 Belongs to You

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Welcome back to Novel Matters. We have a great year of blogging ahead and we're thrilled to have you join us. Cheers to a new year!

I spent some time last week splashing through the info swamp of the “how to” of writing and publishing. It didn’t take long before my hip waders flooded and I was over my head. The volume of advice is more avalanche than rushing river. Micro info dumping about the industry of publishing (which is either doing just fine, or is a dinosaur long extinct it just doesn’t know it yet, depending who you read) sends writers into a panic.

Why panic?

Because the underlining message of all these articles, blogs, websites, books, and essays is this: Writer, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re getting this all wrong.

Jane Friedman, in an article called How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published? encapsulates this mantra perfectly (with help from Chuck Sambuchino):

 ‘“Good” gets rejected. Your work has to be the best. How do you know when it’s ready, when it’s your best? I like how Writer’s Digest editor and author Chuck Sambuchino answers this question at writing conferences: “If you think the story has a problem, it does—and any story with a problem is not ready.”
It’s common for a new writer who doesn’t know any better to send off his manuscript without realizing how much work is left to do. But experienced writers are usually most guilty of sending out work that is not ready. Stop wasting your time.”

This is good advice—you shouldn’t send out your work until you know you’ve done everything possible to make it the best it can be—but the way the advice is worded leaves you (and me) with the understanding that writers are just creative screw ups with no real understanding of story structure, book markets, or what’s selling.

This makes writers sad. We hate getting it wrong. We hate being industry idiots bumbling around in the dark with nothing but our imaginations to keep us warm. We just keep writing stories with problems!

Hold it.

A story with a problem . . . What kind of problem, and who decides it’s a problem? And, apparently, this will only worsen with experience. We will actually get worse at the whole writing thing the longer we write.

Goodness, we’re an unruly bunch.
Well, if we can’t please the publishing bigwigs, there’s always self-publishing, right? Surely there’s happy news and clear skies over at self-publishing info depot, that rugged station of independent thinking, or flying in the face of convention, of hitching your wagon to a star of your own creation. Ah, yes, breath the fresh air of fresh thinking.

Or not.

Typically, the advice given to self-publishing writers is identical to that meted out to writers hoping to find a home in traditional publishing. Seth Godin is the go-to guru for self-publishing writers, so I spent some time perusing his advice. A great deal of his energy is spent explaining why traditional publishing is dead. If you’d like a list, check out his site (he focuses on non-fiction ventures, but much of what he says can be generalized to other types of publication).

But.

Godin's “short list” of 19 points of advice for writers hoping to self publish reads identical to any list produced for any writer hoping to publish in any format. None of it is “bad” advice it’s just not terribly original.

Why?

Because original is impossible to categorize, list, and package. Original defies explanation, yet draws people in by touching the exposed nerve we all have but cannot name. Original is you being your unruly, creative, messy, exceptional self—no excuses, no holding back—and then releasing it all.

Are there steps to follow to becoming a bestselling novelist? Maybe. Is there a list out there that we should enslave ourselves to in order to achieve stardom? No.

I’m going to give you the best writing advice there is: 2013 is your year. That’s my advice.

You’re bigger than any list. You burn too bright. That list will burst into flames in your hands.  You are a writer—and that means you are an artist, poet, priest, lover, fighter. You feel, you live, you watch and then you turn all that over on its back, invert the whole thing, and write about a world familiar yet strange and we all just sit back and say, “Wow. Do it again.”

And it’s because you live and love and express the power of both in ways that leave us breathless that you will, in your own way, find your way—whatever that means and whatever that looks like—to the place you craft. Your place. Traditionally published, self-published, or some place in between.

You are an artist.

Stop reading lists.

Go. Own 2013 in your own way.

Write.

Be fierce.

Be fearless.

11 comments:

rachelrueben.com said...

Thanks for the encouragement, I myself am a self-published author and wonder why there is so much confusion? I try to share my experiences on my blog but I'm a limited human being and can only share MY experience in self-publishing.

I too go looking for advice sometimes and find the maze of blogs, websites and articles mind-boggling. The problem being, many of these "gurus" aren't tested or proven. Just because you've published one lousy book doesn't make you an expert! But yet, I see authors branding themselves as experts at conferences, and workshops while charging authors a pretty penny to learn "the secret" to self-publishing. I know of one author who publicly admits they haven't even made an ROI on their self-published book but still holds seminars charging authors hundreds of dollars! Sad but true!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

LOVE this! "Stop reading lists" & everything that follows!

Happy 2013!

~ Wendy

susiefinkbeiner.com said...

Well. I'm sitting here with a grin on my face. 2013 is our year.

This post was worth the wait.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Whoa! Preach it sister!
(and that is not "whoa" as in stop a horse. That is Who -o-0-0-0h!).

Patti Hill said...

Pardon me while I break into "The Hallelujah Chorus." Wait. Even if you can't hear me, I shouldn't do that. The poor dog! But this is OUR YEAR! Bonnie, such a lovely gift. You have no idea. I love you dearly for this gift.

Now, to prove I'm not a robot.

Latayne C Scott said...

I'm on it! Brave!! Strong! Truthful!

Jennifer Major said...

First, sorry about you ladies also getting spammed. I hate spam. It ruined my nice, happy FB world.

Thank you for such an encouraging post!!! My only problems are punching up my opening chapter, which I know how to do and getting the itty bitty teeny tiny cultural nuances exactly perfect. Hey, not a problem!

I enjoy this blog so much, so thanks for giving us a cheerful way to start the year!!

Bonnie Grove said...

Rachel: You've hit the writer's conference nail on the head as far as I'm concerned. I'm not against writer's conferences--they are a great way to make contacts inside publishing for people who don't have those ins yet. There are a number of reasons to attend a writer's conference, but they need to be your reasons, fit your schedule, fulfill your needs, and get you somewhere you want to go. Thanks for your comment.

Wendy: Happy 2013 to you!

Susie: Good!

Cherry: Giddyup!

Bonnie Grove said...

Patti: Sing, girl. Just sing.

Latayne: You've always been brave, strong, and truthful. It is a sad commentary on the state of publishing that your brilliant novels (since cypher) have had such trouble finding a publishing home. You are brilliant, and your work needs to be widely read.

Jennifer: Spam bites. Cheers to punching up that chapter 1!

S. F. Foxfire said...

WOW! This is super encouraging! My mom and I are thinking about starting our own publishing company because our stuff doesn't fit any market. SO! We're taking this matter into our own hands.

Thanks for boosting my sagging writer's muscles, Bonnie. :D

Lynn said...

Great post, Bonnie. Thanks for giving me the "ok" to "just write." 2013 I vow to worry more about getting my characters from point A to point B than which hash tag will increase my twitter followers by .067%