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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.