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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Catch

Yesterday I linked to British author Louise Doughty's new enterprise, a weekly column in the Telegraph encouraging would-be writers to write a novel this year, in which she said:

But there is a catch. You have to write. This is something that would-be writers sometimes appear not to have grasped.

Ah yes, there's the rub!


But Doughty must run in different circles (well, obviously she does) than I do, because in my experience published writers struggle just as much with that "catch" as would-be. Oh, sure, there are some who put the seats of their pants to the seats of their chairs and write like clockwork, daily, X number of hours. But there are oh so many for whom writing is the thing they finally do when A) they've exhausted all other ways to avoid it, or B) their deadlines are breathing fire down their necks. ::sheepishly raising hand::

It's not enough to just dream about it, think about it, talk about it, read and post on websites about it, attend conferences and join organizations.

At some point you must actually write.

Okay, moving on:

Like many novelists, I often give talks at festivals and a common question is, 'How did you get your first novel published?'

It's a perfectly valid question but I often suspect the motivation behind it. What was your trick? is what they mean. Tell me your trick, because when I know it, I will be published too.

Oh yes indeed. And this comes in many forms. One friend described her own experience as walking into the first local Romance Writers of America chapter meeting after word got out that she'd sold her book, and it was as if a neon sign flashed over her head:


Sometimes the reactions are quite openly resentful. Because clearly, you not only know the secret -- you aren't sharing it.

And the implication is clear, as Doughty concludes:

The honest answer, I'm afraid, is, "I wrote a good book. And if you want to be a published writer, you will have to write one too."


And honestly? Say that? And you will be a bitch.

Not only will you be a bitch, but there will also be plenty of people around who have read your book (or something you wrote three years ago) and will Know For a Fact It Isn't Good. How on EARTH did you get that published? Who did you blackmail, screw or bribe?!?

Oh wait, they won't say that directly to you; they'll say it to each other.

You know this is true. You know this is true the same way I know this is true.

Because we have thought (and possibly said) the exact same thing as we threw down books in disgust.

Okay, so here are some hard cold facts. Accept them, and life will be easier.

You are going to see books get published that you know are Bad Books, and they really are Bad Books, and you are going to eat your soul from the inside out wondering why, why, why? when my book didn't sell?

You are going to see books get published that you know are Bad Books, and you are going to be wrong, because the green-eyed monster has taken over your judgment.

You are going to see wonderful books get published and you're going to be convinced that your writing is horrible and pedestrian and you are wasting your time and embarrassing yourself and anyone who loves you by writing books.

If you are part of a writing community of any sort, somebody you loathe is going to sell a book before you do, and it's going to make you seethe and burn.

Somebody you love is going to sell a book before you do, and it's going to hurt and you may even seethe and burn and you're going to feel guilty, and resentful, and did I mention guilty--

Even while you are ecstatically happy for them.

And all of this is normal.

Accept it. It will happen.

And then go back and write.

Because if you're a writer, you can't not write. The time you spend not writing will nag at you and torment you and you will feel more like a failure than when you do write and get a rejection letter.

Write. Keep writing. Write for the joy. For the power. For the sizzle. For the laughter. For the agony. For the impotence. For the rage.

Keep writing.

And the day will come, I know it will, when you get to be the one suffering the torment of the damned as you wait for revision letters, for cover art, for reviews, and for people to look at you funny out of the corner of their eyes because they're sure you're holding out on them and that you could share your agent, your editor, your secret --

But that's okay, because here's the catch.

You'll be the one who sold the book.

A good book.

One somebody paid money for, and published, and it will be yours.

Go write.


At 3:43 PM, Blogger Cynthia said...

Do you know TJLynch? Fellow Nicholl Fellow. He was the only person who approached us the night I won the Sautter Memorial -- which we thought was funny in a room full of people in LA, the only person who talked to us was the other guy from Montana. Anyway, he has a website now that, oddly, I just read today, which reports the secret to making it in Hollywood is as easy as writing a great script.

He's gone over to the dark side becoming a script consultant. ;)

Human nature is interesting, isn't it? Why are we inclined to believe in a magic secret when the answer is a bunch of hard work?

At 3:49 PM, Blogger pooks said...

I adore TJ. He makes me laugh! Thanks for the link to his site -- I didn't know he had one.


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