Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with not being a book nerd, but . . . sometimes it gets lonely when it seems like no one at the gathering speaks your language, you know?
This is a sarcastic version of a conversation I actually had with someone. People sometimes actually claim that reading fiction is silly and childish, and then they’ll turn right around and consume fiction in plenty of other ways.
Hey, it’s actually totally okay if you don’t like to read stories. It’s fine if you prefer your fictional media delivered visually and aurally and you only pick up a book if you want a true story or something informative. And it’s fine the other way around too.
But can we kill the message that nonfiction is worthwhile and stories aren’t important?
YES, BABY WRITERS! COME HERE! I MUST HUG YOU!
I love when I meet someone who’s just getting started on this whole writing journey. They have yet to be dragged through the mud on their critiques, shamed and demeaned by the submissions process, and more or less emotionally destroyed by the shiny, beautiful evil that is the publishing world. They’re brand new and precious, with that idealistic glee floating around them in a way that reminds me what it was like when this whole thing was only about telling stories.
There’s a certain sensation of feeling weathered and wise when you meet Baby Writers™, but at the same time, they have a lot to teach us. Sometimes you need to get back to when it was all about the story before you can do it fearlessly, unselfconsciously, without worrying about is this right for the market or what if my word count is out of control or should I stop here and revise or should I do the next chapter? As a writer who’s written so much and sold some of it, I have perspective now, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but sometimes I do catch that unmistakable scent of Baby Writer™ on some plucky new enthusiastic artist, and . . . a certain part of me envies them.
This may be exaggerated, but it’s true for me: I’m much more likely to agree with my critics (and adjust my writing in response!). Five people could praise a favorite line and then if one person thought it was silly, I’d probably start leaning toward believing it was silly. Some of this is good, adaptive behavior: you WANT readers who will tell you what’s wrong with your story and push you to make it better. But some of it is just Insecure Writer Syndrome™. For some of us, if one reader criticizes something we wrote, we suddenly can’t see the scene the same way and it will bug us until we fix it.
There’s such a thing as too much of this, but most of us have a healthy level of ability to take criticism seriously. We won’t throw our manuscripts in the fireplace and quit writing forever if someone dislikes our work, but we’ll obsess over criticism and it will seem magnified in our minds. This is generally a good thing unless it paralyzes our ability to draft without too much fear. However, much worse than this is its opposite: the authors who savor only the praise and automatically ignore criticism. These are the authors who are more likely to defend their work in the face of criticism instead of taking a good look at what they can improve, and these are the authors who think they have nothing to learn.
So they don’t.
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard this one. People seem to think it makes sense that I’d want a writing job–ANY writing job–because after all, I like writing! Clearly I should like absolutely any kind of writing, even though writing for a newspaper or magazine requires a completely different skill set and provides a completely different function. No, really, guys. I’m pretty happy being an administrative assistant.
Furthermore, if you spend all your time doing a type of writing you’re not really into, chances are you’ll burn out and not WANT to do the kind you love. I would actually much rather save my word nerdery for my books. It’s not like my writing drive is satisfied as long as I’m putting words on a page. I write stories, people!
NO, THAT IS NOT AT ALL FLATTERING, YOU JERK.
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is an ACTUAL MESSAGE I got (though the fellow’s name was not “Animal4U”). The full text:
Him: I’ll get around to reading your self-summary eventually, but I just wanted to compliment you on your 10 adorable photos…
Me: I hope you enjoy the part of my profile that will be relevant to having a conversation with me, then! Cool.
Him: Aw, give up writing. Anyone as cute as you doesn’t need talent :0)
I’m beyond disgusted when someone expects me to react positively to the supposition that I “don’t need” THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF MY LIFE that brings me THE MOST PERSONAL FULFILLMENT OF ANYTHING I DO, or that my interest in pursuing it would be eclipsed by WHATEVER OTHER PEOPLE THINK ABOUT MY LOOKS.
Me: This is not an appropriate conversation. My self-summary makes it very clear that I am not a match with anyone who believes my photos are the most important aspect of my profile.
Your suggestion that I should give up writing because I’m cute, no matter how much of a “joke” you meant it as, is dismissive and disgustingly offensive to me. Writing isn’t something I do until or unless someone succumbs to my cuteness and decides to take care of me. It’s not funny. It’s not flattering. And I recommend in the future–if you do not want to alienate and/or offend more people you’re trying to hit on–that you read at least part of the profile BEFORE sending a message of any kind. You had fair warning about the kinds of interaction I’m here for and what sorts of comments I appreciate, and you would have easily been able to tell the way you approached me is not cool with me if you’d imagined what I SAY is probably more relevant than what I look like.
So off I go to talk to people who won’t consider my talents and aspirations so much less important than my looks that I might as well not even bother.
So there’s totally nothing wrong with fan-casting your book’s movie.
Or fantasizing about what you’ll say when you’re promoting your latest bestseller on the biggest talk shows on TV.
Or doodling characters, covers, designs, and concepts.
Or even thinking about important promotional decisions and potential markets.
But first, you need a product, guys! Write the freakin’ thing! Write it!
Mess around as much as you want, but before your first draft is even completed isn’t really the time to be knuckling down trying to book actors to audition for the film. Sometimes I even talk to people who feel compelled to mention marketing ideas to agents or publishers they’re querying, thinking this makes them look like a go-getter or a big thinker, but what it actually does is make you look like you have no idea how the publishing world works.
If you’re more focused on the glamor and hoopla that comes after you’ve already succeeded, you’re not focusing on writing so much as what happens after you’ve written. Seriously, focus on the writing first. Or the rest of it will probably never come.
Word to the wise:
STAND OUT WITH YOUR WRITING, NOT WITH GIMMICKS OR GIFTS.
Seriously, agents are not going to make a decision between signing you and not signing you if your paper is colorful or if you sent them chocolate. They will probably be more likely to think your writing is poor if you are resorting to attention-getting techniques that have nothing to do with your ability to entertain or inform.
Most agents are taking their queries through e-mail nowadays, and some take them exclusively that way. If you decorate your e-mail message with silly backgrounds or animated GIFs, you will look like you don’t understand that this is a professional proposition to work together. You will also be drawing attention away from your ideas/your writing and toward whatever non-standard fonts or goofy headers you picked, and they do NOT make the agent think you are clever. And if you send a paper query, yes, there’s a chance your paper will get seen sooner if there is something unusual about its presentation, but getting them to look at it isn’t the problem here. It’s getting them to like it.
And yeah, they’ll probably remember you. But not in a good way.
(And yes, listen to people who have actually done the thing you’re trying to do. I can’t even tell you how much bogus advice I’ve gotten from people who think their comments are innovative or revolutionary. No, man. Sit down and let people who know this business tell other people how to get what we have.)
I’m the busiest slacker there ever was. I’m not even kidding.
My publishing contract decreed that my deadline to turn in my manuscript was March 1. I’ve known this since the end of 2013. And all I wanted to do was go through the book a couple more times, fine-tune it even more, and apply some “house style” and coding. It wouldn’t take long, right? I’d get down to business once I had a month to go, right?
And then my February proceeded pretty much like the picture above.
- I blogged. A lot. Fifteen blog entries in the month of February, plus a blog interview on another blog.
- I laughed it up on Twitter. (Mostly on my author account.)
- I read. Not much reading got done, but I finished Dance of the Dissident Daughter and am almost finished with Austenland.
- I baked cookies for my brother-in-law’s birthday.
- I did a ninety-minute talk at Princeton University’s IvyQ Conference.
- I chatted on Skype (and in other ways) with my critique partner from Pitch Wars. I kind of spent a bunch of January helping him get an agent and stuff.
- I made a couple videos. I did one on education for writers for my writing channel and one where I read an ignorant letter and laughed at it on my asexuality/personal channel.
- I did a bunch of karaoke on the Internet. I do it every week. Performed “Disarm,” “Back in Business,” “Luka,” and “Taylor the Latte Boy.”
- I posted some rants and arguments and conversations and silliness on Tumblr.
- I submitted some short stories to magazines. I’m not good at short stories. Maybe these magazines will disagree with me.
- Funny how I’m willing to edit other people’s books, letters, pitch materials, and correspondence, but I’m procrastinating on my own editing, eh?
- I go out to dinner and hang out with my friend Jeaux once a week. He gets Wednesdays.
- I watched some American Idol. I’m still very far behind, but what do you expect?
- I started putting some reviews on my author account on Goodreads, finally, and I started with the books from my childhood. I seem to have reviewed 60 books so far, and I haven’t gotten past the stuff I read in 1986.
- As you can see, I drew this comic. I also draw Negative One, and did so every Friday of the month.
And I edited my book twice, applied the necessary coding, created a style sheet for it, and compiled footnotes. Sent it off to my editor shortly before completing this comic.
I swear I’m usually good with deadlines. . . .