Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Should You Stop Writing?

Miss Snark titles her most recent post "When to Stop."

"At what point do I say to myself, 'Self, you're pretty much a no-talent writer and you should give this all up. Your view of the world is not what everyone else's is. Your writing style sucks grapefruit without sugar; and you're too dang short'?

"When you're standing at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter is busy discussing his novel with Miss Snark.

Look, writing is supposed to be hard. It's supposed to be utter agony.

If you must write, if you love to write, if writing makes you understand yourself or the world better; if writing is prayer; if writing is fun; if writing is what you think about when you see something strange or wonderful in this old world, then write."

Cue the recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

Nice sentiments, but it sounds like a speech from Tony Robbins or the gung ho platitudes announcers spout during TV coverage of the Olympics.

Most wannabe writers want to be published, not to write. Most people who call themselves writers don't write because the process gets their endorphins flowing. It it did, and their main goal wasn't publication, they would handle rejection a lot better.

Even some talented professional writers admit that they would rather avoid writing if possible. Fran Liebowitz, for example. Phil Alden Robinson has a really funny take on this that can be found in Millard Kaufman's book on screenwriting.

Also note the inconsistency in Miss Snark's answer: writing is agonizing but one of the reasons you continue is because you love it. Only if you're a masochist.

Closely related to this is Fran's recent posting of excerpts from some of her rejection letters.

"in a very competitive market, wish we could be more enthusiastic, not right for us, first novels are a tough sell right now," etc. are all boilerplate phrases that basically boil down to this:

We didn't like your submission and we're not going to take the time to give you a detailed critique for free.

Or condensing it further: NO.

Why do you think they call them rejection letters?

The last letter Fran quoted wrote, "However, while I found much to admire, I’m sorry to say, I didn’t become engaged with the world of your story and its inhabitants enough to keep turning the pages to the very end."

One or two of the previous letters also gave a specific reason-they didn't like her writing.

If you develop the right market intelligence-knowing which agents and editors publish or represent the same kind of writing you are submitting-and you obey all of the other protocols of submission and you write and submit and have only received rejection and the few specifics you get all bascially tell you that in their opinion your writing isn't good enough for them, then you have to sit down, eliminate all distractions, and have a serious session of self-examination where you ask yourself whether you are right or everyone else is wrong.

You have to ask yourself the question that everyone who tries this has to ask: maybe the feedback I've received means that my writing is just not very good.

Ask yourself why you write or started writing.

Does putting words on paper (or screen) itself give you pleasure, or is writing merely a means to an end-publication, the approval of others, money?

If the first is the answer, then rejection is easier to take.

If writing is a means to an end, and you have given it not merely a college try but a grad school attempt and have never succeeded even once, maybe you should stop and find some way to exorcise yourself of the whole thing.

I don't say this because I fancy myself some big time pro who chuckles at the foibles of wannabe writers.

Nor am I telling anyone what to pursue in life.

Here's my perspective. I'm a very sporadic writer. I tend to be interested in subjects that are either too esoteric to be marketable or in subjects that are well known and about which there enough books already.

I hate writing on spec and pitching. I'm an other-driven person. Rejection discourages me from trying. I probably could have performed well as a staff writer at a newspaper or magazine where the editor gives assignments, but that's not gonna happen for me at this stage in my life.

I've been published professionally, though not at book length.

If I had never received even one acceptance and the few specific responses I received said my writing was no good, I almost certainly would have abandoned the goal of being professionally published.

My goal since 1992 has been to get one nonfiction book published by a reputable trade publisher. To that end, I've written three book proposals on my own and co-authored another.

The proposal that sold was the one I co-authored. It only sold because a computer book editor knew what he wanted and sought a writer(s) who could execute it competently.

I have concluded that the only way I'll meet my goal is to connect with an editor who proposes an idea he loves to me. Unfortunately, that's not the way the process of selling books usually works, so I'm pretty much resigned to the conclusion that I won't write a book.

It doesn't brighten my days, but I don't let it destroy me, either.

Arthur Miller once wrote something like this, "Everyone is creative, but not everyone is an artist."

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