Monday, April 23, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

This weekend, I had reason to go back through last year's blogs looking for a series I did on three questions. At the end of today's post, I'll offer them to you in case you're interested in the questions and answers.

In searching for those columns, I came across another post I'd done in August, 2006, and it stopped me in my tracks.

You might want to read that column here before continuing below.
In that post last August, I described my interaction with two writers whose manuscript openings I'd read last year. As gently as I could, I told both they were not ready to query and suggested they find critique groups or writing classes to hone their skills.

Both were obviously annoyed at my advice. One went so far as to say she didn't have the time to waste attending classes. The other said that people who'd read his work didn't agree with me and that I was focussing on details when the story was the important thing.

I mentally shrugged and made the prediction that both would end up self-publishing.

In the seven months since, my prediction came true. Both got involved in self-publishing. While one admits it was a disaster, the other is still in a state of denial.

The first writer continues to post bewildered messages on the loop, asking for advice. Although she told me she didn't have time to take classes, it's now almost a year later and she's no further down the road toward publication than she was last summer.

For most of my career, I've been a manager--in a variety of companies and settings ranging from a stock brokerage house to a public mental health agency. Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons that helped me in my writing career. I'm going to list a few of them below:

1) When things aren't going well, try another approach. Learn to be flexible and to adapt. There's a quote often attributed to Einstein: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

When I finished my first manuscript in 2003, I was so confident that a particular editor would love the story I sent it to only her. I'm torn between wincing and grinning at that naiveity today.

I was staggered to receive a rejection. After submitting the same manuscript to a half dozen other publishers, it was clear I needed to do something different. I did. I joined critique groups and professional writing organizations. That decision was the single most important one I made since becoming a writer.

2) Never take professional advice personally. The feedback I got from critiques--while kind--was often brutal. I can remember feeling as though someone was hacking the limbs off my child. There were times during critiques when it seemed the pages bled red ink. More than once, I had to put the manuscript aside for a week while I recovered from the pain. It was hard, but it was about the writing, not about me personally. If I was going to succeed, I needed to develop a thick skin and learn.

3) Everything always takes longer than you expect. I finished my first full-length manuscript in the fall of 2003. It was two years before I found an agent. It was another eight months before she sold the manuscript. From contract to publication, it will be another thirteen months. You MUST keep writing in order to remain sane. Be patient. Do not pester agents or editors to whom you've submitted work. Redirect that energy into your writing.

4) Never give up. Never give up. NEVER GIVE UP. Remember: Joe Konrath's advice: "What do we call a writer who never gives up?

Here are the links to the posts I was looking for:

1) Are people reading less? See here.
2) Are the number of titles being published up or down? See here.
3) Are book sales down? See here.


David Roth said...


How many times do we see newbies in the list that you and I both participate regularly in, introduce themselves by telling us how good they 'know' their writing is (mostly because 'Mommy' told them so) only to see them disappear after a few well meaning critics explain little things like punctuation, spelling, grammar and craftmanship in general to them?

"I'm not worried about that picky stuff - I have a good story - it'll sell itsef."

Yeah. Right.

Good advice, Maya. Too bad people don't listen. I'm reminded of the old bit about new college graduates solving all the world's problems while they still knew everything.


Maya Reynolds said...

Dave: And I remember how my father, who seemed to know NOTHING when I was eighteen, suddenly grew a lot wiser when I turned twenty-four. [G]



Sherrill Quinn said...

Excellent post, Maya. As always. When people ask me for advice for aspiring writers, one of the things I tell them is to get into a good critique group. Mine is worth its weight in platinum!

Maya Reynolds said...

Sherrill: Ain't it the truth.

Maria Zannini said...

>>When things aren't going well, try another approach.

LOL! It's funny how the obvious is so easily missed. Excellent advice!

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks, Maria. Hope you're feeling better.