We have all been to workshops and worked with fledgeling writers whom we judge, in our estimation, will probably never break-in.
They say that “football games are not really won, but rather they’re lost by the opposing team.” So it’s worth exploring why we think other writers seem doomed to amateur status. Here’s a few of my thoughts:
1) being too enamored of ones’ words on a page (I guess you could call this lack of professionalism. Ie, eg., “So what if the poem makes you cry – if it makes ANOTHER person cry, then you’re getting somewhere.” Some writers get addicted to the rush of putting words on a page, fall in love with the magic of it, and don’t want to change “Their Precious.”)
2) Being unable to take feedback, not listening to their pre-readers
3) Having a weak point, such as plotting, that won’t get better
4) Having a pre-conceived notion of what sort of writer you want to be. In other words, if JK Rowling had conceived of herself as a literary novelist, instead of writing a story “I would’ve wanted to have read as a young person,” then she’d still be bashing her head against a wall.
I don't believe in 'never' or the idea that someone can't learn something. What I think you're really trying to say is that they'll 'never break in...until they learn this particular skill." Would that be fair to say?
People can learn if they're open to it and nothing stops people from being open to something except themselves.
I feel people can learn most things if they truly try, and are open to it. The problem being that many people aren't open to it, or simply don't try hard enough and then blame external sources. A common roadblock I see is that many would-be writers complain about writers block, or other various forms of 'lack of inspiration'.
To me, and honestly I think to most, inspiration comes and goes. Writing hasn't ever been something I always enjoy; it's work sometimes. I also tend to think many would-be's sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, which is just silly. Yeah, epiphany and inspiration can come at moments you're not expecting, but generally you have to be looking for them in the first place. (Why would you get inspiration for your story when you're really not looking to write your story?)
There are of course, people who consistently write and improve very little. But in my opinion, these people are either ignoring reality (And the advices of others), or (Far more rarely, in my opinion) do not have the cognitive processes required. Or as a third alternative, are writing for the wrong reasons (Fame, etc).
In one of Orson Scott Card's advice things, I believe he suggested to teenage writers that they take their work seriously; that they write as if it's their job. This is great advice, to me, because if you truly want to write for a living, it's not just about passion. It's about commitment, and hard work. When inspiration does not come, you search for it. And if you don't find it, you write anyways.
I suppose I could shorten this into one simple sentence (An oft used one, even): Those who don't learn are not looking to be writers; they're looking to be ________ people that happen to write. (Fill in the blank with the appropriate adjective, as it varies from person to person).
[This message has been edited by Gan (edited July 22, 2010).]
If you watch the try-outs for American Idol, you see people on there who will NEVER sing professionally because they're just plain tone deaf.
Now, can the same be said for writing? I don't know. I'd like to think with practice, practice, practice someone can elevate themselves to a level of publishing. However, the time it takes can vary greatly.
Just on this board I've e-conversed with folks who have been writing for less time than I have who I recognize as better writers than myself.
Now, do they have a better ear for words and rhythm than I do? Have they a better grasp on the language? More empathy and ability to infuse life into their characters? A better imagination for situations dire for heroes to escape from?
Or, in the end, is it just talent?
Perhaps talent is just a mix of the above posed questions...
I keep plugging away because I'm hoping that someday it will click for me. Some authors put out book after book after book. They have reached a certain level of expertise where "how to write" is something they just know. I believe it's a line to be crossed and I march toward that line with every word.
I recently watched the Pixar animated movie, Ratatouille, with my son. In the movie the MC, a rat named Remy, was inspired by a book titled Anyone Can Cook. However, during the course of the movie, it becomes painfully apparent that not everyone can cook - the main human character, named Linguini, cannot cook well no matter how hard he tries. The rat, on the other hand, cooks exceedingly well.
The title of the book is explained by a food critic at the end of the picture - to paraphrase: Although it is obvious that not everyone can cook, the ability to cook is not discriminatory as to a person's background or other limitations.
I do not believe everyone can write, but I do believe anyone can write. There are advantages and disadvantages as there are in any art or skill. History is full of individuals overcoming obstacles to become successful.
Here are some things that I feel are advantages in writing: 1. Being a voracious reader. 2. Being educated in writing and literature. 3. Having/making sufficient time to write. 4. Having ambition/determination. 5. Having natural talent.
I do not believe that any one of these can either preclude or immediately grant someone's success. But I do believe that the right combination of these makes for a great soup!
Edited to replace prolific with voracious (right thought, wrong adjective)
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited July 22, 2010).]
I learned a lot of valuable lessons making my way up a very tough ladder as an Artist to finally get paid for it, which now I apply to my efforts in writing. Here are a few.
1. You have to want to do it: You can't just want the fame you see that an already established person has. You have to feel it's something worth achieving. For the good and the bad. The good/bad part will topple 50% of the field in a short amount time.
2. Next is two paths: 1. You work hard 2. You get lucky. Great thing about 1. Is the more you do it. The better chance you'll strike number 2.
3. Believing in yourself: You have to weather the storms of constant doubt, and bombardment of that you're on the wrong path. Take advice from good sources only. Learn the difference between honest, insightful advice, and spiteful, hold you down, advice. They can seem alike but there not. Beware of friends and family, they often say one thing and mean another. They can boost you up one minute, and then tear you down in the next. Always believe in yourself first and foremost.
4. Throw away doubt: There is no obstacle you can't over come if you want success. It's great if you can get education, It helps, but it can also hold you back, I know a lot of people with great educations that are lousy at what they do. It's not having an education that matters, but how you absorbed their teaching. It is still you deciding if what their saying is worth learning. If you feel you lack something find a way to learn it. No one's going to hand it to you. So classes, books, videos, forums, articles, and plain hard work will get you to where your going.
5. Take the hard knocks and role with them. Learn the things that need to be learned, change the things that need to be changed, but prepare yourself that some people no matter what you do will hate your work. This you have to learn to let go of so it will not effect the end product or your want to continue.
It's a hard road, unless you get lucky, but it can be achieved. The difference in my opinion between a good writer and someone that doesn't get it, is: Do you care more about the actually story you're writing and how it is received, or do you care more about about the thought of how being a writer will somehow bring you fame.
My advice: Write, write, write, and write some more! Let the rest take care of itself.
All writers or wouldbe writers have a certain innate set of skills. Some are more robust than others. But most writers have holes in skillsets that they have to overcome one way or another in their quest to become a 'professional'.
I think the key to becoming a professional writer is how adept we become at filling in the holes. Some have developed a wonderful command of the English language, yet they don't have the skill of tailoring that command to the genre. Some are really creative, but can't infuse sufficient life into a character. Some can produce lovely prose, but are useless when it comes to developing a compelling story arc.
That's where the practice comes in. If a fledgling writer doesn't understand that and refuses to understand the weaknesses in their writing, they'll never make the myriad number of leaps it takes to hone a professional set of writing skills. Listening to criticism is perhaps the key first step in that process.
I think all the talk about hard work and writing a million words and treating writing as a profession beats around the bush. The issue is combining a writer's god-given talent with a sincere effort at finding what one lacks as a writer and acquiring the skills to overcome that lack.
Some facets may not be honed to perfection, but if that is the case, the writer must overcompensate in other areas to make his/her writing outstanding. And only outstanding writing sells.
That's my two cents.
[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited July 22, 2010).]
If that were only true... ah, what a world, but the shelves and magazines would be a lot barer, but at least I wouldn't have to relive that feeling I often get that I can't believe I just wasted ten dollars on this book after reading it.
It's a good thing only outstanding gets published.
[This message has been edited by walexander (edited July 22, 2010).]
I think anyone can get published and I mean even someone with the IQ of Forest Gump and they dropped out of school at age 5. What makes the difference is how bad they want it. If writing and getting published is your only and number one priority then someday (barring an untimely accident) it will happen. It's all in how hard the road is.
For some who are talented, or are born with parents who own a publishing company, it's easy. They don't even have to want it that bad. They can have a normal life, have a family. For others the road is so littered with obstacles that it seems impossible. They may have to sacrifice everything to get their goal but it is possible. I don't think anything is impossible, just harder or easier.
I'm beginning to think that conceiving myself as a "science fiction writer" was a mistake---thirty-five years of writing, no sales-for-money, and, at the moment, and little desire to read the stuff anymore...
Also I see no way out---there's nothing else I really want to write, but I want to write, to go on writing, and go on trying.
Also I don't subscribe to the idea that one has to be outstanding to be published---I've read too many books or stories, published and paid for (in most cases paid for by me buying a copy), which were just awful---and some of these made bestseller lists, even.
I AM GOING TO PLAY DEVIL'S ADVOCATE FOR A MOMENT:
I find art (drawing, painting, tatooing, etc.) and music (singing or playing an instrument) as interesting parallels. What is everyone's opinion on these talents? Can anyone become a professional in these fields?
Why or Why not? And if not, how is this different from writing?
Robert - nobody, and I mean nobody, is "outstanding" to everyone - not even Homer, or Shakespeare, or Dan Brown. But if a writer isn't outstanding to SOMEONE, then they probably won't get published.
Comparison with other arts is valid in some respects, not in others. Painters/sculptors/visual artists, in general, are celebrated for their uniqueness; they make one-of-kind objects (prints notwithstanding) which go to one person or gallery. Musicians/writers are different - they make something tha can be, and is, replicable and available to a great mass of public. Imagine tryingto be a successful writer or musician if your book or song were recorded once and could not be copied? I don't think we'd see too many wannabe musicians or writers, and so I have a lot of respect for visual artists, but don't see their work as analogous to writing, and don't see too many parallels to be drawn.
Music is a different matter and I think there are a lot of similarities between songwriters and storytellers. Many songwriters ARE story-tellers, they simply have an extra element to counter the very small number of words they can use: that is to say, they can set a huge amount of emotional tone by the choice of notes and instrumentation around the words. Many songwriters are excellent storytellers and it is well worth analysing songwriting to see just how few words can be used to paint an image - and also how that image might change in a different musical setting, and how a writer who has ONLY words, no music, can compensate for that. In some sense writing is the most difficult art of all because all we have are words, and everyone knows every well that miscommunictoin is incredibly easily achieved with words alone (the internet is living proof...).
Hmmm interesting. I disagree with a very large portion of whats in the original post here and many of the basic premises from which it's coming (or seems to be coming), but I'll get to that in a minute. First I want to quote some stuff that I very strongly do agree with. A good deal of my thoughts have been put forth to some degree already.
quote:I don't believe in 'never' or the idea that someone can't learn something
I agree, as I so often do, with my Lovely Assistant, genevive the Bunny Girl. I thought for a long time that there was no way I would ever be able to write a coherent story. But, once I tried I found out that yes, in fact, I can.
I also agree wholeheartedly with pretty much everything walexander said, but in particular...
quote:Next is two paths: 1. You work hard 2. You get lucky. Great thing about 1. Is the more you do it. The better chance you'll strike number 2.
I can't even say how happy it makes me to hear someone say this. Its my belief that dedication/persistence and luck are by far the two biggest facotrs in "breaking in" (whatever that may mean to you) in the writing world and indeed just about any creative/entertainment area. People go on and on about trying to "become good enough" but the trouble is, there is no good, because its all subjective. Editors buy, in the end, based on their opinions/tastes/preferences. So, no matter how "good" of a writer you are, its still more or less a random thing whether your "good" piece of writing gets in the hands of an editor whose concept of "good writing" it matches. Although that randomness can be offset very slightly by various means of gaining knowledge of a particular editors tastes and preferences but even then...people will sometimes end up loving stuff of a type they usually hate and vice versa.
So, the single most important factor that you as a writer actual have control over is the persistence. Write, write, write and submit, submit, submit.
Now as far as the original post...robertq you seem to be coming very much from those notions of an objective, universal standard of "good writing" and seem to be putting forth reasons why an aspiring writer won't "get good enough" to break in (also, there are many different concepts of "breaking in" but I'm using it as I think you may be also in terms of having someone pay you for your writing.)
As I mention above, I believe that writing...and all art...is more or less totally subjective. I don't believe in an objective and/or universal standard of "good writing." To me, its about purpose, and goals (both "professional" goals and storytelling goals but more the latter.) To me workshopping and the like isn't about trying to get closer to some non-existant objective and universal "better" its about becoming more effective at achieving your goals as a storyteller...at conveying to people the story thats in your mind. Because since, in the end, editors are going to choose based on subjective preference (and things like issue balance and the like) theres no point in trying to "please everyone" so it is, I believe, better to stick to trying to tell the stories you want to tell as much like you want to tell them as you can.
So, many of the reasons I feel aspiring writers may fail to "break in" or eventually simply give up are in fact in counterpoint to some of what you present. For example...
quote:being too enamored of ones’ words on a page (I guess you could call this lack of professionalism. Ie, eg., “So what if the poem makes you cry – if it makes ANOTHER person cry, then you’re getting somewhere.” Some writers get addicted to the rush of putting words on a page, fall in love with the magic of it, and don’t want to change “Their Precious.”)
My experience has been the exact oposite. I've known many aspiring writers who were (or are) so afraid of their writing being "not good enough" (and/or of rejection, the two are obviously linked) they won't or don't even submit it for consideration.
I've encountered few if any aspiring writers that exhibit the mindset you describe here, though I'm not saying they don't exist.
quote:Being unable to take feedback, not listening to their pre-readers
While the majority of begining writers do experience difficulty in accepting criticism at first (excerbating by the difficulty some people have with giving constructive and considerate critique) my experience has again been largely the oposite once past that initial trouble. Many writers I see are all to willing to change their work based on feedback which I think sometimes leads to difficulty when you get conflicting, contradictory opinions. This, again, often seems to stem from a lack of confidience in their own creativity.
quote:Having a weak point, such as plotting, that won’t get better
Already discussed this some above but in addition to the fact that I don't really accept the notion of someone simply being unable to "improve" an aspect of their writing theres also the aspect that, again, "better" is largely a matter of opinion...
quote:Having a pre-conceived notion of what sort of writer you want to be. In other words, if JK Rowling had conceived of herself as a literary novelist, instead of writing a story “I would’ve wanted to have read as a young person,” then she’d still be bashing her head against a wall.
I agree with this in a way. However I think it stems less from the writer, often, than from the tendency in art to want to pigeonhole everything into genres, catagories, age ranges and all that. I think also people sometimes approach it in terms of, I'm going to write this or that because thats whats popular so I'm more likely to get published, instead of just writing what they WANT to write.
I hope I don't come across as trying to bash you, because I'm not. Since my views on the matter are largely in counterpoint to what you presented, I choose to present mine as such. I'm not saying you're wrong, because certainly there are writers that have fizzled due to some of the things you mention.
In my personal opinion though the biggest reasons stem largely from that objective, univeral "good/bad" writing idea, from all the discouragement we as writers recieve from so many sources, from over-fixation on "rules" and trends, fear of being "cliche" that sort of thing, rather than embracing ones own muse.
Edited for typos
[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited July 23, 2010).]
quote: I find art (drawing, painting, tatooing, etc.) and music (singing or playing an instrument) as interesting parallels. What is everyone's opinion on these talents? Can anyone become a professional in these fields?
They're far more alike than you think. I've worked as a profession artist most my life. Here are some parallels I've noticed so far.
In art you can be unique and become popular, but it doesn't make you a good artist. The difference between me and most is I can draw anything, and I do mean anything. I can draw, paint, in multiple mediums on almost any surface. I can paint huge murals or small miniatures. I can do graphics and 3d. I'm considered a professional because people pay me for my talent, and I deliver.
Now writing I find similar. This question I ask myself on this exploration all the time. Am I looking for my writing to be unique and then become popular, or am I looking to be talented enough to write anything and get paid for it? If someone asked me to write a sports piece, could I write it. How about an advice column? or movie review? what about a teen book, movie script, PSM (Personal service message), text book on creative writing? I don't fool myself into believing I understand anything in compared to an person who if asked understands writing so well can write or edit almost anything. The fact that I'm so narrow right now shows my extreme limitations, and my chances of ever getting paid is going to be a long hard road, unless I get lucky. Will I, if I get a strong understanding of writing fundamentals, start writing about anything I see, for example an article for the local paper: Of course, I'd be foolish not to. Get your foot in door, make connections, show your work to the right people at the right time, get paid.
That's what I've noticed so far. Can't speak for musicians but I feel its probably similar: Those who are unique and popular, and those who can play any kind music, sometime multiple instruments, can read and write it, and back up, join in with, anyone, anytime, any place.
But face it --- Everyone wants the road of unique and popular. Who doesn't? W.
[This message has been edited by walexander (edited July 23, 2010).]
Robert, maybe if you tried something wildly different, just for the sake of doing something different; you might find that it nudges you in one direction or another.
I do this sometimes when I have a client where I'm getting sort of blah reactions to the frames I'm showing them; even when I know they're good choices. I'll show them something drastically different, something they didn't expect or that I know will exceed their personal style. While they might not go with it, it often changes the way they look at the piece and then we can make some progress in whatever direction they now see fit. The jolt helps them define what does and doesn't work for them.
Maybe we could all use a jolt to our writing now and then.
I think it is good to think of pitfalls that fledgling writers might fall into that keep them from developing as a writer, but I don't think anyone can judge whether a fledgling writer will get published or not. We don't just grow as writers, we also grow as individuals. Someone who is resistant to criticism at the time may learn to be more open to it in the future.
I just wanted it to be clear that we do not judge writers here only the writing in case there are fledgling writers who might get scared off from posting.
That said, I thought your list of pitfalls was very good. I'd like to add that sometimes fledgling writers have a difficult time determining what should be changed after a critic. If they are too insecure, they might follow all of the advice and lose their original vision or if they are too confident, they might change nothing. It is difficult to find the balance.
quote:As I mention above, I believe that writing...and all art...is more or less totally subjective. I don't believe in an objective and/or universal standard of "good writing." To me, its about purpose, and goals (both "professional" goals and storytelling goals but more the latter.) To me workshopping and the like isn't about trying to get closer to some non-existant objective and universal "better" its about becoming more effective at achieving your goals as a storyteller...at conveying to people the story thats in your mind. Because since, in the end, editors are going to choose based on subjective preference (and things like issue balance and the like) theres no point in trying to "please everyone" so it is, I believe, better to stick to trying to tell the stories you want to tell as much like you want to tell them as you can.
I think I've had this argument a million times with Merlion, but oh well, here we go again.
I think we need to define what "good writing" is. Writing is a form of communication. Good writing is accomplished when the reader understands what the writer is trying to say. This is not as easy as it seems especially in story telling. There is a certain subtlety that good writing accomplishes.
For example: you want the reader to understand what is going on and get the point of the story without bashing them on the head with your ideas; you want to evoke an emotional response without seeming contrite or melodramatic, etc. These are hard to accomplish, and there are many tools or writing tricks that can help that writers can learn.
But I agree with you that once you have the ability to tell the story the way you want it to be told, and your target readers interpret it the way you want them to, then "good writing" is subjective, and it is all about finding the right editor or agent.
But until then, there is a lot to learn that will make you a better writer.
"I find art (drawing, painting, tatooing, etc.) and music (singing or playing an instrument) as interesting parallels. What is everyone's opinion on these talents? Can anyone become a professional in these fields?"
I think anyone can be a professional in these fields as well. I once took flute lessons from the second chair flutist of the Pheonix Symphony. I don't know his whole story or how long he had to work to get to be where he was, but during one of his lessons he gestured to his apartment. He said that there was a reason he never got married or had a family. He has to commit so much time to playing the flute just to stay where he was that he doesn't have time for anything else. Playing the flute was his life.
I think anyone can be a professional musician or an artist. I teach piano to kids everyday and I get a wide range of abilities but everyone of those kids could be a concert pianist if they wanted and if they put in the time. The thing is if you're tone deaf and you want to be a musician you can, but do you really want to put yourself through all that. Would you really want to go through life having to work three times as hard as everyone else only to realize at the end that you were actually a gifted dancer?
It's not that I haven't tried other fields...just this past May I turned out a short story that, on reflection, seems like a fragment of a Harlequin Romance. (Long-ago, I wrote a whole one.) I've tried horror, mysteries, straight mainstream fiction, literary stuff...I've written non-fiction articles while considering trying my hand at longer works...I've tried movie and TV scripts and plays...I've done poetry and / or songwriting, too. (There's my Internet Fan Fiction, too, which covers the range from faux scriptwriting to, yes, science fiction.)
When I fixed on this desire to write, my reading habits consisted of science fiction almost exclusively. Naturally I wanted to write something like what I liked to read. But over the years, that's kind of turned on me. Most of what I read is non-fiction...but the desire to write that doesn't burn within me. Only writing SF appeals to me...if I give that up I'd write even less than I write now. Writing something different, for the sake of writing something different, just doesn't appeal to me.
(Of course, fate does play jokes on one. In one of the Beatles books I read and reread, there's a comment about how John Lennon picked up the guitar at (about) age fifteen, and it was a couple of years before he could sing and play at the same time. When I was fifteen, and for some time after, I was under the impression that the ability to play the guitar while singing was something you were born with---you either could, or you couldn't.
(If I had know that---if I had known it could be learned---I think I might have pursued music as a possible career.)
quote:(If I had know that---if I had known it could be learned---I think I might have pursued music as a possible career.)
It's never to late to explore new things. I've been a artist most of my life and it can get real boring at times especially when I'm working on something of no interest to me. A lot of people will tell you to only stay to what you know. They really have no vision of what you can do in a human lifetime. I dance salsa/ jive/ country. I sing and play guitar. I Act, which at times let's me swordfight. How many people can say that? The only limits you have are the ones in you're own head. I should know. I've competed in dance. I've sang in a band, and I've acted on stage, and now can choreograph any kind of fight, in a college production of Romeo and Juliet (Modern setting) most of leads knew martial arts so we went to town on the fight scene, it was a lot of fun. From their I learned sound editing, lightning design, and prop managing. Most of these things I thought I could never do, and then I did them. Now I'm writing, because I have a lot to talk about.
Their are those that say it's a waste of time for me, your a great Artist, so why bother, but that's what they said about everything else. I like the thought of being an MC in my own life first, and everything else second. The important thing is even if I didn't become world class at any of these or my other adventures, the journey really helped my Art and kept it feeling alive. Which, and most importantly of all, kept 'Me' feeling alive. Your just lacking a Muse right now, to find one, you may have to go out and explore. So pack the ship, unfurl the sails, and set a course for adventure.
My 2cents at least.
[This message has been edited by walexander (edited July 24, 2010).]
Artists, musicians and writers are all cut from the same cloth, in my opinion. Artists and musicians can be poets and storytellers, writers and musicians can be artists, and artists and writers can be virtuosos. Their 'art' is an interpretation/expression of the world as they see it. And for every interpretation/expression there are billions of people who will have differing responses to it. What is 'good art' is inherently subjective. That said, I think 'artists' who are commercially successful have one of three things, or a combination of two or three of these things: drive, skills, and/or a gift. Let's take Madonna for instance; I don't happen to think she has a gifted voice, but there is no denying she has drive and uh...skills. She has figured out what will appeal to a large number of people. Lady Ga Ga has all three; drive, skills and a gift (in my opinion)and she appeals to a large number of people. Again, not me, but she is successful. Then there are people who are unquestionably gifted; Josh Groban & KD Lang come to mind. I wonder how many 'great' artists had someone, at some point in their lives, tell them they should consider an alternative occupation?
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The people who won't make it are the people who won't do the WORK. Period. I am not sure you can 'see' this in a person, it's just a reality. Take something very difficult to do, and 90% or better of the population will throw up its hands at some point and quit. The other 10% (or less) are the ones who stay on the "wall" (as I like to call it) for however long it takes and however much work is required, until they get over the top.
So what is "work" in writing terms?
This is how I see it. Others may disagree.
Work is daring to do more than just write fanfic for personal fun.
Work is writing, even when you don't feel like it.
Work is writing, even after you've gotten 10 rejections. 50 rejections. 100 rejections. 150 rejections. And so on, and so forth, because rejections NEVER STOP even after you break in.
Work is relentlessly creating new fiction, not endlessly "polishing" the same old piece(s) in your inventory. I think tons of new writers get hung up here, because they are afraid to let go of what they've created previously and move on.
Work is going to cons, workshops, retreats, and learning from pros. Again, I think lots of new writers get hung up here because they're scared to expose themselves to a potentially tough environment and/or the examining eyes of people with more experience.
Work is realizing it may take many years to gain even a little success.
Work is realizing even a little success does not guarantee still more success.
Work is not getting jealous when other writers succeed.
Work is continuing to write, even after 10+ years of rejections and not a single break-in sale. How many of you can say you've been writing for a decade with no sales, and are keeping at it?
Work is continuing to write, even after 15+ years of rejections. Had enough yet? If you have, you will not make it. If you can keep at it even after this many years, maybe you have what it takes to succeed.
Work is never giving up. No matter what. Always striving. Never quitting. EVER.
The vast majority of writers are not willing to do the work. The above is a small roadmap of my "new" writing career. It took never giving up to break in, and it takes never giving up to stay in. I'm just a "baby" in the SF & F authorial community, but this doesn't reflect the years and the effort I had to put in -- the many hundreds of thousands of words of dead stories and dead books, all "practice" that will never see print -- for my quality level to rise to the point where it's now "entry level" by professional standards.
Having topped the "wall" I can see a whole new range of peaks to climb, challenges to overcome. You all still on the "wall" need to be ready: the work never stops. If you can't handle the idea of working -- constantly, for the rest of your career -- then get off the "wall" and go do something else.
Otherwise, commit yourselves in your souls to doing whatever it takes, however long it takes, to make it.
"I think we need to define what "good writing" is. Writing is a form of communication. Good writing is accomplished when the reader understands what the writer is trying to say. This is not as easy as it seems especially in story telling. There is a certain subtlety that good writing accomplishes."
This got me to thinking. I wonder if sometimes interlocuters on this subject talk right past one another. By good writing, one may mean "getting your point across, communicating" and the other may mean "something I am actually interested in reading." I know for a fact that there are plenty of authors who can write incredibly well, but I don't call it "good" writing because I am being lazy in my language and really mean it isn't writing I am interested in reading, even it if well written - ie: communicated what the author intended.
I think that is one of the hurdles for aspiring writers. They may be good storytellers, in that they can craft a good story, but they are not good at communicating that story. Likewise, a writer may have excellent command of the language, but not be very good at crafting a story that is interesting, even though they could write well otherwise.
I know I have struggled with both aspects, but my own opinion is that I have greater work to do on the storytelling aspect.
Then, on top of all that at least the crafting of a "good" story can be very subjective, and any good story can theoretically be told countless diffent "good" ways, and it starts to seem like an unsurmountable obstacle for the aspiring writer to effectively judge their own writing. This may be why a sense of perspective is so helpful.
Brad T also stressed the importance of never giving up. I perfectly agree with this. One writer may take years of effort to meet their goal of success, and when it seems like some writers (for example, a certain well known vampire-authoring author here) get impossibly lucky after their first attempt, it becomes very discouraging. I often get the impression many aspiring writers have turned to writing because "they have always wanted to" and hearing of others' success leads them to believe it is easier than it really is.
When they begin to learn how hard it really is, discouragement sets in. Discouragement leads to giving up. Giving up involves a certain degree of no longer not giving up. This would lead to stagnation and mediocrity in writing, which would subsequently lead to a decreased likelihood of improving one's writing enough and being involved in the industry enough to break in.
The flip side, some authors are oblivious to what is really required in such a competitive industry, and don't want to believe that they have yet more to learn. They may be convinced of their own genius and know that "the system" is rigged against them. Rather than trying to improve their own work (the stuff they have control over) they will complain about the entire industry (which they don't have control over.)
One of the reasons I like Hatrack is because there aren't very many of either of these persuasions here. And if they manage to come around, they don't last very long. Its a very professional place for amateurs
Over the years, I've been told by many people that what I've written was good, entertaining, well-written, all that kind of praise. None of the people who told me this were in a position to buy and publish my submitted stories.
Given this, and also given some of the appalling stuff I've seen in print, you've got to understand that I'm now very cynical about the "submission / rejection" routine. As of right now, the most fulfilling writing experience I've ever had was writing Internet Fan Fiction---lots of praise and good feeling, no money. Also as of right now, I find nothing fulfilling in bundling up a short story and sending it to one of the Big Three SF mags, then days or months later get it back with a form rejection slip.
quote:Also as of right now, I find nothing fulfilling in bundling up a short story and sending it to one of the Big Three SF mags
I think herein lies some of your problem as well. I realize its good to have goals and all but since you've already said this isn't fullfilling you, maybe its time to broaden your horizons. There are LOTS of other markets out there besides the "big three" including lots of paying, print publications besides those three.
Letting go of the hangup on print probably wouldn't hurt either, although I understand the desire to want to hold your work. But even if you don't like I said theres lots of other places to submit to...many of which are more open to non-established writers and more likely to offer feedback.
Wow, what a great set of comments. So much knowledge to be tapped into here in the Treehouse… AMEN? Anyway, I was reading the comments and had the thought that if we could all write as freely and uninhibitedly (real word?) as we do here… you folks write very well on this forum. We write for the purpose of communicating our thoughts. Here it is not work, we don’t get paid with anything tangible, it doesn’t get published per se, etc. However it is a staple in our writing career, in our need to express ourselves within a peer group, in understanding how to communicate clearly with intelligent people. It seems likely that this element is missing in those who run as fast as possible for a short distance, then drop from exhaustion. Having something to say is why we write the stories.
I have been a musician for ‘bout 40 years, singer, songwriter, teacher and believe that the connections made above are very accurate. A student asked me the other day if it would take her 40 years to be able to play like me, meaning to be as good as she was seeing me play right then. I told her no. I have been playing like this for 30 of those years, not as good or as fast but essentially the same.
I am trying to get to the point with storytelling that I have reached with operating the physical instrument, my guitar. I no longer think in terms of technique or tonal structure or note names, subdividing beats and so on, I express myself emotionally, delving into the psyche musically. I try to tell you something instead of showing you my latest cool tricks, so to speak. I hope to write that way some day; to be able to express my thoughts without concentrating on the technical aspect, to have the same ‘suspension of disbelief’ when I write as when I read.
The key I try to give every student is, well… WORK! I think Brad nailed it. Mozart’s first 4 symphonic works are nowhere near as good as his later compositions, not by a long shot. He reached for his potential only after years of work. No one is exempt, some just start with a little more raw ability. Okay some start with a whole Pile of pure talent but I am grateful for them because the bar is so much higher as a result and regular folks like me can have higher aspirations!
quote:I am trying to get to the point with storytelling that I have reached with operating the physical instrument, my guitar. I no longer think in terms of technique or tonal structure or note names, subdividing beats and so on, I express myself emotionally, delving into the psyche musically. I try to tell you something instead of showing you my latest cool tricks, so to speak. I hope to write that way some day; to be able to express my thoughts without concentrating on the technical aspect, to have the same ‘suspension of disbelief’ when I write as when I read.
I like this statement a lot. I would just add that personally I believe that while time and practice is a part of what achieves what you describe, a very key element as well is a conscious decision for it to happen. A decision to quit worrying about technicalities...and what other people think...and being "good enough"...and rules...and simply be WHAT YOU WANT TO BE. And also to remember that there is no end to it. Thats a big part of why I dislike the "good/bad" and "being better" stuff...because it is an endless journey, and if you wait on "arriving" at the state of being "good enough" to do anything (like submitting your work if publication is something you desire for example) or give up because after a certain period of time you havent reached that supposed state you won't ever get anywhere, most likely.
There are many ways to survive, many niches to fill. Apex predators don't dominate the eco-system of writing, they are a tiny component, but with a lot of impact (we all want to be the apex predator--well, most do).
What roberq originally posted reflected some of the feelings that I have fought with over time. I say this not with pride, but with a certain degree of shame. It's often a tendency for us to compare people to ourselves or even others. Where one skill comes easier for some, another skill may come easier for another. These could be completely unrelated in some aspects, but upon some plane of commonality they touch and become equally needed abilities.
Let's take writing rules (the real rules involving punctuation, grammar, and spelling) and time management.
The first is very important in being able to present a piece of writing to a publisher. There are degrees of knowledge in doing this, ranging from difficulties with spelling and grammar to writing all simple subject-predicate sentences to using passive voice to story structure and so on. There becomes a gray line in determining what is important and what is subjective. I am not certain where that line is, but I strongly believe the rudimentary skills are a must and it would well serve any aspiring writer to take the time to learn these. There are a multitude of paths to gain this knowledge, but just like learning musical notes are important to a musician or lines and shading are important to an artist, these are essential to the process.
Within the point of authorship, this knowledge intersects with time management - being able to make time, pace ones self, set priorities, and determine when to stop and mail/send something. This is a greater challenge for some. Family and occupational responsibiliies and priorities greatly differ from one person to another. Typing speed is another factor. Some might even have a different sense of completion. All of these work toward affecting productivity. I do not know if someone can become successful no matter how talented they are if they do not make time to write often. Some would say to that person, anyone can make time. But I do not know if this is true. Again, it greatly depends on responsibilities and priorities (and maybe there are things more important than writing - I know, HERESY). However, one thing is certain: one must make time to write something, edit it, and send it somewhere in order to possibly be published.
With regards to these two abilities, but not limited to them, there is the tendency to judge based on ones past and individual perspective/situation. One may even judge the judger. This is the case with many and most facets of life. I don't think we can determine who will or will not be "successful". Why should we even try? Just like any other thing with regards to judging, I believe we should judge ourselves and let each determine his or her own course. Critiquing is different in the sense that we are looking at a single work, and I think we should always strive to not make character or ability judgements about the writer in the process. Let each man or woman's work stand on its own and concern ourselves with our own personal successes or failures.
The title of this topic - Why are some fledgeling writers doomed - presupposes we accept the assertion that there are some fledgeling writers who are doomed. This is something I cannot accept for a number of reasons, and I think it risks misguiding the discussion.
First, let's accept that by 'doomed' we take the clarification of 'break-in' to be 'never published': So why are some fledgeling writers never published?
I think in asking this we miss a vital point - that we were all, at one time, unpublished fledgeling writers. Aha! some say, but some of us are published now! Ah, I say: But you're no longer a fledgeling writer.
The amount of time between writing one's first word or 'wanting to be a writer' and publishing fiction is as different as every writer. For some, the road is short while for others decades will pass and their interest in writing will come and go. Some will never publish because they will reevaluate and decide on another course in life.
So to clarify, I think what we're asking is: Are there some writers out there who want to be published, who write and write and write and yet never seem to able to actually get published? (Because, since we don't know what they will do next week or year or decade, it is presumptuous beyond belief to say they're 'doomed' or will 'never break in at all').
Yes, I think there are folks - a great many aspiring writers - who get stuck in an unproductive cycle. I think the reasons for getting stuck are many - more than I'm qualified to identify - but which may include any one or more of:
- not reading enough. Reading in quantity, across a wide range of work gives a natural feel for language and makes spotting bad writing easier.
- listening to the wrong people. I suspect this abounds in fan fiction circles: Underqualified critiquer X says writer's work is fantastic, writer's ego is boosted and writer blinds himself to valuable advice on his work from critiquer Y.
- not critiquing enough. Given that good critiquers are a limited resource, it's in a writer's best interest to put out their best work for critique. Doing critiques trains the inner editor to help get that best work out in the first place.
- ignoring structure. A common thread in many writing discussions is the spurning of structure and 'rules'. This misinforms many new writers who then think they don't need to learn structure when quite possibly they do need to learn it: Not to follow the structure, but to understand why it's recommended, and then free themselves to to use or ignore it in an informed manner.
- getting tired. Writers who churn out vast volumes of unpublishable work may well be wearing themselves out, wearing away at their creativity. Fatigue may result in an aspiring writer getting emotional about their work rather than allowing themselves to be analytical about why their writing isn't working.
- focusing on quantity. An apsiring writer who reads that a million words of fiction are needed before they write something publishable may take the advice literally. They then just go out and write a million words without focusing on quality and learn nothing. If the 'million words' is a rule, they disprove the rule as quickly as the prodigy (aka lucky sod) who publishes his first book at age 13.
I do confine my efforts largely to the Big Three SF magazines. (When I started, there were five of 'em.) I've been down among the semi-pro publications, and even below that, and, let's face it, that route just doesn't interest me anymore. Internet publication doesn't interest me, either---in effect, I achieved that in my Internet Fan Fiction period, and, also, most of those sites seem much the same as the semi-prozines I used to see. "Not what I want in the way of publication," sums it up best.
Novel-writing opens up a whole other can of worms. I'm somewhat disenchanted by the widespread notion that one has to have an agent in order to get a book publisher to even look at ones's novel. Do I need to do this so desperately that I need to cut someone in for, oh, ten or fifteen or twenty percent of whatever small amount my book would earn? (This is probably more appropriate for another argument thread...in fact, I believe we've hashed it out any number of times before.) And is that the only way to get my book into their office?
Over the last five years, having seen my own writing "career" stutter along in fits and starts, and watcihng the fledgeling careers of dozens of other writers - interacting with them on forums, critting their work, reading their blogs, etc - I have come to the conclusion that "success" requires three things
Talent Persistence Luck
The "talent" issue is arguably the trickiest to define, there have been discussions from time to time, here and elsewhere, dealing with native talent vs the ability to learn, so by "talent" here I simply mean either an innate ability to write "well" or the ability to LEARN to write well (and just as not everyone has the talent to write, not everyone has the talent to learn).
Persistence varies from person to person. It is NOT the same thing as productivity (Ted Chiang provides an example of that). You do NOT need to be churning out ten, twenty, fifty stories a year in order to succeed. You DO need to be unafraid of rejection, and comfortable in setting your own goals and taking the necessary steps to meeting them. As Merlion correctly notes, those goals will vary for every individual, although I think it is fair to say that if you graphed those goals a lot of people would have similar goals, and then fewer and fewer would spread off into wildly different goal territory.
Luck is the kicker. Luck can't be controlled, though it can be influenced. If you regard luck as a matter of probability, then you can take the necessary steps to improve the odds in your favour. There are all manner of possible ways of doing this. Some writers network with fantastic success; they are "lucky", but they are lucky because they have marshalled a non-writing skill in the service of their writing. I'd cite Mary Robinette Kowal here. Her writing is good, but I know several other writers just as good. It's her fantastic talent at interacting with people which has, IMHO, had a significant effect on her rise as a writer. Now by no means everyone networks well - I think it's a major obstacle for me, because I have a natural tendency to denigrate myself which is poison to a writer, but there are others who go to the opposite extreme and try and self-aggrandize in such a way that they also utterly fail to get the right "kind" of notice. But networking, or selling yourself, aren't necessarily the only skills that can be brought to bear from outside writing.
Some would argue that it is possible to succeed without talent/ability (usually citing very successful writers who they claim "write badly"). To be honest, I suspect that it is the least important of the three items I cite above, but it is in many respects the easiest one to work on and, when looking at the "luck" aspect, I would tend to argue that improving your writing will improve your "luck" - the "better" a writer you are, the better chance of your work landing in front of an editor who likes it.
quote:As Merlion correctly notes, those goals will vary for every individual, although I think it is fair to say that if you graphed those goals a lot of people would have similar goals, and then fewer and fewer would spread off into wildly different goal territory.
Just an aside, I actually agree totally when it comes to what I classify as "writing goals" which is to say the vast majority of us want to be published and published in the most widely-distributed and best-paying ways possible (the variances here, I deem, lie in how much different people are willing to or feel it is necessary/helpful to make artistic compromises to further that goal.)
The variance in goals I usually refer to lies more in the goals of specific stories or in specific stylistic and creative goals. Those I think vary a lot more from person to person.
And, going totally off topic (I apologize) I think in the end the issues I have with some approaches or schools of thought on things stems mostly from their, in my perception at least, assertion that in order to achieve that first goal one must subjugate the second set of goals (in other words the idea that if you want to get published, you have to write certain types of stories in certain ways and carefully avoid others, even if they are the ones you, as an artist, wish to persue.)
And I think that fear...the fear that what the want to write or naturally tend to write is "bad" or "not good enough" or "too cliche" or whatever, is a big factor in the burnout of many fledgling writers.
quote:Some would argue that it is possible to succeed without talent/ability (usually citing very successful writers who they claim "write badly"). To be honest, I suspect that it is the least important of the three items I cite above, but it is in many respects the easiest one to work on and, when looking at the "luck" aspect, I would tend to argue that improving your writing will improve your "luck" - the "better" a writer you are, the better chance of your work landing in front of an editor who likes it.
I think this ties right in with the luck thing. I think most of the supposedly "bad" but highly successful writers (like Christopher Paolini and Stephanie Meirers) simply "got lucky" in that their work found its way into the hands of an editor or other person with publishing power who did not consider it to be "bad"...quite the oposite.
Which, in the end is what I think happens any time anybody sells a story or novel. It just happened bigger and faster for them.
I DO want to clarify myself. I firmly believe in the "keep trying" philosophy. I've NEVER looked at any opening on this site in the 13 lines and dismissed the writer. This is a matter of learning the craft. I would not keep trying myself if I didn't believe one can improve. I once researched a possible book on the earlist writings of great novelists like Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, etc. The stuff they did as beginners SUCKED. Hemingway is the only one who was pretty good in a high school short story. But Hemingway's style -- pared to the bone prose, worked well for a beginner. Fitzgerald and Joyce, who were far more playful with the language, were execrable. James Joyce wrote this poem that still makes me want to rolf my breakfast . I'm not judging anyone on this site, nor have I found that to be true about others. This posting was based on something I read at David Brin's site. He stated that he knows editors who despair of the inability to create a Frankenstein Monster out of the fledgleing writers they encounter. One writer is good at characters, but has an unreadable style, another has great plots but flat characters. Brin's opinion is that big ego contributes a huge amount to lack of success, and poor longevity once successful. So I wanted to see what others thought.
I'd define it as doing something artistic in a way other than how you the artist wish to do it because of a belief that doing so will make it more marketable. Or really, for any other reason, be it fear of offending people or because someone (or some supposed criteria) says so or whatever.
Basically changing your art for any reason that you the artist don't willingly choose due to your own creative goals.
So, again, what it is is going to depend on the person.
Is it a compromise conceived and enacted with a certain sophistry and artfulness, designed to get a sliver of what you're capable of creating paid for, so you can create more full-time?
Calling yourself an artist is meaningless, anyway. Fans call people artists, IMO, and give them mythical status. There are painters and writers and sculptors etc. and we like what they produce, but I have met nurses and doctors who deliver more meaning to a person's life, in subtler ways, than any painter or writer ever has...
Sure you can write a book that can change the world...but are you certain you know what it will change it to?
I think it's absolutely true that you can't get lucky if you don't give yourself lots of opportunities. Ergo, if you only write a handful of short pieces every year and only mail them to a handful of markets, your opportunities are not nearly as numerous as they would be if you wrote numerous stories and mailed to numerous markets.
Put more simply, you can't win if you don't enter. And in the case of writing, enter early and enter often!
Right now I count over 20 markets on my tracking spreadsheet which all pay pro-SFWA-rate or better. Not all of them are explicitly SF or F in focus, but I send to those anyway if the story in question seems like it might have half a chance. You never know.
Writers of the Future should, of course, be the #1 market on any aspirant's list. If you haven't been picked up for a WOTF volume yet, and if you've not yet had three stories published in pro-SFWA-rate markets yet, then you should -- without exception -- be submitting to WOTF every quarter. No market has bigger "bang" for the aspirant buck, and no playing field is more level for aspirant works competing for recognition.
But WOTF is only the first. There are the so-called Big Three, plus Realms of Fantasy, Dreams of Decadence, Interzone, and numerous on-line markets such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and TOR.COM, as well as Clarkesworld and Intergalactic Medicine Show. Before you "trunk" a story, you should trot it down a list such as this, trying all the possible outlets. Even a story rejected many times, might find a home on the next try.
quote:But WOTF is only the first. There are the so-called Big Three, plus Realms of Fantasy, Dreams of Decadence, Interzone, and numerous on-line markets such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and TOR.COM, as well as Clarkesworld and Intergalactic Medicine Show.
And if those reject you, there are scads of non-pro markets that are, in my estimation, a better alernative than your story sitting on your hardrive for eternity.
Hmm...honestly there doesnt seem much to consider. I mean, if you were to submit a story to every single pro-paying market and be rejected (which would actually be more like every one it has any chance at-Analog does not publish high fantasy for instance) then the only two options are submit it to non-pro markets or trunk it. I suppose one could just trunk it, but why? Having it submitted and/or accept to a non-pro market has absolutely no negative effect.
And again, theres that issue of multiple goals...
You truly just trunk and never again submit any story that fails to get accept by a pro paying market?
[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited July 26, 2010).]
No...but it does mean sitting around doing nothing. Which isnt the end of the world...just utterly incomprehensible to me. Well, rather, the idea of never submitting anything anywhere but to pro-paying markets is utterly incomprehensible to me. I have some stories that I let fall out of circulation after many many submissions to many many places and usually with the intent of eventually reworking or re using them at some future point, or on rare occasions because they reflect things I no longer feel.
Once I passed 15 years with no pro sales, and only one or two token publications, I discovered that I had lived so long with rejection and disappointment, it didn't bother me to restrict my market list. I decided -- for me -- that it was okay to leave most of the semi-pro markets off because I had concluded that the only kind of publication I really desired at that point, was bona fide professional-level publication. Preferably, print. In a venue of reput, with long-standing in the industry. Because this was the type and kind of publication I had esteemed to for the better part two decades.
Besides, most of the stuff in the trunk, belongs in the trunk. This defies one of Heinlein's rules, but really, stories I wrote in 1994 and 1995 are not even close to publishable and could not be revived; not without a wholesale burn-down and re-draft using only core concept(s) or character(s). Something I do do from time to time, as projects and interest permit. Ergo, creating entirely new stories from the ashes of the old stories. So in a sense, nothing stays in the trunk forever. Each trunk story has "phoenix" potential.
Actually, as time goes by, I find myself more inclined to stick to Brad's advice, with a few particular exceptions.
There are markets - quite a lot of markets - out there that have no discernable readership wahstoever. I have sold stories to some of these markets in the past but won't submit to them in the future (perhaps not coincidentally, most have folded).
It's generally good advice to beginners not to publish stories on their own blog/website, because those stories can't then be sold elsewhere except as reprints. But there may be somethingt to be said for making some work available for free on your own blog/website, IF it's been rejected by the good markets and IF, despite those rejections, you still have faith in it. I have three stories that seem to be reaching the end of their natural submission cycle but that I still think are damned good stories. These I may choose to make available on my (not-actually-up-as-yet) website. I also have other stories that have gone to a market or three and been rapidly retired from circulation because, frankly, they aren't good enough.
It's an important lesson to learn; no matter who you are, not everything you write will be as good as your best stuff, and you have to learn to make some ahrd decisions about what is and is not "good enough" (regardless of the wise dictum that it's for an editor to judge whether a story is "good enough", not the writer).
"I'd define it as doing something artistic in a way other than how you the artist wish to do it because of a belief that doing so will make it more marketable. Or really, for any other reason, be it fear of offending people or because someone (or some supposed criteria) says so or whatever. Basically changing your art for any reason that you the artist don't willingly choose due to your own creative goals.
So, again, what it is is going to depend on the person."
Well, yes, but this is to some extent going back to the differences in creative goals. There are writers who genuinely don't want an editor to change any single word of their work. There are others who might be happy to make the most enormous changes if it will sell. Most, as always, will be somewhere in between. I've carried out editorially-requeted rewrites on occasion, mostly minor, some less so; I've also seen an editor make changes to my prose that made my teeth grind together in frustration at the way my narrrative style was altered (fortunately, that project collapsed before I had to make the decision of ither pulling the story or accepting something going into print that no longer read like my writing).
It's a very rare writer who can consistently produce quality material without some kind of editorial assistance (whether that assistance be from a critique group, a set of "first readers", an agent, an editor, or what), and there are certainly writers who appear to have benefited from editing in their early careers, only to grow "too big" to be edited (in their opinion) and for their writing to go downhill (in many peple's estimation) as a result. Anne Rice is probably the most famous example usually put forward here.
But do you ever really shelve anything? I tend to find there are always parts of a story I truly love more than other parts. So lets say the story grabs no one's attention. You still have that part of the story that really worked well, and can be cannibalized to ad to another story latter.
I tend to notice I do this with characters a lot, I create a great side character for one story but the chemistry doesn't quite flow, so a little farther down the line I'm working on something else, and I think hey that one character from the other story would work great here instead. Or some great speech, saying, or description comes into your head, but it doesn't fit any of the scenes your working on, so it's put on hold for future use. Maybe this is just the artist(meaning artist not writer) side of me but I was taught to save all my doodles, sketches, thoughts, clippings and anything else that catches your eye, because at some point you'll use it. It just takes the blending and meshing to find the right combination to make the piece come alive. I was taught if your not willing to tear apart ten things to make one good thing life as an artist could become difficult, and so far I've been applying this to writing, but I do still have a lot to learn about the craft.
#1 reason: There are alot of people who want to get published and the book buying market is not that big. So alot of people are doomed because its just too competitive.
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