Dita Parker

Monday, January 4, 2010

Patience, like grace, probably just lost on the fast and furious

Dear Aspiring Author:

Spell check. If I could offer you one tip for 2010, spell check would be it. Spell check is the foremost piece of advice you will find everywhere you look for guidance, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own slowly gathering experience. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a compulsive wordsmith must be in want of an outlet. But first said wordsmith has to face the fact the book market consists of book markets. You must be able to picture where in a bookstore would you find your book and how will you stand out in a bookshelf, actual or digital. Who writes in you, through you, and what? Meaning:

Read. Reading the market equals knowing the market. Submitting what isn't selling means you would have had to come up with something truly original to receive an offer. Submitting what is selling means  you would have had to come up with something truly original to receive an offer. Don't despair. As long as you are storytelling and not propagating, your tales are as valid as anyone else's. Think about it. As valid as, as long as they ring true. True to life; emotionally true.

It's not a matter of what you write, you can write about anything, but how you do it. So what do you like? What don't you like? Can you spell out why? How would you have done it? You can learn as much reading what you truly love as you can reading something which leaves you unaffected.

Whatever is in you only waiting to be put down in words, let it out. Without self-consciousness or thoughts of someone reading it, without correcting things as you go. Concentrate on the extracurricular while working on your first draft and develop instant writer's block, that mythical monster, the great-grandmother of all scapegoats. Repeat after me: There is no such thing.

There is always something to write about, starting with how it feels to sit there with nothing to write about. What comes out as a result may be writer's crap, but if there's none of that coming out, ever, I suspect there's not much else coming out, either. How to evaluate? Get a second opinion. Find a critique partner. Not a yes-man but a no-ma'am to give you grief. If your time is valuable, your editor's is twice as costly, and every penny you save him/her is a penny earned. You can take that to the bank.

Life may be stranger than fiction, but in fiction there are no lucky coincidences or divine interventions, only solid reasoning. Whether or not you believe it to be true in real life, your writing maxim should be: Everything happens for a reason. Every movie frame counts. Make your every word, character and scene count. Anything else must go. Even if it's the most beautiful piece of prose you've written, if there is no justifiable place or purpose for it, kill it.

Think of your story as a puzzle. You may or may not have a picture of the big picture starting out. You don't always need one. It doesn't even matter whether you start with the frame or some detail. You only need to make the pieces fit seamlessly and make sure you find any missing ones. You can't make up for those. Leave the puzzle undone and those missing pieces will become the center of attention. 

Engage. Life, love and livelihood are contact sports; win some, lose some. Absolutely zilch will sail your way if you stand on the sidelines, doing what? Hoping someone will notice you feel ignored? Stop that. Step up instead. Get in the ring and take the stare downs. Engage, but please do not start dealing knockouts. As today's birthday boy phrased it: Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.

I know it takes courage, determination, patience, and fearless faith to live in doubt and constant expectation, to handle rejection while still believing no good read goes unpublished. I can't give you those, only ask you to hold on. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will.

Don't waste your time writing halfheartedly and break the hearts of readers expecting to feel and taste that heart. If you expect to phone it in, maybe you should be doing something altogether different with that phone. Marketing, perhaps? Selling dreams is a whole lot easier than making them happen. And it is all up to you to make it happen. Your heart, your words. Your hard work, your faith in yourself, your inspiration. No cheat codes, no shortcuts. 

Having said that, don't expect your muse, Dulcinea, or whatever spirit moves you to phone it in either. If your dream is to write for a living, even part-time, writing is what you should be doing, not waiting for a leg up. Writing begets writing, as Dorianne Laux will tell you. Those bouts of writer's crap are only a means to an end, not the Complete Works of. 

But if what comes out after thousands upon thousands of hours of sitting and thinking keeps stinking, if rejections keep coming in by the hundreds, well, there are still a million and a half other things left you might be perfect for. Go all-out Les Mis and wail life killed the dream you dreamed if it helps you get over it, but do move on eventually. 

Who am I again? Do I even know what I'm talking about? I'm aware. I'm aware of my strengths and weaknesses, as should you be. In a world where it may seem you don't need to know who you are, only what you want, may I suggest you don't pass by yourself without taking notice. Inquisitiveness is golden and bewilderment nothing to be afraid of. Some of the most important things in this life only the lost can find. 

Okay, whatever, thanks? Please trust me on the spell check.

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