Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Single Most Important Bit of Writing Advice I Can Give You

The Witchy Chicks have been sharing publishing wisdom for aspiring writers all week. If you have a moment, please go here to benefit from their wonderful words of wisdom. On the same note but from a slightly different angle:

Selling that first book is a dream come true for so many writers. When The Call comes in, the world takes on a rosy glow, fairy sparkles drift down like confetti, and your cheeks hurt from that maniacal grin you can't seem to wipe off your face. Not that you mind. The world is now your oyster, and you are the pearl! Your life is going to change (in a good way!) overnight! You see dollar signs! Fame! Fortune! Someone to clean the bathroom for you!

Ah, the life of the published author. It doesn't get any better than this. Am I right?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not...

Being a new author in the writing biz can be a little bit like being submerged in a shark cage in the Bermuda Triangle -- the sharks are circling, the holes in the cage are bigger than you thought they were, and you're in danger of passing over into the oblivion of the abyss. If you're lucky you might go the easy way, but the hard way is nibbling away at your hard-won self-confidence, and you are horrified to find that the decision might not be yours to make.

The dangers? Oh-so-many things can go wrong. You might find that your editor has so many authors that he/she doesn't really remember your name (it's terribly disconcerting to have to remind the editor that bought your book who you are... again). Your book might have been bought as filler for a spot on the list, but nobody bothers to tell you -- in fact, they are hoping you don't realize it, because it brings up all sorts of uncomfortable questions that no one really has answers to. The agent you struggled so hard and so long to acquire might not be terribly interested in putting out a lot of effort on your behalf until you become a proven commodity -- something that takes excellent writing, an idea that grabs the reading community by its throat, perfect timing, years of building a readership, and a whole lotta luck. Your publisher might not show a lot of support until that same readership provides evidence of itself, which means you have a lot of work ahead of you trying to grab the attention of a lot of people who have no idea who you are or what you have to offer, because no one has ever heard of you or your book, let alone manage to come across it on bookstsore shelves, because the bookstore owners and buyers haven't heard of you, either. You have no say over the cover, little say over the title or back cover copy, little to no publicity unless you do it yourself, and to top off this bitter mouthful, you *will* at some point be asked to make changes to your story that you might or might not be comfortable with.

Still with me?

Take a deep breath, prospective author. I know you might have issues with control (most of us do), but I'm going to let you in on The Secret. You know, the one that you've KNOWN has been out there all along while you were struggling to learn your craft. The Secret that is whispered about on author loops, and shared in quiet corners at conferences.

Ready? Here it comes.

The only true control you will have is what you choose to put into the work. It's all about the work. Your writing, your voice, your characters, your world-building, your story. When your agent drops you because you're not moving up the ladder, when your royalties scarcely cover the groceries, let alone the heating bill on the house you can't afford, when publishers go out of business, or lines are let go, when the cargo train carrying copies of your book from east coast to west derails and bursts into flames, along with a large percentage of the first and only printing of your book (this actually happened, by the way), you will realize that you have absolutely no control over these very influential outside influences on your writing career. This will trouble you greatly. Try to ignore that little voice that insists you Must Retain Control At All Times. It isn't possible. Instead, devote the bulk of your energy to nurturing and learning and maturing at this career that is part craft, part art, and all you.

Protect. The. Work.

Guard it like a jealous dog with a particularly juicy bone. Don't let the negative voices of critics (whose numbers are truly astonishing, by the way) drag you down into the mire that is their world. They don't realize the amount of energy you put into your latest manuscript, how you struggled, how you bled. They only know that something about it did not work for them, but haven't the subjectivity to realize that their voice is only one in thousands. (With luck, hundreds of thousands. :) ) Don't play comparison games with other authors, whose careers are not the same as yours and never will be. (Just as you don't know the intricacies of their lives, you also don't know the intricacies of their careers, and the reality might not be as pretty as you might believe...) Don't waste energy on things that have no impact on your career, but can have a terribly detrimental impact on your ability to WRITE.

Protect. The. Work.

Learn to trust those people who are in your corner (agent, editor, marketing departments, publicity, etc.) to do their jobs. Do everything you can to help them do their jobs, but at the same time, realize that you have to be involved in your career, too. Learn as much as you can about the publishing business in all its glory. Ask questions, but be aware that some questions will not have immediate answers, and sometimes the answers aren't going to be ones that you will feel comfortable with. Plan out the way that you want your career to go, but be flexible. Read all of the wisdom from the W'Chicks as provided on the link above, and study it well... but always remember that the quality of Your Work is the real reason you're here.

Protect. The. Work. It cannot be said enough.

Love to all,

Mad {madly!}


Michelle said...

Great Post, hon!
So very very true. Control what you can control and protect what you can protect.

Because in the end none of us really is ever in control. It's a fallacy that just makes us feel good...LOL

Only a few more days til "300"
I canna wait!

Liz Flaherty said...

I'm learning so much these days. Doing it the 2nd time after 8 years or so is just like doing it for the first time, isn't it?

Oh, God, sounds like I'm talking about sex. I'm not, really. :-)

Madelyn Alt said...

Hi Michelle! 300 premieres tonight at Grauman Theatre. Woot woot! Some friends and I are meeting this weekend for a communal dip in the steaming waters that is GB and 300, so I'm pretty excited about that. ;D ;D

And Liz, what is it with you? Always with the double entendre. Tsk Tsk. As if I would ever be guilty of such wanton disregard for the sensibilities of others.


Got a pub date yet? Title? Spill it, girlfriend!

Mad {madly!}

Liz Flaherty said...

Yeah, pub date is September 07, which I think means late August, and the title--are you ready?--is THE DEBUTANTE'S SECOND CHANCE. I'm nearly done with line edits now. It's all very exciting, but the farther I go, the less I know.

Ann Luongo said...

Mad, you are too much. I wanted to laugh, cry and freak out all at the same time reading this. It's great advice and I'll take it all.

Thanks, girl.