Sunday, January 15, 2012

Eight Popular Misconceptions

As time rolls down the bumpy path to middle age and you find that your kids only want you around as a chauffeur and your husband wants to come home, take off his work clothes and slip into a sexy sweat suit, you may, just may, find yourself with time on your hands. All those books you’ve been reading while “waiting” in waiting rooms, while settling into good seats an hour before the concert starts so you won’t have to walk miles to your car in the school parking lot, and perhaps, if you are lucky, in the bathroom while holding the blow-dryer in one hand and the paperback in the other, have been calling to you. And now, with some actual “time” on your hands, you decide that what your sixth grade teacher told you must be true. You can write well, at least as good as the author of that last book you read.
So, why don’t you set up the portable or switch on the computer and try to write a book?
You’ve always been pretty good with words. You’ve read through the romance selection at the library and you’ve borrowed books from all your friends. Maybe you even took some writing courses at college or night school. An idea has been banging around in your brain for some time now and it would make a really good book.
So you write it. It takes you a long time, at least four months. The more you write, the better the story gets and you start talking about it with your friends and anyone who will listen. They like the story as you tell it. No one but your mother wants to read it, but she loves every word.
You finish your masterpiece and you find the name of a publisher in the Writer’s Market in the library and you ship it off with the SASE the book told you to enclose. You’re all set. In a few weeks you’ll be famous, the money will pour in and you’ll be sitting across from Matt Lauer, impressing him with your wit.
For at least two months, you’re riding high on this fantasy until the day you find your SASE stuffed into your mailbox with a terse note of rejection clipped to it.
Time to reassess.
First misconception: You know how to write because you think you know how to write. Maybe to some people it comes as naturally as puberty, but these writers are the exception. Writing takes work. Writing well takes very hard work and practice.
Second: Every word you write is golden. There is no need to rewrite anything, just check for typos. The first thing out of your brain is exactly how it should be. Not so.
The first thing on paper or the screen is simply a way to start writing the story. It gets better when you take things apart and play with the words until it sounds crafted, not regurgitated. You need to flesh out the skeleton with care, not leave those bare bones with no meat on them.
Third: Any editor will be stunned by your natural ability and want to buy your book immediately. Wrong. Maybe on a good day the editor will pick up your unsolicited manuscript, get past the first sentence and want to continue reading. After the first three paragraphs, if it hasn’t bored her to tears, she might go on to the hook of the first chapter, but after that, it better be pretty darned magnificent for her to continue.
Fourth: You’re going to sit back and get rich. Uh-uh. If you get past the editor with this baby, and she manages to sell it to her boss and you do rewrites and they print the thing in two years, you might get between three and five thousand dollars for it. You’d make more money working at a convenience store with the possible benefit of learning another language to boot! There are exceptions, but, wow, they’re mighty few and far between.
Fifth: All it takes is one book. You only need to be a one hit wonder and you’ll be famous and retire from your day job and still make the rounds of the morning shows talking about your book and your life and how it has changed. This is pure fantasy. Get real.
Sixth: The second book will be easier. It will sell immediately, the editor will love your mere proposal and beg you to finish the story. Only you can write it, only you can come up with the right combination of characters and plot that will make it different from any other book on the shelf. No, again. There are only so many plots, so many twists, so many wacky characters or serious ones that somebody else hasn’t come up with before. Your story may remind someone else of something they just read and the editor will reject it. You keep trying to come up with original ideas but someone else already seems to have used it. Your voice has to be special, very special.
Seven: Fame lasts forever. Here’s the truth. Fame lasts only as long as it takes you to write and publish another book.
Eight: It’s easy to get published. It’s easy to fly if you’re Superman.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post. It's all sooooooooo painfully true. :)