Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Busting Writer's Myths and Misconceptions

No introduction to this is needed--this is what it is. There are a lot of platitudes about writing which are just plain wrong.

1) It's a myth that many writers drink alcohol, or need to drink alcohol.
This is a misconception that many health-conscious writers have adopted in recent years. Calling the necessity for alcohol a myth is just plain wrong. It's very helpful to drink yourself blind and writers like Hemingway proved it. It can loosen you up so you don't think everything you're writing is utter drek. If you suffer from that serious psychological block modern pundits call "an internal critic" then you need to start drinking--heavily. I guarantee it will cure this disease. In fact, I believe this illness, which is of recent origin, is due entirely to the belief that writers drinking is, and always was, just a myth. It is not and was not.

2) Persistence is key to getting published.
Not exactly. Athough you do need persistence. Persistence by itself will not get you published if you continue writing crap year after year. There is no calendar on agent's and editor's desks keeping track of the number of years you have annoyed them in your persistent efforts to get published and after some set number of years they will leap up and exclaim, "NOW! We will publish her NOW!" What matters is that you have to improve enough to write something of publishable quality. This may take years, and I'm sorry. I'm in the same boat, however, I'm being persistent and I'm working on improving until I can write the manuscript editors will HAVE to publish.

And don't whine that your manuscript is just as good as published author X's manuscript because something is wrong otherwise it would be published. Okay, now it is possible that what is wrong is that you've submitted it to people who honestly just don't get it, a la Stephen King. But on the other hand, if you've submitted it to everyone, including your best friend's dog, and everyone has rejected it, then move on to the next manuscript. Each new manuscript you write will, hopefully, be better than the last. If it isn't, then you aren't trying.

Persistence is necessary so you'll keep writing, taking classes, and eating those rejections like chocolate chip cookies, but what is key is improving. You can never be too good (although you can be too thin).

3) Everything cycles back.
Misunderstanding. No, it does not. Genres change over time. New, hot ones like paranormal or erotica will mature--which means the editors will become more selective over time as demand flattens out--but old genres do not come back in their original form. It's more like reincarnation. Your soul may come back, but the second time around you may be a cockroach instead of a human. A better example is the gothic genre. Originally, gothics were often written in 1st person from the heroine's point of view. She was a virgin. There was no s-e-x, although there was plenty of romance. There was a mystery. Those were some of the original elements. This genre has morphed into one where it may or may not be written in first person and may include the hero's point of view, as well. The heroine's virginity is unimportant and assumed to have gone missing well before the story begins. There is s-e-x-ual tension and actual s-e-x. There's still a mystery.

See? It's changed. So if you're writing some genre that's suddenly gone dry, e.g. classic Regency romances where there is no explicit s-e-x, then fine, but don't cry when you can't sell it--ever. Five year ago, yes. Today, no. There are still romances set in the Regency, but the sensuality has increased dramatically and explicitly. And this is not going to cycle back to the days when there was no explicit sex. Times change and you should read Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again and try to understand what he is saying if you think you can hang on to an old-style manuscript and publish it at some time in the future. You really can't go home again. Time moves forward, not backward.

My advice to you is to read more recent works and see how you can adapt what you like to write to what is currently being sold. I hate to say this because this pains me and I'm one of those stuck in the past who needs to update herself and her work, but there it is. You have to move with the times. Preferably ahead of the times like...well, like Stephen King who basically started a whole new trend.

4) Get nice critique partners.
No. Get mean, nasty critique partners. They will stiffen your backbone and prepare you for what you are facing when you submit to agents and editors. In addition, a nice critique partner won't tell you if your plot or characters stink-on-ice. A nasty one will. Okay, it would be nice if she or he was kind when they were telling you that your characters stink-on-ice, but let's face it, do you want to improve? Do you want to learn how to write something publishable? Do you want to get published?

The worst thing you can do when faced with a harsh critique is whine, "but that's my style of writing". If your mean, nasty critique partner says she couldn't read past the first page because your writing was so melodramatic or overly flowery, or she just didn't understand what the heck you were trying to say, you have to think about that. She's probably doing you a favor, but you may not be ready to accept it yet.

Think of those harsh words as an impetus for you to do better: "I'll show that b^tch!"
That's the attitude you want. Show 'em you can do it and do it better than anyone thought possible.

5) Revising can be done right after you finish your manuscript.
There are some people who actually revise as they go along and never really do a good solid front-to-back (or my revision style: back-to-front) revision. They are some weird sub-species of writer I'm not even going to talk about. I'm talking about the rest of us who actually have to revise because the first draft is just that: a draft. Something to get our characters and plot down on paper so we can work with it.

Don't revise when you finish your manuscript. You won't have a clear head. You have to cleanse your palette by writing another manuscript and when you're finished with that one, go back and revise the first. This actually has several benefits.

A) It forces you back a step so you can be more objective and do a better job editing.

B) The second manuscript will actually improve your writing skills so when you go back to the first one, you can apply what you've learned.

C) When you start submitting that first manuscript, you can edit the second one and when Ms. Agent or Mr. Editor says: The first manuscript isn't quite right for us, do you have anything else? You can say: You betcha and here it is!

Time is your friend. Use it.

6) The artistic integrity of your manuscript is more important than anything else.
Is it more important than getting published? That's for you to decide. However, if you're like me and you started writing manuscripts without much emphasis on sensuality, and your agent and the editors she has contacted say you need to increase the level of sensuality, you have a decision. Do you sacrifice a small bit of artistic integrity and increase the sensuality because that's today's world, or do you cling to your vision? Personally, I'm working with my agent and bringing the sensuality up a notch. I may think Barbara Michaels is the cat's meow and nobody could do romance better, but that's not today's market and you have to write something that is at least partially if not squarely in line with what readers are reading. Today. Not yesterday.

The other important factor to consider is that your editor, assuming you attract one, has to actually market your work. If you cannot fit within any genre they are able to market, your sales will suffer. If your sales suffer, you may well be a one book wonder because other editors will see you as an unmarketable writer. So you are better off trying to fit into a genre which can be marketed, because editors will be much happier to acquire you. Unless you're the next Stephen King, in which case you can begin a new trend. I have to say, though, that the odds of you being the next Stephen King are pretty long, although I suppose not entirely impossible. I'd just be really, really wary of believing you can start a new trend. In fact, I don't think even King thought he was creating a new trend when he did so. He just wrote a darned good book.

That's really all you need to do. Persist with your writing until you've written a darned good book.

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