Sunday, April 25, 2010

Try, Try Again, Then Stop for a While

I have a personal rule that, after five rejections, a piece should be shelved.  That doesn't mean it will never see the light of day, but it does indicate to me that something is fundamentally wrong with the work and will need rethinking after it's lain fallow for a time. I find (to my surprise) that I'm not too proud to do a gut-renovation on a story.

The number five is arbitrary, but has felt right so far.  By five rejections, I've usually figured out what's wrong, if not exactly how to repair it, thanks to my own contemplation and the comments of editors when I'm lucky enough to get any.

I may be making an exception soon, however, to the rule of five. One story that's been making the rounds keeps coming back with reactions along the lines of, "We really enjoyed your story. Good luck publishing it elsewhere." Everyone likes it, so I can't imagine how to fix it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not for the Faint of Finger

I'm puzzled by the number and depth of hand-holding blogs for writers.  I shall not name any, but they're not hard to find.  It raises what strikes me as a moral question:  should people so timid and clueless that they need to be told "it's okay" ten times a day be encouraged to be the new generation of writers?  How will someone so artistically uninspired and undriven that she needs another person's blog for courage ever roar through with an original voice?

I'm just askin.'  What do I know? But it seems unfair to expect that person to live the necessarily frightening life of a creative artist. You can't 12-step through this one, it seems to me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Beautiful Scene is Empty

When is a story not really a story? When nothing happens.  Indeed, that's the traditional wisdom, but surely there are exceptions.

Look at Edmund White (if you dare).  Seriously, this man cannot craft a story.  You never once wonder what will happen next because nothing ever happens.  Yet he's one of my most admired authors because of his uncanny gift of description.  You know exactly where the characters are, and the minutiae of people's movements, emotions, and sensations, even if all that occurs are the minutiae. It's awe-inspiring.

Nevertheless, it takes me six months to get through a book by White, since there's no plot to keep me going.  It's like looking at someone's exquisite stamp collection.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Long Way

Never mind all the time one is expected to spend marketing one's own books, looking for new places to submit, finding out what editors are seeking, etc.  Never mind.  Let's talk about the act of book-writing itself.

I've been reading more and more interviews with successful novelists, and what I see is alarming enough to scare me off the pursuit of success.  One person writes 2000 words per day (that's eight double-spaced pages) come hell or high water.  One writes six drafts of a chapter each week until he has all the chapters, then throws away the first chapter and re-does it, no matter what.  One throws out every chapter as she goes, deleting the file from her hard drive, forcing her to start from scratch with each draft (how is that a draft, anyway?).  One regularly kills off her characters, requiring her to re-think her plot details.

Maybe when I've been at this a while, I, too, will have some writing quirk that makes me look like a workaholic madwoman.  Right now, I don't have the time or energy.