Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writers Write About Writing: Deal With It

I love Besty Lerner’s book on writing and publishing, The Forest Through the Trees. I like it so much, I recommend it to other writers every chance I get. It's brilliant, and gives us an editor's eye-view of the whole business of publishing (and writing).

As for her blog--The Forest Through the Trees (OK, we get it) I am not so sure because I’ve only just discovered it. On first inspection it looked funny and intriguing. Chances are I'll find it to be exactly that--after my rant.

THIS WAS THE FIRST post I read, which started out with: "Why do I get so grossed out when writers talk about their craft, their process, or worst of all: their art. In part, it sounds phoney to me, as if you could qualify, quantify, codify how you work. You’re a lucky bastard if you’re any good at all and that’s all you need to know.”

And I thought, well, okay, that last part is true. You ARE a lucky bastard if you’re any good at all. You’re even luckier if you suck, and, by some miracle, you hit the literary jackpot with your 700 pages of dreck and end up with a 10-book series published in 47 languages, plus a movie franchise and a talk-show tour.

In fact, you can consider yourself lucky if you manage to complete a single manuscript. You’re lucky if anyone ever sees it who isn’t related by blood or marriage, unless it’s someone out to scam you for every dime you’re worth. You’re lucky if get a request for a partial in 212 area code, never mind the full manuscript. Then you’re lucky as hell if anyone says yes.

“It’s not luck: it’s skill.” How many times have you heard this? Hello, if it’s strictly skill, then explain why someone who writes and sells a first novel maybe never get another “yes”? What, you write one well-crafted, commercially viable novel that sells, and then nothing else you produce even garners a nibble?

Or maybe you can’t even produce? Is that even possible? Of course it is. If that’s not a butt-load of bad luck, I don’t know you'd call it.

So that part I agree with 110%. I also agree with this, which kind of goes along with what I just said: “I also think that writing is completely mysterious; you never know when the hell you’re going to make a break-through or when the words will dry up and float away like new year’s paper.”

No argument from me there.

Now read the whole piece if you haven’t already. Maybe working on a psych floor has ignited a new-found sense of paranoia in me, but why do I detect a sense of ridicule for writers (like many of us here on LJ) who choose to discuss the craft? It may not be intentional; after all, Lerner’s a writer herself. But—and maybe it’s just me, and the fact that I ran out of Zoloft three days ago—to say a writer still has her “training wheels on” because she needs to produce multiple drafts of a project to get it right…well, I found that insulting and condescending, to say nothing of...well, stupid. How many of you write a perfect first or second draft? Hands up! Anyone?

Then, speaking of insults, I found this in her comment section: “The thing that irritates me most is that they think they actually have something interesting to say about writing when they have one YA novel under their belts.”

WHOA! Stop the train. Now someone really pissed on my Pop-Tart.

Because I’m not a full-time writer who’s really “in” the business, maybe I’m safely insulated in the sense that I’ve never experienced, firsthand, that kind of contempt toward YA authors. Though I’ve heard that it happens, I’ve never been asked, “When are you going to write a real book now?” And it’s a damn good thing because I’m not sure how I’d react. To have such contempt for authors who write anything but mainstream adult fiction…well, it’s mind-boggling to me. It would never occur to me to ask, say, a picture book writer, “Hey, when ya gonna break down and write something for grown-ups?” I tried writing a picture book once. Anyone who thinks that’s easy obviously hasn't a clue in the world.

I think most authors, with a few amazing exceptions (Jane Yolan, for example) find their own niche in writing and then stick to it for the life of their careers. You’re not “less” of a writer because you write for children, More importantly, writing for adults doesn’t make you this incredible entity worthy of any more respect. It certainly doesn’t give you the right to turn your nose up at rest of us. Anyone's mother would slap you upside the head for that.

So, yes, we writers write, and we enjoy discussing the craft. How is that different from any other profession? Nurses discuss nursing, often in hideous, gut-wrenching detail. Lawyers discuss cases, and, if they lost, they analyze what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. Don’t doctors, artists, teachers, shopkeepers, dog walkers, hairdressers, peanut vendors—any profession you can think of—all sit around and yammer about their jobs? Of course they do. It’s a part of life.

We writers do precisely the same thing. The difference is, because we are writers, we also write these things down on our blogs. No, this isn’t the way to attract readers who’ll then want to rush out and buy our books. That's not why we do it. We write these things for ourselves, and we write them for other writers.

If you don't want to read it? Don’t click on our links.

No comments: