Monday, June 20, 2011

TUESDAY TIPS AND TIDBITS – “If at first you don’t succeed...”

Okay, repeat after me ... “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Yes, that’s how the famous old saying goes. Old sayings still ring true generation after generation, because there’s an element of relevance or conviction to them that makes them still applicable today, despite their age and clichéd overuse. So ... how is this particular saying relevant for writers?

Writers Who Can’t Finish

For the beginning writer who’s not yet published, this saying could mean many different things. Let’s take a typical novice author who really wants to finish that first great American novel, but just can’t seem to get it done. For writers in this situation, ‘try, try again’ means ‘keep at it.’

Many writers will let the familiar lame excuses of ‘I don’t have time’ stop them cold and keep them from reaching their goal. Don’t let that happen to you! If you don’t have time to write, make time. Rearrange your schedule. Give up sleeping in, work later into the night after your kids have gone to bed, let your family know this is something you really want to do, and steal the time necessary to work on what’s really important to you. The key is what is really important to you. If finishing your novel is one of your top priorities, you will find the time to do it. If you decide you can’t possibly realign your priorities due to other commitments, maybe you really do have too much on your plate right now. A realistic approach might be to wait until some of those other obligations get taken care of. But the reality is, if you put it off too long, you will simply let other things that come along continue to take priority over your dream of finishing your novel, until that dream becomes a distant, faded, forgotten memory. Now, admit it. It’s really an avoidance technique more than a time-management problem that prevents you from finishing that novel.

For the writer who’s ‘stuck’ and can’t seem to move forward with a story, ‘try, try again’ means not banging your head against a blank computer screen night after night, but instead means ‘try something else that works.’ In this case, you have to step outside your own box of Crayons and find a way to bring something new into the picture. That may mean getting advice from a writing partner or a critique group. It may mean reading some ‘how-to’ books on plotting and revision. The thing is, you have to pinpoint why you’re stuck, and then not try the same old thing you already know isn’t working. Instead, try something different until you find a way that does work to help you finish your novel.

These same ‘I’m stuck’ excuses and fix-techniques apply equally to those authors who have completed previous novels but can’t seem to move forward with the next one. Each story presents its own unique set of problems with character motivation and plotline, but the smart writer will find ways to deal with it, even if it means skipping a problematic section of the novel to keep moving forward. That problem section does however need to be addressed at some point before the novel can really be considered finished. The key is to stick with it and do whatever is necessary to finish.

Writers Who Just Give Up

Now suppose you’re one of those writers who’s finished your novel but can’t seem to get it published. After all, getting published was why you wrote the darn thing in the first place, wasn’t it? Yet here you are, faced with two – count ‘em, two – rejections! Now you are a failure. Right? Wrong! You’re a failure only if you give up trying. Remember that good old phrase, ‘try, try again’? But let’s say you’ve queried five publishers. Even ten. Maybe even a hundred! And you still can’t get anyone to take a look at your work. Shouldn’t you be able to admit you’re a failure by then?

Well, the truth is, yes, you can stop trying at any time in this game and admit you’ve failed, and allow yourself permission to not achieve your goal of becoming a published author. But, before you do that, examine why you want to quit. Is it just too much work and bother having to submit your manuscript and then wait around? Have you seemingly wasted years of your life doing this and feel you need to move on and leave that particular dream behind, unfulfilled? Everyone can find some way to justify failure. Blame it on the economy, on stupid publishers who wouldn’t know a book from a boat, and so forth. But maybe, just maybe, it’s your own approach to seeking success that is the failure – not you. Perhaps you can’t fix yourself, but you can fix what you do and how you do it.

‘Try, try again,’ as stated before, does not mean that you have to do the same old thing the same old way to ensure you get the same old unsatisfactory result. Any serious writer will keep all rejection letters as a record of who not to approach again. Take your rejection letters out and look at them. Are they all the same kind of form letter saying something innocuous like, ‘Not for us,’ or ‘Not interested at this time?’ If you’ve got even one letter that says something individual, meant just for you, like, ‘The story concept was interesting, but the writing left much to be desired,’ there’s a clue, putting you way ahead of the game. Maybe your attempts to get published are not a failure, but a wakeup call to go back and revamp your novel. If you haven’t bothered to get honest opinions from a good writing partner or critique group, maybe that should be part of your ‘try, try again’ approach.

Writers Who Believe the Hype

You wanted all the fortune and fame that comes with being a bestselling author. You thought the life of a writer would be glamorous and sophisticated – no real work involved, just lounging around in your PJs and thinking up stories. And maybe an occasional invitation to appear on the David Letterman Show to tout your latest work, hobnobbing with other guest stars. Wow, what a gig!

Yes, great work – if you can get it. But believe it or not, the life of successful writers is not filled with glamour and parties and days on end spent staring out the window at the fantastic view offered by a beach house retreat. Writing is work – oftentimes really difficult work. And it can be lonely work – most of the time without anyone around to pat you on the back and say, ‘Good job, well done.’ Sometimes the attendant responsibilities of a successful writing career involve a lot of compulsory travel, appearances, interviews, and other promotional activities. Then there’s the pressure. Writers who’ve made it to the bestseller list still have to come up with that next blockbuster novel, and their fans will be watching to make sure they don’t turn out some carbon copy of the last one. Each story has to be unique, with characters different from the last, and new problems to solve. Even successful writers have to stay on top of their game, or somebody new will come along and eat their lunch.

The truth is, most ‘regular’ writers are not full-time writers. They hold down ‘day’ jobs to earn a living. They have families to take care of, mortgages to pay, and social obligations that don’t include champagne at the occasional black-tie dinner party. For most writers, their writing career is not glamorous and doesn’t even come close to paying the bills.

For those writers who’ve managed to get published and are looking at dismal sales numbers – or even no sales at all – the hype, the fantasy of being a published author can be a bitter pill to swallow. Many authors who find themselves looking at sporadic and laughable royalty payments simply want to throw in the towel. And that’s the absolute worst time to quit, give up, throw in the towel, and go home. Why? Because they’ve come this far, they’ve achieved their publishing dreams, so why give it all up? Yes, maybe all that working and waiting and hoping just doesn’t seem worth it. And yes, things didn’t turn out at all like they'd hoped. But real writers can’t quit. They love writing too much, even though it seems to have slapped them in the face.

The truth is, not every book is going to be a blockbuster. Why? Because not every story is the same. A bestseller will appeal to a wide audience and speak to each reader individually. A bestseller will gain the attention of the reading world, not always because it deserves to, but because the author worked hard, was lucky, met the right people at the right place at the right time, and didn’t give up. At any time along the way, the author – not the book, but the author – could have made a misstep ... could have written a shallow or uninteresting book, could have been lazy and decided not to go that extra mile to make people take notice of his book, or could have torpedoed any chance of success by being recalcitrant and impatient, thereby alienating the very people who might have helped make him a star in the literary world.

There’s no easy answer for the age-old questions many writers ask – “Why can’t I be successful? Why can’t my book be a bestseller? Why won’t readers buy my book?” But I can tell you for certain that the writer who quits tireless promotion efforts and gives up searching for new efforts that work doesn’t deserve to ask these questions. So, if your writing career is not what you’d like it to be, take a good hard look at what you’re doing or not doing, and ... ‘try, try again.’

Patricia Morrison, Penumbra Publishing


Natasha Larry said...

Whoa, whoa! Let's back up a second here...banging your head against your computer screen doesn't work? CRAP.

Another great post!

Penumbra Publishing said...

Yes, and replacing that screen can get very expensive! :-)


Rainy said...

Thanks for this post. It actually brought back a decade of memories about writing my first manuscript.

I was "stuck" for the longest time. First by not knowing where to go with the last half of the story. So I put it aside and got out of the house. I took classes at the college, I traveled, I met interesting people. I did some stupid stuff too but now I pass it off as "research".

And then one day, at the most unsuspecting moment, I figured it out.

The second "stuck" was the time factor. Naturally, I figured out how to bring it all together while I was working sixty hour weeks, submerged into my second degree, and commuting so far Mother Earth will never forgive me. By then I had realized, though, it was only going to be finished if I made the effort.

So I gave up going out any Friday and Saturday nights, and reliquinshed sleep Sunday night. No, really, I did. Mondays were horrible anyway. I might as well have accomplished something the night before.

The third "stuck" was beta readers. I had a couple, but I wasn't convinced it was sufficient. Finally I ran into a few people who seemed invested enough to really go all the way with the manuscript. This meant more revisions, edits, proofreads: more time I didn't have but found it anyway.

Caffeine is amazing.

Then it was "done". It may not have been the fastest written novel, but that doesn't even seem to matter anymore. What I can say is, it didn't happen with sheer luck. Had I thrown in the towel, it wouldn't have been reeling in my head for a solution to pop up in the middle of forensics class. Neither would the option of giving up Sunday night sleep presented itself. And neither would I have noticed a good beta reader when I saw one.

Will it pay off? Absolutely. No matter the process, it will wind up with a cover. And that's all I've ever really wanted with it.

Hopefully others will see your post and realize what I figured out the hard way ;)


Natasha Larry said...

Thank you for sharing that story, Rainy! I think a lot of writers delude themselves into thinking everything about this process is glam and exciting...when really there is a lot of head banging involved.

Not to mention that even if you can write a novel fast, like myself, rewriting is always slow. Oh, and yes! Caffeine...wonderful, wonderful thing. As are family members that take your three year old away for a few weeks! =)

Rainy said...

Funny. I never really gave any thought to the process itself. No expectations. I had a story I wanted to tell and set out to make that happen, even if it was on the back burner for nearly ten years. I knew I'd come back to it eventually.

At the time, it was all about a labor of love and less about launching a writing career. If you plan to make a living on it, you have to work fast and consistently. Short stories, articles, contests, freelancing, blogging, etc. Again, it's a business. If you start a small home based company, you wouldn't get far lounging in a cafe. You'd be stuck in a corner of the upstairs bedroom, churning out content and services, and advertising it every way possible.

Why would a writing career be any different?

Also funny is how quickly the whole scenario changes once you know where you're going and realize it won't write itself. I churned out another manuscript in less than 2 months and that was while working on RainyoftheDark and all that stuff.

As the article states, it'll never get done if you don't make it a priority.


Natasha Larry said...

Funny and sad story, I know a lot of "writers" that invite me out to write with them at Star really. It makes me think of that Family Guy episode about "real writers need to be seen writing, otherwise, what's the point?"

Wouldn't it be cool if THAT were the trick? But, you're won't get anywhere lounging around a cafe.

I just started freelancing under another name, and most of the stuff I write is soooo boring, but you have to start somewhere.

Short stories are something I'm trying to venture into...but for some reason it takes me longer to write a short story than multiple novels, go figure.

Rainy said...

LOL Natasha. I love that part of Family Guy. That and the ones with Stewie taunting Brian over finishing his manuscript. Classic.

There are exceptions to the rule, but most people I have personally met who insist on cafe writing have nothing to show for it.

I rarely like to read short stories, so writing them, over all, is annoying. Oh, it's an art form in and of itself, but not one I can totally get into, yet.

I have done some freelance in the past. Have been rolling around the idea of starting again.

Good luck =)


Natasha Larry said...

LoL, you too. And you rock, by the way. Maybe I can borrow that fedora sometime ;)

Rainy said...

hehe Thanks, and you too =) And of course! I say it should be silver. ;)