Friday, April 30, 2010

Social networking (or what NOT to say to an editor)

As I’ve mentioned on here before, although writing is the passion I’m focusing on for this blog, my other passion is editing (and, honestly, I’m a much better editor than I am a writer). I work two different jobs right now: the one that pays the bills is a job as a copyeditor for scientific journals, which is rewarding in that I know my hard work is helping the scientific community (and thus humanity), and the other, which is more personally fulfilling, is my job as an assistant editor for a small independent book publisher in Cambridge, MA.

This past weekend, I attended a (truly inspirational) writers' and editors' retreat for the book publisher, during which we held a party for anyone associated with the press to join. This was a great social networking opportunity—face to face networking, to be specific, which, although it has taken more and more of a back seat to online networking in the past 5 or so years, is still an incredibly important aspect of getting your name out and getting others interested in you. Writers, if you can’t represent yourself overall as the kind of person people want to talk to or be involved with, you really can’t expect them to be interested in representing you—your writing itself may be great, but if you’re flat out rude or insulting, nobody is going to be interested in you (whether you’re looking for beta readers, agents, editors, etc).

Case in point: I was at the party, schmoozing with various people, when a man looked at my name tag and said, with a sneer, “Oh, you’re one of the editors here? I bet you’re one of the editors who rejected me.”

…Did any warning flags go off in your mind? How this man thought this was the appropriate way to approach me I will never know. Writers, I am a writer, too. I understand the pain of rejection and the tendency to take it personally, but as an editor, I know that this is absolutely not the case. For the record, this man had never submitted anything to me—but regardless, starting off a conversation with an editor (an editor you might be submitting your stories to in the future, no less!) with a bad attitude and an offensive, blaming tone is NOT going to incline us to think well of you.

I assured this man that if his story had been rejected, it certainly wasn’t meant to be a personal attack (his story may have been amazing, for instance, and might have just not fit with the theme the editor was going for with the particular anthology this man submitted to). The man then went on to make a snide remark, saying that he was already writing before I was even born (which was probably true, but I'm not quite sure I understand how my age affects my ability to edit)—at which point I bit my tongue, made an excuse, and left the room.

This seems obvious to me, but, judging from this man’s behavior, it isn’t. Here’s the thing about social networking, no matter what field you’re in: every word you say, every smile or sarcastic or rude remark is representing not only your personality but also your work itself. It’s true that some famous writers are rude in real life—but I guarantee you that those people, when they were starting out and first trying to impress editors and agents, turned up the charm and kept their snide comments to themselves. Don’t forget that for every one bridge you burn, that bridge has told one, five, or ten other bridges to avoid you, too. The publishing industry is a small place; if you don’t treat others with respect, don’t expect them to treat your work any better.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On the importance of writers writing

I got an email today from a friend I admire greatly--she is a fantastic writer and an incredibly kind person. Her email, among other things, touched on the fact that she hasn't written in almost two years, something I can certainly relate to (as can [almost] every writer!). It is so easy to get in the habit of not writing, isn't it? I've fallen into it time and again over the years, and it is only through some kind of outside encouragement that I have typically managed to get myself to write frequently (though never entirely regularly) -- things like contests, creative writing courses, etc.

Lately, though, in writing my novel, I've been incredibly motivated to write (whether because I'm excited about the novel, nervous about the outcome, scared it'll be awful, or just feel accountable now that I've told so many people about it, I'm not sure). Whatever the reason, this semi-regular writing has been great for me. I can feel my thoughts coming in more clearly and the words going down more eloquently, I feel more motivated to start writing in the first place (something that only infrequently happened before), and I find my confidence improving (merited or not).

This of course brings me back to the old schpiel every writer is tired of hearing and yet needs to hear again: Writing often is so important for writers! I don't mean writing regularly or writing on a rigid schedule, because sometimes it really isn't possible, and sometimes we really are too busy, and you know what, not everyone works that way. But often, say, once a day, once a week, once every other week. Certainly more often than once a month or once a year! Set your own pace, writers, and make it a modest pace at first--but then speed it up, write more often, make sure you're letting that inner voice out.

Why? Writers are so important. Writers can start revolutions, writers can bring about peace. Writers see a certain depth in the way the world works, in life and death, that other people don't see. And I believe that we, as writers, have a responsibility to share our thoughts and make use of our talents. It may not be for the greater good; not everyone is going to be famous. But you never know! Someday, one person (or two, or three) might have a sudden epiphany while reading your writing. Maybe it'll stop someone from crying, maybe it'll make someone laugh. (Hell, I'd settle for my writing just entertaining someone for a short while!)

But really: talent is such a sad thing to waste.

(Hey, here's a meta thought: Maybe I encouraged someone to write by writing this! Maybe that person is going to be the next amazing, famous writer! Positive thoughts, people, I'm trying to think positive.)


In unrelated news, in case anyone was wondering, the overwhelming response I got from people about my last post (both here and on Twitter) was that I should finish writing the whole novel before revising. (Sigh.) So I haven't started the revision process yet and am still attempting to slog through the incredibly difficult mire that is the ending of my book, which just does not want to be written. Argh. It is a long, slow-going process, unfortunately. I'm more a fan of those sections of the book that just seem to race out of me, to be honest.... Ah, well. More on that another time.

If you're reading my blog, please leave comments and let me know! Do you like it? Is it interesting? Boring? Not engaging enough? Is there something you think I should focus on, or that you would like me to discuss? I'm thinking of writing about the merits of editing next time (seeing as that's my day job and all). What can I do to attract more readers and/or keep people coming back? Any and all advice is welcome! :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Every writer could use a little advice now and then.

Things I have learned:
  • Writing a novel is HARD. It is a LOT of work.
  • Even after writing nearly all of your book, you still might feel a bit lost and confused. (Or, sometimes, even more lost and confused than you felt before you started!)
  • 100,000 words sounds impressive, but it’s quality that counts, not quantity. And quality is so hard to come by!
  • Writers are a very strange breed of masochists.
  • You have to finish; you can’t give up; it’s not an option.

Yes, readers, I have written over 100,000 words. That is a lot of words. And I haven’t even written the ending yet! No, I don’t think the book will be nearly this long when I’m done, and yes, I am aware that this is way too long for a first novel. But writing so many words has been a really great thing for me—it helped me learn so much more about my characters and about their journey than I think I would have had I skipped some of those unnecessary scenes or boring days. A wise person once blogged, “Make every scene noteworthy; make sure something happens in each scene that is vital to the plot.” It is with this mindset that I will endeavor to cut tens of thousands of words out of my novel, not merely to shorten it but to improve it. Such will be my challenge.

So at this point in my novel, my characters have already embarked on their journey, traveled the entire distance, and made it to where they need to be for the final encounter. I know what’s going to happen, and I’ve written an outline for myself, but here’s the problem: I don’t find myself wanting to write it just yet. (Actually I find myself loathing the prospect.) My novel has lots (LOTS) of holes and gaps that need to be filled in before I can be entirely sure of the ending (or rather, of how exactly it will happen, down to each eye movement and gust of wind), and I’m therefore not very happy with my novel at the moment. I feel a bit discouraged, really, and I’m floundering. It’s kind of a scatterbrained, sluggish novel right now (or maybe it’s just my brain that’s scatterbrained and sluggish and I’m projecting those feelings onto my writing!) and I wonder if that might change enough during the revision process to impact the ending. There are a lot of really key elements that either need to be introduced or fleshed out toward the beginning of the novel for the end to be worthwhile, and I’ve realized recently that if I want to be even somewhat proud of the final result, the novel as a whole has to change drastically.

Yes, I know that every writer goes through this. I think that this is the necessary struggle that writers go through with their first novels (the first ones they write, not necessarily the first ones they get published) wherein it suddenly becomes apparent that the story isn’t the only thing that counts, nor are the characters. Finding a way to wrap three million little details into one coherent, smoothly flowing, interesting book is a task that seems nearly impossible--certainly one of the most daunting challenges a writer ever faces.

My question is, would it be terrible if I started the revision stage now without finishing the book first? Should I write down the whole ending, instead of just an outline, and then go back to do revisions after I’m done? I’ve written this until now in the NaNo state of mind: write write write and do not allow yourself to edit ANYTHING until you’re done. Is it okay to let go of that now and finally read back over what I’ve written to see if it’s even halfway decent? Or should I keep writing until I’m totally finished and only then allow myself to revise?

Answers to these questions and any other relevant ones would be greatly appreciated! :)