Friday, August 27, 2010

How to kill the bunny in one easy lifetime

The! Writing! Life!: Myths and Tips your Mother Won’t Yell you

MYTH #1: Once you’re published, you’re “in” and will never experience rejection again.

MYTH #2: You will keep the same publisher for the rest of your life.

MYTH WHATEVER: All agents know what they’re doing and who to approach and how to best represent you to the publisher.

YEAH, AND (while we’re at it), you can protest honestly about how badly you have been treated without serious or fatal repercussions.

Writer’s groups help sharpen your skills and boost morale. But they don’t, and I’ll tell you why:

Most people in them don’t know how to critique, so they just put down an opinion which may be very uninformed and of no use to you at all. And the following:

(i) Most of the critiquing isn’t critiquing at all, but consists of “oh, that’s awesome/lovely”, or words to that effect.

(ii) Everyone will strive to find the atom of good in your piece and play it up so as not to hurt your feelings.

(iii) NO ONE takes criticism well. If they are pretending to, they’re phonies. In fact, no one really wants criticism at all. They want to hear, “oh, that’s awesome/lovely”.

Writer’s groups are a great source of mutual support, no? Guess what. Sharing secrets of what makes writing work for you is deadly. If you were a tennis pro, would you sit down with your competition and say, “Now, here’s how I do my killer backhand”?

Publishing, like most things, is a pyramid, with 98 or 99% of writers at the bottom or in the middle somewhere. Only a couple of percent make it to “the top” and make any real money or get movie deals, like everyone expects to. If you “support” other writers, you are in effect saying to them, “Here, let me give you a leg-up on the ladder and take my spot. I don’t want it.”

Some writers are absolutely ruthless (see “only a couple of percent”: that’s how they got there) and, if you’re any good at all, will do anything to obliterate you and your work. Watch your back.

Some writers, usually those in writer’s groups, will sabotage you in all sorts of subtle ways. They wear away at you like a worm until you are completely undermined. It’s not that they want to succeed; they just want to see you fail.

Rejections never stop hurting, you never get used to them, and they always come on the same day the plumbing fails, the dog dies and you have your period.

(Here’s another reason why not to exchange work with other writers.) Be careful no one steals your stuff. It happens, and it’s devastating. It isn’t usually the whole manuscript, just the spiritual core of it, ripped out and shamelessly exploited. If it’s published before yours is (which it probably will be, given the 2-year lag that no one knows about), you will be branded a plagiarist, or at least unoriginal. If you protest or even say anything about it at all, you’ll be considered defensive, insecure and unprofessional. Practice the indispensible skill of enduring abuse silently and with a smile.

Coming up to a published author (especially a famous one) with manuscript trembling in hand is a bad idea. They don’t have time to read your stumbling efforts because they are busy writing their own work. If they did read it, they would likely tell you what they really think. They won’t read it, say “God, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen!”, hand it to their publisher and say, “Here’s the next best-seller. Publish it.”

If the famous author turns down your work, don’t go around telling everyone he/she is a jerk. It’s ungracious and unfair and not true. Well, probably not.

How-to-write books can’t teach you how to write, because writing can’t be taught (though it can be learned). Amassing shelves of them does not mean you are serious and dedicated, it just means you never get to your desk. Why not just pick one and do what it says?

Don’t talk about it endlessly. Most people who say they want to be writers don’t write. It’s easier than facing the blank page/one’s limited talent/terror of being rejected and found out.
Oh, and! I hate to be a pain and go on and on like this, but there are such riches of anguish to impart. If you go to writer’s workshops and conventions, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, you will hear maddeningly contradictory advice from different instructors. The truth is, there is no right way to do this, and writers detest being told what to do anyway. Real writers don’t even go to these things, for that reason (unless they’re hired as instructors: try to land this gig, it’s great for exposure/covert book-signings and strategic schmoozing/ass-kissing!).
Doing free gigs is supposed to help you get launched. In truth, it's a one-way ticket to Palookaville. Charge money as soon as it is humanly possible, as much as you can get.

I hate to say that the best part is the writing itself, but it is. It’s maybe 90%. It had better be, because your chances of being a real success are slim to none. There – are we feeling better now?

The Beatles - Rock & Roll Music

These blogs have a life of their own. This was going to be a serious treatise on "the writer's life" (or should I say, The! Writer's! Life!), but somehow it didn't happen. It's evolving into some sort of nostalgia column, which is a bit alarming on my part.

But oh, these guys.

I stumbled on A Hard Day's Night the other evening, and was quickly sucked in. It had that heady, exuberant feeling the Beatles exuded during the early years, before they lapsed into their jaded I'm a Loser/Baby's in Black/You've Got to Hide your Love Away period. This clip is one of the best compilations I've seen, complete with fluffy head-shaking (which drove the girls mad) and a kind of mad joy. They'd made it past the skiffle clubs of Merseyside and had gone on to (as John put it) "the toppermost of the poppermost!"

Pay attention to 1:18 in this clip: Paul absolutely cracks up at something John has played on the keyboard. These guys were brothers, and sometimes experienced the rancor and Cain-and-Abel rage of blood kin. Yet, separately, neither could write or perform in that same focused, fruitful way. The shock is that they almost never composed together: they wrote songs "at" each other, put them out there and said, "What do you think?", or even "Try and stop me." This jealousy and tension pulled genius out of them that never would have manifested any other way.

OK then, I've come as far as Mad Men and the Beatles. Do you know what I'm avoiding? I do. I am avoiding the welter of pain and residual anguish of being published for the first couple of times. It was a heady experience, to be sure, but at a certain point I fell through the ice. How on earth am I to comment on "the writer's life" without mentioning this? But if I make too much of it, I will be worse box office poison than I already am. Writers must never let on that their experiences have been anything but totally positive. Only ingrates complain.

The truth is, I have a manuscript that I believe is my very finest work, and I have no idea what to do with it, who to contact. I can't do this alone! I am turned away everywhere, before the thing has even been considered. Sorry, we're full up.

I feel as if I am recreating the cold shoulder I have experienced all my life, from every direction and in every area. Is there a way out? I have to pretend I don't need this, pretend it doesn't hurt and I am fine and I don't mind only writing about the past and writing about the Beatles.

This thing is going to die on the vine. In the words of the Beatles: "Help! I need somebody." After becoming a published author, after having my dream come true twice, it's an awful position to be in.