Kept My Sanity When I Realized I Knew Nothing About Writing
Copyright © 2009 by
Maripat Sluyter, All Rights Reserved
Yes, I thought I knew it all. I've always earned high marks in my high
school and college English classes with compliments from teachers and
professors. So I figured how could I not succeed?
Yeah, riiight. Reality set in real quick.
Such as not all story ideas will sell. I know, I know. Who wouldn't want
to read about the talking Chihuahuas from outer space, taking over the
White House so they can open a secret portal, hidden away in the bunker
by Templers centuries ago? Yeah, I know what you're thinking, but it
sounded better at one in the morning.
Let me pass on some advice. Never, ever delete these zany ideas. Tuck
them away for another day, month, or year. But keep them around. I never
know what gem will eventually appear from those misshapen premises. And
now for the really bad news. Sometimes no matter how great the novel is
agents and editors have to pass on it because they already have a great
vampire, werewolf or fairy story. It's nothing personal.
Sadly, some characters will only be truly loved by their writers. I
know, shocking. Just because Mama refers to strange Uncle Mortimer as a
real character doesn't mean you should use him. Honest. Not many will be
lining up to read about the guy who likes torturing animals, shows up
drunk for church and forgets where the urinal is--plus the too many
other atrocities that make him the black sheep of the family. Same thing
goes for characters that are too nice, too dumb, too indecisive, too
snarky--gak this list is endless.
Characters need souls. They need challenges, dreams, redemption, and
sometimes a swift kick in the ass. Don't be afraid to have a good long
chat with them. I know that sounds funny, but I've often found some
great secrets, plot twists and double crosses to enhance the story. Let
your muse roam wild. And yes, I've learned if I can't chat with my crazy
cast, there's a huge problem looming that'll need some deleting. It's
annoying to say the least.
And then there's the soul-sucking rejection letters. No explanation
needed. They suck.
Deal with them anyway you like. For you masochists, try posting them
around your office wall. For the rest of us, try paper shredders,
barbeque pits or lining kitty's litter box. I personally don't like
saving them. I believe in drowning my misery in chocolate-peanut butter
ice cream. Of course, then I have to hit the treadmill. For like an hour
because I ate the whole pint. Avoid the voodoo dolls. So cliché.
Besides, there's a backorder on some of the more popular agents.
All joking aside, agents are not the bad guys. I went from getting hasty
rejections to the ever-so-close-but-not-quite-what-I'm-looking-for
personalized rejections. It's been a struggle. Agents are not Satan's
heartless spawn. They are people with individual tastes, and publishing
is a business.
Crazy as it sounds, I've also gotten harsh critiques. Some folks just
don't get my sense of humor. But yes, we all get harsh feedback at one
point or another. After I kick myself for the obvious mistakes, mutter
some curses, and once more fumble for chocolate-peanut butter ice cream
in the freezer, I'm very grateful they did their job and gave me honest
feedback. Embrace these folks that only want to help you. And for the
record, after six years of exchanging stories, I've yet to receive a
totally useless critique.
Okay, for anyone still with me, one last bit of advice. Everyone's
writing journey will be different. You're gonna hear this a million more
times. Stop groaning. It's the truth. I can't share any guarded secrets
to getting published--because there aren't any. And just when you
thought I couldn't get more depressing, some of you might break out big
on your first try--others might need to write dozens of books before
they catch their star.
I can't tell you when or if you'll succeed. But to keep your sanity in
an otherwise crazy career, find humor in the failures. When the
disappointments become overwhelming--and yeah, at some point it'll
happen--remember to laugh with the people closest to you--your friends,
your family and your critique buds.