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How I Kept My Sanity When I Realized I Knew Nothing About Writing

By Maripat Sluyter
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.