Folks who know me will recall that I wrote a memoir a couple of years ago and have been shopping it around, to occasional interest from agents and publishing professionals. It’s a process that gets frustrating, but I tell myself that the whole thing is worth it. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve met loads of great people who care deeply about writers, the craft of good writing, and the need to build strong networks. That Snooki got published isn’t anything I care to rant over; who will have any clue about her book in ten years? I want publishers to put books out there that will make them enough money to find interest in mine, even as I think my memoir is a sure-fire best seller.
I’ve written a lot in this blog about keeping motivated, literary methods, and which advice to listen to and which to ignore, but it comes down to some fairly simple tenets: know yourself. Here’s a brief sampling of how knowing oneself aids the writer (and others, for that matter):
1. Good writing has a discernable voice. There’s that adage—every sentence should be necessary—but beyond this, the language needs to hang together as a whole, and to do that it requires an internal consistency. Word choice here is critical. Build the writing with care, and you’ll hear the voice of the piece. And guess what? Voice comes from knowing oneself, as does the sense of surety regarding the artistic decisions one makes while writing.
2. Different strategies work for different writers. Self-publishing certainly has its advocates, no doubt. It doesn’t, however, make sense for everyone, nor should it. I disdain the idea that we can bash traditional publishers en masse. We may feel hatred at the hurdles in the industry, but getting bitter isn’t going to improve our ability to jump them, and it isn’t going to endear us to the gatekeepers—agents and editors—who serve as our entry. If digital presses speak to a writer, or someone wants that direct connection to readers, go for it. But don’t jump to self publishing because some fool on some messageboard says publishing is dead. Do research to identify what approach toward publication will work best.
3. Write for yourself first. Every so often I come across an instance of someone pitching the newest, most romantic vampire urban fantasy story because they think it’ll sell like hot flapjacks. Certainly most of the “ask the agent” forums I’ve seen include a “what are agents buying now” or “what’s the next hot trend in” genre X or Y question. If we’re writing only in order to get published/make a fortune/get on Oprah’s network, we’re not writing our true selves. The pros can spot the works that were written to match a trend. Too bad the books on the shelves in stores represent what people were buying 2–3 years ago. What we write needs to be genuine, and we only reach our authentic stories by knowing who we are as writers and what stories are jockeying to the front of our minds to be told. Most books, unless they’re really out there or powerfully offensive, have an audience. Writing our best stories, told as well as we can relay them, is what agents are looking for. It may sound overly simplistic, but agent after agent has said that if a manuscript is terrific enough, they’ll flock to represent it no matter what genre or how unorthodox it is.
4. Quash the Green Monster. It can feel grueling, this field of work. Everyone thinks writing is easy, and it’s not. When one among us emergent folks gets representation, lands a publisher, gets their writing picked up for syndication, etc., it can be challenging to grit one’s teeth and congratulate them, especially when we feel we’ve been overlooked. This is a sign that we need to put ourselves out there more, until we have so much going on with our own work that we stop seeing other people’s success as our gloom. Or try therapy. Or beat a pillow with a Wiffle bat. Just get over the jealousy thing; it only derails good work.
It’s a long road that often seems wicked and spiteful. In fact, this is part of the process. Coming to terms with who we are as people and writers can help immensely, so that second guessing doesn’t sneak up like a mischievous imp, scattering our attention around the room like so many crumpled up balls of paper. Writing can only convey its purpose if we know what that purpose is first.