Sunday, August 16, 2009

Writing is. . .Work!

It’s amazing that most writers whose books are poorly written blame publishing for their writing ineptitude. To them it’s an unfair system. They decry a structure that allows them to work an entire year on a project for which there’s no apparent market. Surely anything that took that much effort deserves publication, doesn’t it? Surely someone wants it and is willing to pay the going rate for it. After all, everyone who has read it has loved it.

From a writer’s perspective, this makes sense. But those who have been around writing for awhile realize that writing anything is a gamble—that everything that’s written is written on speculation, that we all work for nothing until something is published and that nothing deserves publication unless it fits a ready market and someone can make money by publishing it. That’s writing.

What’s even more disconcerting is that many who query WMLA have no idea what they’ve written, have no platform on which to build a writing career, nor do they know if there’s a market for what they’ve written. These same individuals become angry when informed of these failures. They should realize that we check these things because we don’t enjoy working for nothing either.

Those who someday wish to be published should understand that publishing is a business enterprise. Books are products in an industry whose main consumers are readers. Readers buy the vast majority of books to escape the rigors of everyday life or to make their lives better. So a writer’s job is to write well enough to entertain, educate and build vast and steady reading audience year after year. Good professional writers are entertainers, educators, and self-promoters.

Most first-time novelists buy into the adage, “Write what you know.” However, it’s not what you know that’s important. It should be, “Write what you care about.” You can learn what you don’t know through education or, at a minimum, through an interview or by in-depth Internet research. Not caring is hard to fix. Caring forces you to always make your writing better. So learn to care enough to make others care about what you write. Besides, if you write what you care about, it makes a difficult, unrelentingly ego-busting job seem much less like the work that it is.


Buffy Andrews said...

Great post. When you write what you care about, what you are passionate about, it's not work at all. To me, the joy of writing comes in the process. The writing is the gift I give myself. Yes I would like to sell my books. Yes I would like others to read and enjoy my work. But if none of that happens,I've enjoyed the writing process and discovery and am proud of the achievement. Does this make sense?

Cait said...

This is pretty interesting and a lot to think about. There's another extremely interesting view on writing as "work" vs. "genius" that a friend of mine pointed out to me a few months ago. Here's the link:

It's by Elizabeth Gilbert of the "Eat Pray Love" fame, where she talks about the work of a writer being to just show up and work at it everyday, whereas inspiration and the "muse" of genius is a much more rare and, oddly enough, exterior experience.

Whether you interiorize or exteriorize inspirations, I like the idea of the work of the writer being to show up and do the job of writing, whether you're inspired or not.

Just my humble two cents!


Scott Jensen said...

What about writing what you wish others would write about and/or in the style you wish they would write in?

BJ said...

Writers who blame the publishing industry for their unpublishable work don't realize that publishing is a business and that they are creating products to sell, just like those crafters who sell at craft sales or on E-Bay. Just like artists who are just starting out. Just like the farmers who put food on our tables.

The one thing all these others know, but that many writers choose to ignore, is that the product often costs the producers more than they get in terms of time and, often, materials.

Unless writing is your day job -- as in producing business materials, technical manuals, articles, or similar -- you are not going to make even a minimum hourly wage, especially at the beginning. And if your products aren't of better quality than your competitors, no one will buy them.

As you've said, caring about what you write helps you to carry on through the thousands of unpaid hours that go into writing a book. Caring also means you'll work harder to create the best possible product.

And if the writer doesn't care enough about the work to do this, why should people pay for it?

A very good post!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog entry. I'm going to have to quote from this.

Anonymous said...

Hello and thank you for your insightful thoughts. i couldn't help thinking 'i know these things' as i read through your warm warning. i'm blessed in that i understand beforehand we are in the book publishing 'buiness'. however, i'm getting tired of people treating me a child. yes, we're in the 'business' of books and so i want to make sure i'm not getting fleeced. i've suggested care needs to be taken on behalf of the writer in order to keep from a 'sleazy' element i've found since i began my hunt for a publisher. now, having said that, i'm interested in a publisher who will satisfy my needs; until now i've only heard the publishers side, their needs/requirments. i've rejected more publishers in a week than i did girls as a teenager. lol. i haven't heard anything i would call enlightening from authors or publishing staff/owners. this seems a pretty straight forward business, although filled with screwballs, sleezebags and as well some pretty self-centered people. i love to write, but hate to publish. but i'm not giving up. i know that i'll find someone who can give me a balanced view of my product (see, i know) and if they want to talk a chance walk me through what has to be done. i'm just hoping they don't make a big deal of things. if it isn't simple i may not want to do it all. i have other irons in the fire and i'm applying for a job at a publishing company. that's my perspective.

Andy Rooney

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Dear Robb Richards,

As a writer, your writing tells things about you that you possibly aren't aware. For instance, if I were to receive a query from a writer who seemed to want to be casual about his writing style and not capitalize where capitalization is required, I would assume that his work would look pretty much the same--very casual and not publishable. Yes, I know, EE Cummings did it. However, that won't work in today's marketplace--not from a beginner anyway. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being informal and casual--but those who make decisions on whether to represent or publish only have what the writer writes to go by. If the sample they receive isn't as perfect as humanly possible, they assume he or she hasn't taken the time required to make his or her novel or book ready for publication and there are virtually thousands of other writers who have taken the time to choose from. It's a dog eat dog world this publishing business.

Sally Zigmond said...

Pertinent blog post and an even more pertinent comment. i (sic) couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

Writing what you care about is great advice, and it does make the job easier. The farther along I get on my project, the more I learn each time. This blog has been a real asset to me.

Scott said...

"Write what you care about." That's why my first book had to be a memoir. Before I could write fiction I had to write what I cared about most.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Scott and all new writers:

Scott is right, in some ways. We need to get past ourselves before we can really write anything worthwhile. So possibly writing about ourselves is a way to do that--get past the self-center and move beyond to building those new people, worlds that are outside and beyond us. Only when a writer moves beyond I and me can he or she see someone or something else.

David Griffin said...

Interesting and instructive post, thank you.

You wrote: '...have no platform on which to build a writing career, nor do they know if there’s a market for what they’ve written.'

I glean from this, that you mean finding a genre and sticking to it, at least in the beginning of one's career?

The word "genre" is a hateful one for some writers, especially for those where "the penny didn't drop" until after they had finished writing their novel. This could have turned out to be a cross-genre mishmash and so difficult for an agent to place or a publisher to print.

I'm trying my second novel with agents. This is literary and I'm hoping, should it be accepted, that this is one of the few genres that can be used as a springboard into another, without the reader worrying(?!) too much.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Hi David Griffin, In the statement you mentioned, "have no platform on which to build a writing career, nor do they know if there’s a market for what they’ve written." Platform speaks of prior publishing credits and/or preparation for a career in writing through formal education in this field. Knowing if there's a market would mean not researching markets that are friendly to debut writers and has little to do with genre because readership tastes constantly change--i.e.; the present romance with vampires and other creatures of the night.