It’s no secret that I am less than enthusiastic about self publishing, although let me say, before the self published folks get bent out of shape and begin sending nasty comments and emails to The Edge, I do not think that all self published books are crap. There are authors who I’m friends with and others I’ve simply read who have published very good books that were edited, well written and who bust their asses in order to sell said books.
Sadly, those authors are not easy to find. Few and far between, as the saying goes. This post is not really about self publishing, but the ability to publish anything nowadays does play a role so of course, self publishing does sort of affect my feelings at the moment. I felt the need to get the whole issue out of the way before I get to the meat of this post, which is writing.
Recently while I was out and about, I met a woman with whom I’m familiar but not really friendly. In a small town like Tweed there are many people like this. You know them, their family and most of their secrets; true and made up, but you aren’t really friends. Anyway, she asked how my ‘writing’ was going. I said, “Good.” And then I made to go on my merry way.
But of course, she wasn’t finished. “So, do you even work at all now?”
I blinked, choked down the scathing retort about how she had never worked a day in her worthless life so the judgemental tone she used was really unwarranted and I smiled. “Actually,” I said, “I freelance for a few online sites and I still write fiction.”
She gave that knowing look. You know the one. It says sure you do, and I’m the Queen of England. Then she said, “Yeah, I thought about publishing a book this year too. Since the kids are in school I have the time.”
Really? “Do you know anything about writing or publishing?” I asked.
“No, but neither do you. How hard can it be? It’s not like you’re overly creative or anything, you know?”
No, you self righteous, arrogant, know-nothing bitch. I do not know. Of course, me being the polite and likable person that I am, I didn’t say that. I said simply, “Good luck.”
This is what gets me about ‘writers’ (and I use the term loosely) I’ve come across since I began writing to publish. Sounds like such an easy thing, eh? Just decide you want to be a writer and viola! You’re published. Well, no. It’s not so easy and having people like that, and people in the writing groups treating writing as a ‘hobby’ or something that anyone can do, as though the amount of work and tears and time I’ve put into what I write (that all serious writers put into their work) are needless and trivial, really pisses me off.
Writing is work. Okay? Writers, are you paying attention? It shouldn’t be easy and it shouldn’t be something you just ‘do’. If you hope to publish anything worth reading, (note the keywords WORTH READING) it’s not as simple as writing a story. You have to study, grow, learn, experiment, sacrifice, and spend hours honing your style and voice. You have to build a ‘presence’ in order to market your work later, and you have to have enough backbone and self confidence and drive to endure rejection like you’ve never experienced in your life. Daily. I’m not exaggerating.
I’ve worked day and night, without a break or a day off, received rejection after rejection, for more than two years to get to the point I’m at today. Now two or three years is not a long time, when I say that I spent that time learning, I don’t mean an hour here and there. I mean constantly working at it. That’s on top of writing from the day I could spell more than a few words, and reading everything I could get my hands on. You do learn some of this craft through osmosis, but how to apply what you know to be good to your own writing is not so easy.
Here’s an excerpt from an early draft of the first manuscript I wrote:
Her stomach rumbled and she rummaged through the purse for the chocolate bars she’d picked up earlier in her trip. Audrina dumped everything out and looked again. She found some old gum, two chewed pens, a chapstick with mystery gunk on it, and the spare keys she’d searched for last week, but no chocolate.
“I know I bought them, where the heck did I put them?” she murmured.
Then she remembered. They were on the counter at the gas station, hours back when she turned off the highway.
Oh my…so painful. And I thought this was good at the time. Submitted it to publishers even. Gasp! I didn’t! Oh yes, I did. But they said “Um, no.” So I struggled, cried, bashed my head on hard surfaces and finally admitted that this was crap. The story, the characters, all of it. Crap. This manuscript may never see the light of day and while I loathe to read the telling prose, the choppy, tag filled dialogue and the too hard to believe plot, this manuscript means the world to me. More than any other I’ve written. Why? It shows how far I’ve come and how much the hard work and head bashing have paid off.
Here’s the difference in my writing today, an excerpt from a draft of the most recent manuscript I’ve finished:
He started the truck thinking about Kristina as he pulled away from the curb and headed toward Louisa Street. The longing in her gaze nearly undid his self-control, but the naked fear that dominated her being made him wary. It would have been easy to take advantage of her tonight; she desperately wanted to feel safe and loved. The shudder that wracked her body and the haunted look when he pulled away, told him she couldn’t quite separate Daniel from her thoughts. Things were complicated enough without trying to get around her irrational loyalty to that idiot.
There’s room for improvement, yes, but anyone who knows what they’re looking for can see the growth in that passage. The difference in what I’m able to write now compared to then makes me proud of the work I’ve done and angry at anyone who assumes they can put whatever they want on paper with no effort at all.
Writing is work, people. Hard work. Lonely work. Depressing sometimes, but it’s the most satisfying and rewarding work I’ve ever done. Just because you can spell, can string words together into a sentence and format a story with beginning, middle, and end does not make you a writer.
So to the people like the idiot who talked to me on the street the other day, who believe that writing is easy and that anyone can do it, the ones who waste my time by putting shit on the bookshelves that is really useful for lining birdcages and such and join writing groups to make pithy comments about how their characters are so awesome and they are so getting published by the end of the year so they can move on to their next goal of lion taming because anyone with a stick can do that too, to those who criticize and make fun of those of us who refuse to submit anything but our best to publishers and agents, and who don’t think that ‘writer’ means anything more than someone who can reasonably tell a story; Good luck.
Ha! You all thought I’d tell them to fuck off. See? Growth. Maturity. That’s me.