Saturday, January 13, 2007

I'm so confused!

I've spent a lot of time and money trying to learn as much as I can about writing and publishing--I've read all the recommended books, I've bookmarked the appropriate agent/editor/publisher sites, I've scoured the blogs and libraries--I've done my homework.

Now, I'm the type of person who looks out at the world in search of patterns; it comforts me to note the connections and consistencies between cultures, ideas and just about everything in general. I figured I would be able to do my homework, take note of what the experts were saying, and then go out and find great examples in books past and present to support their points.

What I've learned is that in spite of what all the editors and agents say, the books they actually publish break every "rule" they claim to enforce. The prose is more purple than Barney the dinosaur's butt. Magical, wandering body parts appear on every page: eyes roam, pierce, drill and steam. Hearts lurch, jump, and slide out of place so often the cardiologists must be in heaven. The characters still hiss, slam, fling and toss out their dialogue--and they not only hiss it, they hiss is silkily, angrily, whatever-ly.

What gives?

As if that weren't betrayal enough, I've also learned that my work is no good if I don't have a theme, character arcs, follow mythological journeys with characters that represent archetypes from our collective unconscious. I'm supposed to clearly define ahead of time what I want each scene to accomplish and not confuse it with a serial.
And here I thought I was just trying to tell a fun story with fun characters.

Avery DeBow has a great blog about this type of intimidation on his MySpace blog. I wish he'd post it to his regular blog where anyone could see it. I did write to him this morning and asked if he'd let me quote it, or if he'd publish it where I could link to it so you could all enjoy his take on the subject. However, I'm impatient and started writing without him. :) I would imagine he's somewhere actually having a life right now instead of hanging out in front of the computer on a Saturday afternoon. At least, I hope he is.

So, I've just added one more resolution to this year's list. Screw the experts. I'm just going to write the stories as best I can and leave it at that. Sure, I'll still do some research into what the editors/agents are looking for, but only for such things as do they not publish sf/f, romance etc., so that I don't submit to the wrong one. After that, well, I'll just make mistakes and be glorious. :)


  1. Great New Year's resolution -- can I share it?

    Seriously. You've just said what we all feel. I never attend to the "good advice" during the writing of the first draft, but get bogged down with it during the rewrite.

  2. Feel free to use in any manner you wish. :)

    Thanks for dropping in. It's nice to know others feel the same way.

    Great cat, by the way--the eyes are amazing.

  3. I remember reading Stephen King's book on writing and then studying some of his work, trying to analyze is success and what elements made his work so accessible. As I read such tales as "Salem's Lot" and "The Shining", I discovered that King more often than not broke many of the rules he set down in his work on writing. Imagine that.

    Someone else once said: "Writers don't like to give advice. They don't need the competition."

    You know, Kate, I agree with you. I focus on all the stuff you mentioned: character arcs, themes, etc. But ultimately I judge my work by something I call the "cool" factor.

    If it makes me smile and say: "Cool", then it works. That's all I strive toward. I just want to write the sort of stuff I want to read or watch on film.

  4. Someone else once said: "Writers don't like to give advice. They don't need the competition."

    LOL, that would explain the inconsistencies in the writing books written by writers. :)

    I'm starting to think that the disconnect between what the editors & agents say they want and what they actually publish might be the difference between their "ideal" and what sells.

  5. Great post, Kate! I think if you have a fabulous story, that's more important than it beging written in a "perfect" way. If you stifle your creativity and follow all the rules, your writing might be dried out instead of juicy. Writing should be glorious, not careful. That said, I probably follow a lot of the rules, lol. I think the trick is to know when to break them.

  6. Juicy! LOL, I like that. Sort of reminds of a scene in Truly, Madly, Deeply with Alan Rickman. (God, I love that man! But I digress...) :)

    I tend to follow the rules, too, Edie. I've looked at it as a challenge--see if I can write well within the guidelines, such as using as few adverbs as possible. Of course, sometimes I fail *miserably*. :) Nevertheless, I've decided to not sweat it so much anymore. Maybe that will help bring a little more life to my work. One can hope.

  7. Good post! And thought-provoking, too.

    I've studied many a writing book. When I first started writing (for the first three or four years), I'd sit down with a writing book every time I wrote. I'd try to apply what I learned to what I wrote that day. I'm sure my voice was all over the place, LOL!

    I still pick them up and set them beside me (old habits die hard), but I rarely open them. I wouldn't go back and skip that part of my education, though.

    But no one said I was a quick learner, LOL.

    For every rule there is a reason. Once you can pinpoint the reason for the rule, the effect of breaking the rule, and the effect of obeying the rule (and be able to notice all the above in other author's works), then I think it's okay to forget about it and let instinct take over.

    In fact, there's this GREAT writing book I glanced at the other day that I think you'd like. It's about how to develop style and voice, by forgetting and breaking every rule you've ever learned. What IS that book called?

  8. In my experience, these "rules" tend to be enforced most vigorously in RWA writing contests. I can't tell you how many times I've run across true believers from the religion of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. :-)

  9. LOL, Lynne. Can I get an Amen? :)

    If you recall, Spy, let me know--though I think at this point even reading about breaking rules would break me. :)

    I just heard from Avery who was out of town. He's going to put the info on his regular blog.

    Here's the part I loved the most (talking about books on writing):

    Each time I get into one, I find myself in a spiral of intimidation. "What's your theme? What are recurring images in your work?" The list of questions goes on and on, until I feel like a kindergartener with a Crayola-scrawled piece of paper in an interrogation room. The light on me keeps getting brighter, the interviewer more antagonistic, and I shrink down in my chair, holding up my little paper like a shield and say, "But -- see what I did? Pretty."

  10. Although you've covered the topic brilliantly, that entry will be up on my Blogger page in a few. Thanks for the love.

  11. It's all about heart. A story driven by feeling and energy, regardless of its technical flaws, will always be better than a technically perfect composition about something the writer doesn't care about, or cannot muster energy about.

    On the flip side of , I see published stories out there which fit that second category. I'd imagine that an editor, despairing and whacked-out after a day cruising the slush pile, might find solace in a stylistically-impecable story and not notice until it's too late that the story neither invoked or evoked any emotion.

    The problem for many writers -- myself included -- is thinking too much. Of analyzing word choice and scene arrangement and little bits of literary flourish like alliteration (which I'm inordinately fond of) and metahphor. I've had to abandon a forty-thousand-word project because of overthinking in that form. Before that, I had to abandon a 75,000 word rough draft because of a different kind of overthinking: of warping and mutilating the story so that it fit my original vision, and in doing so rendering it thin and unbelievable.

    Now I try not to think; to be unself-conscious. Listening to loud music helps.

  12. Insect, I remember reading an editor's blog (now I don't remember whose) where she talked about buying a "meh" manuscript. The "mehs" are just as you described: technically sound, but lacking emotion, and she'd be "duped" into buying them for the same reason you guessed: after slushing through a pile of crap, the "meh" looked pretty good.


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