Category Archives: Meaningless Drivel

7 Writing Myths I Just Made Up So I Could Debunk Them

Yes, there are lots of actual writing and publishing myths out there worthy of review. But everyone else writes about those. Surely you’ve stumbled across a post or two debunking such common myths as “literary agents are out to kill your writing dreams” and “first-time novelists don’t have a chance in hell of getting published.”

You don’t need yet another post about those myths, do you? No, you don’t. What you do need is this post in which I make up some writing and publishing myths of my own. Just so I can debunk them.

Isn’t this more fun anyway?

Oh, and I might have tried to stuff some actual helpful advice in this nonsense. I say this only because if you learn something, I want it to seem like I planned that all along.

The Myth: If you misuse “its” and “it’s” in your manuscript, you’re screwed. No one will represent you. Not even really bad agents.

The Debunking: While it’s true that agents tend to prefer writers who know basic grammar skills, a beautifully-told tale with a compelling author voice and commercial potential is usually enough to make them forget the fact that you can’t spell “pulchritude.”

The Myth: If you pitch an agent the same book more than once with the argument “I fixed all the stuff that was wrong last time,” they’ll put a curse on you and you’ll never get published.

The Debunking: Not true. You’ll probably need to look for a different agent, but just because the one you’ve been annoying isn’t interested in your much-improved novel doesn’t mean it’s unpublishable. And while it is technically true that some agents still place curses on writers, most these days merely block your email address.

The Myth: There is a higher incidence of liver failure in writers.

The Debunking: Actually, this one is true.

The Myth: If your novel includes vampires, portals or sullen teenagers who’ve recently lost a parent and are having a hard time coping and so they turn to drugs or cutting or sleeping around until one day they are awakened by the epiphany that “life is hard – just deal with it,” agents will draw a big red “x” across your manuscript (virtually, of course, because a Sharpie would really screw up their computer monitor) and reject your proposal out of hand.

The Debunking: If you’ve found a unique way to write about vampires or portals or sullen teenagers, you might just get representation. Here’s the deal: while it’s stupid and naive to follow trends in order to get a publishing deal, if you tell a good story that just so happens to also be a trending topic or theme, you’ll still have a shot at being noticed.

The Myth: All first novels are essentially autobiographical.

The Debunking: Well, that would explain why Stephen King is so creepy. But, no. Not all. Just most.

The Myth: If you write with a pen and legal pad instead of on a computer, every article about you will refer to this behavior in a way that makes you look like a self-important jerk.

The Debunking: Nope. But if you write with a pen and legal pad instead of on a computer and you make a point to tell everyone you meet that this is the way real writers write, then every article about you will (quite rightly) refer to this behavior in a way that make you look like a self-important jerk.

The Myth: Only crappy books are getting published and that’s why your book hasn’t been snatched up by an agent yet.

The Debunking: Both crappy books and great books are being published and the jury is still out as to which category yours falls under.

There you go.

You’re welcome.

Have a nice day.

Writing Advice You Should Definitely Ignore

The title of this post is not some clever reverse psychology trick. You really shouldn’t listen to this advice. It’s bad for you and it goes against everything you’ve ever heard from all those lovely and wise literary agents out there. The Chips and Nathans and Janets and the rest. (I’m not being sarcastic here. All the agents I’m thinking of are completely lovely and incredibly competent and smell like cupcakes.)

So why am I writing this post? Because sometimes advice that’s perfect for The Many is perfectly wrong for The Few. I’m not saying it’s bad to be among The Many. It’s actually a great place to be as a writer because there’s so much helpful information out there for you. When agents and editors speak in generalizations (usually with sentences that begin “Always…” or “Never…” or the more sinister variation, “If you ever want to be published…”), those of you who are among The Many really ought to listen.

If you’re perfectly content with the writing advice you’re getting elsewhere, please stop reading now. I’m only going to screw that up with what I say below. Seriously, I mean it. Go away.

Go. Away.

Yes, I see you. You’re still reading. Right, right, that’s only because you want to see what sort of drivel I’m going to drool onto the page so you can wipe it away. Like actual drool.

I’m cool with that. Mostly because I happen to like the word drivel.

Now let’s get on with it.

Here’s the bad advice I warned you about. Read it. Then feel free to call me names in the comments.

On Branding – I know what you’re thinking. (I’m psychic like that.) This whole “branding” thing is mostly for non-fiction writers. Yes. True. And necessary. (Google it. Study it. Do it.) But it doesn’t take much exploration of agents’ and editors’ and publishers’ blogs before you read about the critical importance of defining who you are as a fiction author. The agent sages will tell you without apology that your chance of getting published in multiple genres is somewhere between slim and Victoria Beckham. And, of course, they’re right. So what do you do about that? Well, if you only write one genre, you’re all set. Lucky you. But what if you write in multiple genres? What then? Well, you could simply choose your favorite genre and work exclusively on that until you’re really good at it, then do your darnedest to get noticed by an agent. That’s a fine idea, too. Do that. Unless you haven’t yet found your favorite. In that case, here’s my bad writing advice: just write the story that’s in your head. Don’t fret about branding. Just write. Because here’s the thing – for The Few, this “branding” thing can become a sentient shadow determined to constrict your creativity in trade for the tenuous promise of a better chance of publication. The shadow of branding can keep you from experimenting and exploring and growing as a writer because you’re afraid you might be coloring outside the lines. Don’t let it. Write whatever the muse tells you to write. Please note: following this approach demands that you loosen the grip on your publishing dreams and your most-likely-ambitious timetable for those dreams. But in the meantime, you’ll be enjoying the writing journey. At some point you’ll still need to decide which novel do you want to be known for (first). Then, yes, if you get a publishing deal for that book you’ll be branded according to its genre. But that’s okay. If you write more of those novels, you can make more money. (If that sort of thing is important to you.) But please don’t stop writing the other books the muse demands. If you’re one of the luckiest few, you’ll be able to place novels on more than one shelf in Barnes & Noble someday.

On Writing the First Draft – Nearly everyone in the biz will tell you, “turn off the self-editor when you write” or some variant of that. Some have even rather boldly said it thusly, “write a bad first draft.” If that works for you, wonderful. Save your editing for the second (and subsequent) drafts. But for The Few…this won’t work. For The Few, there is no other way to write than to wrestle with every word, every sentence, every paragraph. There’s no other way to write than to edit and re-edit page after excruciating page. Sometimes it’s one page forward and two pages back. It’s almost always a painful and laborious process…and it’s the only way The Few can write. So if you’re among this group, don’t you dare write a bad first draft. Write the best damn first draft you can. Then, and only then, go back through the manuscript. I’m sure you’ll still find a few things left to fix.

On Submitting Your First Book – Agents warn, “Don’t send us your first novel” or at the very least, “Don’t tell us you’re submitting your first novel.” They say this for a good reason. A first novel is often a practice round writers didn’t know was practice until it was done. Most first novels are training exercises. And most just aren’t very good. I said most novels. There are exceptions. (And isn’t this whole post really about exceptions? Yeah, it is.) Look, I know writers. The majority of us suffer from extremely low self esteem and believe even our best work is crap. It may be. But then again, it could be brilliant. Don’t assume that because a novel is your first, it absolutely without question isn’t worthy of submission. Do your due diligence – get feedback from crit groups and freelance editors and other experts. Listen to what they say. If what you hear is a quiet complaint of cursing followed by an under-the-breath “some writers just have it…why the hell don’t I?”, this probably means it’s really good.

That’s enough for now. I’ll save more bad advice for another post. Okay, are you ready for the M. Night Shyamalan twist?

Ignore everything I just wrote. You’re not among The Few. Nope. Sorry. You’re not the exception. You’re just like everyone else…

…probably.

From the Office of Admissions

Let’s not call them confessions, okay? Because that reeks of guilt. And for many of the following, I feel no guilt whatsoever.

I admit…

  • I am immediately turned off by best-selling books because I hold fast to an erroneous belief that for something to be popular, it must cater to the lowest common denominator and I prefer to believe I am far above that line.
  • I am not above that line.
  • I pick up a book based on its cover and only rule out a possible purchase if the blurb on the back bores me to tears. Otherwise, I’ll buy it and give the author every opportunity to surprise me.
  • I read more “debut” novels than any other category and am frequently pleasantly surprised.
  • I believe the sophomore slump for writers is usually more about lack of time to write than lack of talent.
  • I believe some writers only have one good book in them.
  • Great writing intimidates me to the point of wanting to give up.
  • Great writing inspires me to superglue my ass to the chair and write until I get it right.
  • I’m constantly conflicted by great writing. And I spend way too much money on superglue.
  • If people ask me what my favorite book is, I tell them “Tender Is the Night” when I want to sound smart and well-read, or “Go, Dog. Go!” if I just want them to stop asking me questions.
  • I haven’t read Anna Karenina, War & Peace, The Brothers Karamazov or anything by Danielle Steel.
  • I have at least 15 books sitting around my apartment (or on the back seat of my car) that I recently purchased and haven’t yet read. I will buy at least 15 more books before I’ve read half of the ones I already own.
  • I am infinitely more bothered by poor characterization or lazy plotting than misspellings or other typos.
  • I am quick to fall in love with a writer whose book makes me remember what it’s like to feel the deepest feelings of longing and loss. Then I stalk her with charming and clever emails. When presented with a restraining order, I am initially disappointed to discover that the language in the restraining order is boilerplate and not from the writer’s pen. At first, this hurts. But then I realize she is only choosing this approach because she knows the distance it creates between us will inevitably cause me to remember what it’s like to feel the deepest feelings of longing and loss. She is so clever. I love her.
  • Sometimes I believe it when people refer to me as “brilliant.”
  • Not really.
  • I love my job, even though it occupies my brain 24/7.
  • I have no idea what I’m doing 23/7.
  • The best measure I have of whether or not my novel-in-progress is any good comes when I go back to re-read an old section and find myself wondering who’s been tampering with my file and re-writing all the crap so it’s actually entertaining and witty.
  • I suffer from low self-esteem.
  • I love everybody.
  • Except when I hate everyone.
  • I labor over every Tweet, every e-mail, and every blog post (except maybe this one).
  • When I write a short story, I don’t always know where it’s going. This, despite the fact that I usually write the last sentence first.
  • I am pretty sure John Irving does this, too.
  • I would never compare myself to John Irving.
  • Unless he tends to fall in love with writers who make him feel the deepest feelings of longing and loss and subsequently stalks them. Then we might have something in common.
  • Unlike how I write my stories, I didn’t start with the last line of this blog post and therefore I have no idea how I’m going to end it.
  • Or do I?

10 Reasons I Don’t Want to Be a Bestselling Author

1. I’ll have to purchase a whole new wardrobe from somewhere other than Wal-Mart so people don’t accuse me of wearing my false modesty like a neon sign.

2. Jerry Bruckheimer will want to add explosions to the movie adaptation of my bittersweet love story.

3. I’ll be the guest who gets bumped from Letterman when his lovefest interview with Julia Roberts runs long.

4. Struggling authors will hold quarterly “Hate Stephen Parolini” days to coincide with the receipt of their royalty statements.

5. An interviewer will ask me questions like “Did you know you had written a bestseller?” and “What’s your secret to writing a bestseller?” over and over again until I finally lose the very patience that helped me to complete a novel in the first place and I’ll snark my response to her and ask “What’s your secret to asking such inane questions?” and then she’ll get all huffy and accuse me of calling her “insane” and when I correct her and say “No, the word was ‘inane’ and I was referring to the questions” she’ll get even huffier and yell “So are you calling me stupid?” to which I’ll reply, “Not, ‘stupid’ per se, but possibly ‘vocabulary-deprived’” and I might giggle a little at that but she’ll have already started swinging the microphone toward my head and when it lands with a dull thud against my skull I’ll fall limply to the ground (all the while, chiding myself for having fallen in collusion with an adverb) and wake up days later in the hospital with temporary memory loss and blindness that last just long enough for readers not to care about any subsequent books I might write.

6. I’ll have enough money to afford a new laptop. This will trigger a six-month season of writer’s block while my muse considers whether or not she wants to move from the old one.

7. People will ask me all kinds of questions about my writerly influences and quiz me about famous authors and their books and stuff. I can only get away with saying “I like Tender Is the Night even though it lacks the brilliance of The Great Gatsby and occasionally reads like Fitzgerald’s thinly-disguised memoir” so many times before people will realize just how under-read I am.

8. I’ll never be able to go to the grocery store again without being swarmed by adoring fans. Er…wait, I’m an author, not Robert Pattinson. No one knows what I look like. Cool.

9. Everyone I know will ask me “So, which character is based on me?” and when I offer a generic response they’ll be immediately disappointed that I didn’t say “the beautiful protagonist” and will think instead that they were the inspiration for the shrill, selfish, tramp and then they’ll stop talking to me. Which, I suppose, could give me inspiration for another character in my next book.

10. Oh, yeah. I have to write another book.