Monday, March 9, 2015

Writing Advice Can Make You Nuts

As a novice to publishing, I look for advice from those who have been there, done that. I ask writers I meet, I follow writer's blogs, I read articles about publishing by writers who know what they're talking about, I join online writers' groups. I hear some of the same things over and over again, like: read widely; write everyday (which I wish was possible for me); don't follow trends; do your research, etc. But I recently read an article by Ryan Boudinot, the executive director of Seattle City of Literature that had a unique bit of advice that has been stewing in my mind. He said:

We've been trained to turn to our phones to inform our followers of our somewhat witty observations. I think the instant validation of our apps is an enemy to producing the kind of writing that takes years to complete. 
 I didn't agree with all that he states in the article, but I think he's on to something in the quoted text above. In this day and age of posting our every waking thought and getting instant "likes" and "follows" we begin to expect that all of our efforts should bring a quick response. For any aspiring writers, this mentality can kill your spirit. 

A well written story, no matter the length, takes hours of development and research. What flies from your thoughts in that first bout of inspiration is often raw and uncut, in desperate need of revising to shape it into the story it was meant to be. The notion that a book comes to you fully formed is a fool's fantasy. That overnight success you hear about when a book hits the best seller list was probably in the works for decades. 

27 Pieces Of Advice For Writers From Famous Authors

But we don't live in a world where slow is king. We abhor slow. We see it as a sign of weakness, of being less than acceptable. Writers have to straddle two cultures if they want to succeed. They must accept that slow and steady wins the race. They must make the time to read as much as they can in the genre they are writing before and during the time they create their stories. Sometimes it takes reading dozens of books to understand how best to tell the kind of story you want to write. Those who want to be published must also do their work to know what is happening in the industry, just like any other profession. They should keep a pulse on the market, if only to make sure they aren't feeding into trends, and to understand their impact on the business. This kind of analysis requires results over time. You can't read one or two articles and consider yourself educated on what's hot in publishing. It takes patience in a world where that virtue is becoming an oddity. 

The other side of the coin is that writers must exist in the accelerated world where everything should have been done, received, completed yesterday. They are encouraged to blog, tweet, post status updates and Instagram photos to establish a rapport with their readers. These digital relationships don't rest, they happen 24/7 and you have to be "on" all the time to interact with them. That training Boudinot mentions above comes from living in a time where apps are getting faster, wi-fi access everywhere we go is the expectation, and never having to wait for anything is the norm. The instant gratification mindset is completely different than what it takes to get published. Authors must live full speed ahead via their digital world, while forcing themselves to slow down to honor the creative process.

Publishing hasn't caught up with this model of immediate responses and instant reactions. Agents and editors aren't going to drop everything to read your latest query or submission. Even before you get there, writing a novel, even a short story isn't quick work. If an author gets caught up in the fast, fast, fast of life as we know it, Boudinot is right that the now, now, now disposition we're accustomed to will become our own worse enemy. It will dilute our creative capabilities and replace it with doubt. If we feel we are not producing work fast enough we will begin to think that we cannot produce work. When that happens, our motivation becomes stalled. When our motivation evaporates, our confidence is rocked and the writer's block sets in. We don't believe that we have what it takes to become published because if we did, it would have happened already. We lose sight of what writing requires of us, of what it demands.

Art cannot be rushed. No one becomes a master of anything in a day, or a week, so why would a serious writer expect to become a good writer in the time it takes to swipe left on a photo, or click Like on a post? What kind of commitment does that take? What kind of after-thought? As a person who has never been described as patient, I have to check myself on this all the time. This is especially true when I am working on revisions. They're a necessary evil and I completely believe they make the story stronger. Yet, I can't help asking myself, "Didn't I already write the story the way I want it to be? Why do I have to write it again? I want to be done." 

Thinking like that can be a dangerous slope. It devalues what my story could be, where it deserves to go, and my abilities to make it the best it can be. So I remind myself that writing is like a fine wine. It gets better with time, and since I love a fine wine, I pour myself a glass and sit with laptop and give my writing the time it deserves. In the end, it will be worth it and I'll be slightly drunk on wine and relief and that sounds pretty good to me.   

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