Thursday, March 11, 2010

Even more on how NOT to get published

My mother always used to say: Every old crow thinks her little bird's feathers are the blackest. We can easily apply that sentiment to writing. All writers have done it, especially in the early days. We peruse bookshelves with our noses in the air and thinking, "How in the world did that thing get published? My book is ten times better?"

One of the easiest ways NOT to get published is to fall in love with every word you write. After all, any dummy can see it's pure brilliance. You've created a magical world in which any reader will be swept away. Your characters are multi-dimensional and complex. No other writer living or dead has come close to hammering out a plot like yours. Every reader who picks it up will be on the edge of her seat, unable to put it down until the final, satisfying scene.

Not a jot or a tittle can be added or taken away to enhance the story. If a publisher or agent can't see that...well, they don't deserve the honor of publishing your book anyway.

I believe William Faulkner said it first, and a whole lot of teachers of creative writing, film making, journalism and other kinds of storytelling have been repeating it through the ages: Kill your darlings.

Samuel Johnson had similar advice: "Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

I don't mean to say the only way to recognize if you've written something worth saving is that you must hate it. Just don't fall so in love with your work, you don't think it can be improved upon. Only God does it right the first go-round. Or in the case of writing--the twentieth go-round.

First drafts are easy. Throwing words on the page with little regard for grammar or syntax or if the crazy thing even makes sense. It's the editing and rewriting where many writers want to take shortcuts. Fixing the plot holes, checking the facts, smoothing out the rough edges, getting the whole thing to flow, well, that's just plain work.

What writer wouldn't be happier if all they had to do was throw their writing onto the page and be done with it. I've read much from writers who do exactly that. It's always beginning writers who have not taken the time to learn the craft. They have a story inside them they've been wanting to write forever. It flows beautifully inside their heads. Sadly that vision does not always translate as brilliantly to the page.

If you don't want to get published, write your story the way you want. Refuse to follow the advice of those who've been down the road before you. Anyone who doesn't like your work doesn't have to read it. (Believe me, they won't.) Don't read books on writing. Don't study the classics or bestselling books in your genre to see what they're doing right and you probably aren't.

Most importantly, don't read through your work objectively. Don't be willing to hack and slash any passage that slows the flow of the story, anything that doesn't further the plot, anything that might cause the reader to scratch his head and say, "Huh." or worse, throw your book across the room. Whatever you do, don't get rid of those long, flowery passages that demonstrate your illustrious writing prowess.

The only thing important is that YOU like it. A good story doesn't really matter as long as readers know how smart you are.


  1. "You're characters are multi-dimensional and complex."

    Might want to re-write that sentence. I wanted to read your article but if you don't know the difference between "you're" and "your" then you have nothing to teach me on the subject of writing. No offense, luv.

    Credibility as a writer is everything ... especially when it comes to the precious and beautiful English language.

  2. Sorry, Jenniferw, that all you got out of my post was a typo. I apologize for being in a hurry. We all make mistakes. Or at least most of us. Hopefully someone can glean a little inspiration and writing help since that was my intention.

  3. Teresa, it's sooo embarrassing when we do that, isn't it? I've reread something I've written and poof! There is is, the gaffe that I NEVER would have made in saner moments.

    Worry not. Those of us who are as human as you definitely understand. I tend to be dyslexic when I type. Yikes. And then I'm blind when I proof my work, but never others'. Isn't that an amazing thing?

    I wanted to comment on the "Kill your darlings," quote. Oh, me, how hard that is. And, you know, if you come to fiction via poetry, you love those wonderfully crafted phrases. But I have learned that if I love something enough, it will be just the thing that stops the reader. Out, out, dratted spot. (Sorry, Lady M for the misquote.)