Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Once again, another sterling, profanity-fueled nugget of wisdom from Chuck Wendig:

Ask the Writer: “How Do I Get Published?”

Short answer: he doesn’t answer the question. Why? Well, you can read for yourself to learn why, but if you must know NOW, Chuck’s post is a rant against the prevalence of “writers” attending writer’s conferences solely for the fact of learning how to get an agent and get your work published. So what’s the problem, then? The problem is these questions are being asked by “writers” who haven’t even finished, or can’t even be bothered, to complete a manuscript. Questions about the end result, rather than questions on how to improve your craft.

I think of this as putting the cart before the horse.

I touched upon this a few blogs ago. I’m focused right now on finishing the product. I’m not at the point yet where I can begin the process of finding the right agent, or firing off the Greatest Query Letter Ever Written. Writing comes first. I wouldn’t bother asking where’s the nearest Porsche dealership if I don’t know how to drive, would I? Well, apparently some people would.

To me, asking questions on how to get published, without having even written a single word, smacks of yet another misguided attempt by people to make a quick buck. Remember the whole “house flipping” craze; people buying dilapidated homes at 1/5th the price so they can renovated it and put it back on the market and turn a big profit, right? Yeah, well, how well did that work for a lot of people? Trust me, there’s still a few of those “flipped” houses still sitting in my area, unflipped and unsold. Why? Because those who invested in run-down homes learned very quickly that flipping a house isn’t as easy as Ty Pennington makes it out to be. It’s hard work, it’s back-breaking work, and unless you really the intricacies of getting a house up to code, the work’s not worth it.

We’re reminded of the self-publishing successes of Amanda Hocking and (*barf*) E.L. James, and that leads a lot of us thinking, “How do I get in on this motherlode?”As this article in the Guardian suggests, going the DIY route might not be so profitable after all. And if DIY isn’t going to rake in the millions you’re hoping to earn, then you better figure out how to get either one of the Big Publishing Houses or an indie press to publish your work. And this kind of mentality reminds me, again, of another cash grab. YOU CAN MAKE MILLIONS BY SELF-PUBLISHING YOUR NOVEL! Hooray!

But what if I can’t write worth a shit? WHO CARES? MONEY! MONEY! YOU’LL BE SWIMMING NAKED IN CASH! YOU CAN PAY SOMEONE TO WRITE FOR YOU!

(Let me pause for a moment here: I’m not bashing the self-publishing route. Several of my friends who are writers have taken this route at early stages of their careers. Just like a band that releases their albums on their own DIY label, many writers take this approach simply to get published. Again: to get published. Not to make millions. Or even hundreds of thousands. One of my friends told me he made enough money from self-publication just to pay for an editorNone of them are basking in glory or laughing all the way to the bank. Many of them have progress to where they’re represented by an agent, and have had their novels published. They know the process. I have many questions to ask them, but now is not the time.)

A writer I know very well told me the story recently of her guest appearance at a writer’s conference. She was invited to talk about the editing process, and after her talk, she penciled in 30 minutes for a Q&A session. The first question asked? “How do I get published?” When she informed the audience member that her question, although legit, wasn’t really appropriate for this session, nearly 3/4ths of the audience got up and left! Later, she overheard this, from a paying attendee: “This conference is a waste. How am I supposed to make money from writing?”

Really? You paid hundreds of dollars to attend a writer’s conference simply to learn how to get published? What about learning how to make your writing better? Survive the editing process? Huh?

I’m generally extremely mistrustful of anyone who undertakes an artistic endeavor solely for the purpose of making money. Listen, I don’t need Sally Struthers asking me, in her high-pitched, gin-soaked whine, if I want to make money. Sure I do, but I have more realistic goals.

What I really want is an ISBN number attached to something I’ve written, something that went through a painful yet exhilarating process, a process that questioned my sanity, and tried to break my spirit, a process that went through revision after revision after revision, and countless rejections and an agent that believed in me and a publisher that took a chance.

But first, I need to finish writing this goddamned novel!

 

(I also realize this slight diatribe seems somewhat hypocritical coming from someone that hasn’t been published yet. Go on, slam me. This comes across as bitchy. OK, fine. This is my corner of WordPressville, and I can be bitchy all I want.)

On James Patterson, Or: You Can Shove Your Words of Wisdom Up Your Ass, You Hack!

One of the tags I use to search blogs on WordPress is “Writing Advice.” I’m always interested in learning tips and tricks from other writers, famous or not, published or unpublished. That advice doesn’t even have to be about writing; just today, I read some pretty amazing life advice from William Faulkner. His advice on reading – “Read, read, read. Read everything —trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” – is my favorite bit of advice from the legendary Southern writer.

I saw these words of wisdom from Dex Raven’s blog * today, courtesy of James Patterson:

Sorry, but reading these words of wisdom from James Patterson is like getting healthy cooking tips from Paula Deen. Because James Patterson is the most dishonest writer living today. Reading advice from him simply made my stomach turn. Ugh.

James Patterson turned the art of outlining into a multi-million dollar industry. Read that again: outlining. Not writing. Outlining. He outlines the living shit out of his books, passes them off to his loyal cadre of writers who live off his fortune, makes a few edits here and there, and, voila! Another Alex Cross novel! The 14th this year!

Look, I’m not going to begrudge a writer who’s made a fortune from their writing. I happen to admire both J.K. Rowling and Stephen King as writers, because they respect the craft – anyone who’s ever read King’s On Writing knows the man takes his craft very seriously. I have ZERO respect for James Patterson; he’s made a mockery out of the process of writing. He doesn’t seem like the kind of writer who sweats over every word. Hardly. Just read this rather nauseating and fawning profile from the Wall Street Journal to get a glimpse into Patterson’s arrogance. Worse, he’s claimed in previous interviews that “I love One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I’m a big fan of James Joyce.

Okay, call me an idealist, but as a big fan of One Hundred Years of Solitude, I would be inspired to write something along the lines of such a work. My love for James Joyce would not lead me to write paint-by-numbers pulpy thrillers you can read on a long bus ride, then pitch in the trash once you’re done. Hearing that kind of unaware bullshit is like reading Michael Bay claim his Transformers films are an homage to Sergei Eisenstein. He hasn’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

See, the truly hypocritical really have zero idea just how full of shit they truly sound. Mitt Romney could explain that to you, if he had a fucking clue. Patterson’s a smug prick who checks his bank account every morning and thinks, for a nanosecond, about struggling writers like me and you and smirks. Suckers. And then he plays golf for the rest of the day.

If I want advice on how to create a multi-million dollar publishing enterprise, I’ll ask James Patterson. If I want advice on whether I should use the first or third-person narrative, I’ll ask a real author.

Call me jealous. I’m not. Fuck him. Fuck his books. And fuck his advice.

* By the way, Dex, I’m not singling you out here. I totally understood your ambivalence regarding James Patterson’s advice. I read that piece of advice, and just went apeshit, as you can see from above. So, thank you?

My Author Mission Statement, Or: A Man Can Dream, Can’t He?

I stole this idea about writing your Author Mission Statement from Michelle Proulx, who stole this from Joanne Phillps…You should steal this too.

I’ll reiterate what Michelle and Joanne have stated about mission statements: all great businesses have an ethos to which they’ll aspire to, one that states clearly their purpose as a professional entity. If Amazon and Google and General Electric and all other Fortune 500 companies have a mission statement, then why can’t writers? Writers are in a business: to entertain, to inform, to enthrall, and to keep customers coming back for more.

My mission statement isn’t quite as adventurous or ambitious as Michelle or Joanne’s, but I think it fits my ambitions pretty nicely:

 

I write because I am a writer. I write because my very existence depends on it. I write because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than write.

 

Yes, I’m giving myself permission to call myself a writer. And why shouldn’t I? I’m not a published writer as of yet, but that’s not to say that won’t happen. It will. It’s a matter of when, not if.

As I think more about my mission statement, I think about what being a writer can do for me, both personally and professionally. I think about the goals I want to set for myself as a writer, aside from the obvious goal of writing a novel/novella/short story collection, and seeing such published, whether it’s self, online, or via traditional print.

My goals (well, dreams, really) are somewhat humble, but allow me to share them with you, dear reader:

Earn a modest living as a writer – Of course, I would love to never have to work a 9-to-5 job again, but until I can earn a living as a writer making the same kind of money, I’ll have to keep my cube monkey status active. What I mean by earning a modest living is to earn the kind of money where I wouldn’t necessarily have to work a real job anymore. In other words, make enough money to keep me financially afloat, with a little wiggle room.

Teach a creative writing class – I’m of the belief that you can’t really teach creative writing, but you can bring out the creative writing gene in anyone. But, really, I want to do this solely because I’m needlessly romanticizing the notion of being a professor of Creative Writing. Honestly, I couldn’t care less where, whether it’s a local community college or the University of Wyoming or, dare I say it, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

I even have my Standard Uniform ready: tweed jacket with elbow patches (don’t laugh), a pair of well-worn Levi’s 501s, and a catchy t-shirt emblazoned with some silly/snarky/borderline offensive/revelatory comment.

And you’ll thank me later when I proudly produce a generation of writers not influenced by Stephanie Meyer or whatever the hell the name of that woman is that wrote those “Fifty Shades of Whatever” books.

Win an award – I sometimes fantasize about winning either the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize. Why not, right? But then again, I also fantasize about playing the center forward position for Manchester United, or sharing the stage with Springsteen. Neither will likely happen, but a man can dream, can he? But an award would be nice, merely for the sake of recognition. It’s one thing to earn praise from friends and acquaintances; it’s another thing to earn praise from strangers you’ll never meet, or meet once and never see again. Call me a bit screwy (go on), but the validation from perfect strangers regarding my work seems far more important to me.

As for that National Book Award, if I do win one, my first reaction would be, “Clearly, someone there’s made a massive mistake.”

Be interviewed by Terry Gross – Seriously. This would be a far greater accomplishment for me than any award or an appearance on the New York Times Bestseller List. I love Terry Gross. I love the sound of her voice; that warm, slightly high-pitched, jerky voice, especially when she’s lost in thought and trying to get her question asked in a way that never seems condescending or ill-thought.

The only downside to that interview would be my inability to keep myself from geeking out. I’m not kidding. I don’t think I would be able to contain myself and keep from gushing, on air, how much I love Fresh Air. I listen to the podcasts just about every night.

I would sound deranged, and that interview would go over as well as Terry’s interview with Bill O’Reilly. I’ll be sure to load up on Lithium that day, though…

Terry, if you’re reading this…INTERVIEW ME!