Between some disturbing trends I’ve observed on message boards recently and conversations with fellow writers, I’ve noticed a distinct upswing in authorial asshattery. So I’m going to offer a bit of cautionary advice to my fellow writers: Don’t believe your own press.
What I mean by this is that while it’s healthy for a writer to be confident and optimistic, one shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing they’re God’s gift to literature. Don’t deny it, we’ve all done it. We’ve all bellowed at the walls in rage and indignation when an agent or editor dashed our dreams with a form rejection letter. What do those talentless hacks know, right? They should know better than to reject me! Eventually (hopefully) we outgrow this childish behavior and learn to look at our failures and turn them into a recipe for success.
We eventually learn to decipher the form letters. Your queries are getting rejected? Refine your query letter. Your opening chapters are getting rejected? Spice them up! Your full manuscript isn’t fetching any offers of representation? Then maybe you need to consider the possibility of putting your manuscript in a drawer for six months and then look at it with fresh eyes. You’d be amazed what distancing yourself from your art for a few months will do for you.
This morning I was looking back on some of my earlier drafts (yes, I keep them), and it’s no wonder I wasn’t getting any bites back in 2008. My manuscript was horrible. It was written in present tense and opened with the weather! Ugh. And before you start quoting A Wrinkle in Time to me, remember that the same thing doesn’t work every single time. Also, it’s best not to fall back on the “it’s been done before” argument because, well, it’s been done before. You don’t want to give your readers something you recycled from a fifty-year-old book, you want to give them something fresh and exciting that will get them on the edge of their seats, eagerly turning pages until they run out and demand MOAR NAO!
Am I being clear?
Let me put it another way. Aspiring writers are like teenagers. Teenagers, though grossly inexperienced at life, think they already know everything they need to know to get by in the world. They scorn the guidance and experience of adults, blocking them out with a sullen, “What do they know? They don’t know what it’s like to be me.” The adults, in this case, are editors, literary agents, and in some cases they’re published writers. Like teenagers, writers eventually have to grow up, pull their heads out of their asses, and realize they really don’t know everything. If they don’t, well, then they’re sentenced to a lifetime of obscurity and ranting at the walls.
So you have a choice: Evolve and grow as an artist, or die out like the dinosaurs. It’s your call, but I don’t see any books written by dinosaurs on the New York Times Bestseller List.
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