“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” — Mister Rogers
Whether you want to be a great popular writer, or a literary writer, a poetic writer, an immortal examiner of the human condition, you must finish your writing in some readable form. You must finish a short story or you must finish a novel. Until you do that, until you have a finished work in hand, there is little or no reason to talk about publishing. Your main impulse must be to complete your story, or realize your concept for a novel to the very fullest extent.
I cannot talk here about the appetite for short stories. I don’t know enough about it.
But I can tell you when it comes to novels, the world is as hungry today as ever for new voices, new perspectives, new authors, new bestsellers. I doubt there has ever been a more vital time. The world today loves fiction in all forms. So be assured as you work towards the completion of your novel that there are indeed people waiting to read it, waiting to be blown away by it, waiting to find the next bestseller or the next literary genius.
It is true that on occasion, writers have approached publishers with incomplete manuscripts. I think Margaret Mitchell might be the most famous example. But this is rare.
What editors at New York houses want to see is completed work. They want to know that you as a writer can accomplish the full satisfying completion of your book. And you must put all your efforts into completion, into producing a finished manuscript that you are ready to show to the world.
As you work towards that goal, protect your vision, protect your story, your characters, from idle tongues, or cheap dismissal. Be careful as to who reads your work. And be ready to thank critics politely and ignore what they have to say. Criticism is easy. Anyone can tear a book to pieces. But writers are those who create books, in spite of critics, and that is what you want to be. I can’t emphasize this enough. Never take some one person’s negative view of your work seriously. Remember what you find useful in their criticism but remain faithful to your vision and keep going. Critics and perfectionists are destroyers. Writers create.
Anne Rice on Facebook, May 13, 2017
“If you’ve written things that you’ve written the hell out of and you got the best cover you can, the best blurb you can and you’ve done the best promotion you can afford to do and it’s still not working for you, you should… (well, what I did… let me tell you what I did)… you change genres… It might just be that your writing style and your way of thinking doesn’t go with the genre that you read.”
-CD Reiss, New York Times Bestselling author, Romance Between the Pages, May 5, 2017
I have a confession: I may have a girl crush on CD Reiss. She says things like they are and as an author, I totally appreciate that. Most of all, she said something (the above quote) that totally made sense when, in an author group, people were saying that authors normally (or should, I can’t remember now) write what they read.
Um, I disagree, I wrote. If given a choice to pick out what I want to read off the shelves, I’ll pick everything BUT romance. That is (with the exception of Dusan Susnjar on the cover of Stuck-Up Suit) until someone loaned me her copy of Marriage Games a few months ago.
Lucky for me, I didn’t have to go through having to write, publish and promote paranormal romance (which filled up the manuscripts in my old hard drive from 20 years ago because I was determined to write about demons and vampires who walked during the day) because, by the time I’d hit 10K words, I’d lose steam and never finish it. Who knew that even though I read thrillers, some fantasy and gritty fare like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when I write, my style is all romance? It totally makes sense, at least, in my case. It’s my writing style and my way of thinking.
And I love her choice of her all-time favorite character (you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out who!) because of how she wrote him. It’s exactly how and why I write Ashe Hunter–for me–and why, when Gareth’s book comes out next year, all the covers in the series will change. This time, no more recognizable faces.
That’s only for Dax Drexel…
Edited to add: That quote has been trimmed from the original and I’ve updated it. It also has to be taken in the context of the podcast where CD says she was writing a different genre before she finally found the one (romance) that worked for her.
“I don’t necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I start with the part of the story that’s most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there.” -Beverly Cleary
“Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading. And I, who have been the Leona Helmsley of jealousy, have come to believe that the only things that help ease or transform it are (a) getting older, (b) talking about it until the fever breaks, and (c) using it as material. Also, someone somewhere along the line is going to be able to make you start laughing about it, and then you will be on your way home.”
Facebook reminded me today that I posted this quote on this day last year. It’s a nice reminder why I write some of the things that I write, and why some of the things I want to write about – those things that haunt me – have yet to make it onto paper.
I think my mind and body are still processing it all, for sometimes when I think I’m ready to tackle it, my body says no and my mind shuts down for a bit. Then I go back to writing the stories that made me happy when times were tough – romance. I think romance – and writing romance stories – makes me happy.
What about you? Why do you write the stories you write?
“I do this sort of split thing when I’m writing. I’m very aware that I’m writing for readers, and I do everything I can to engage them, to make my writing accessible and compelling.
At the same time, I try to be completely disinterested in what I think people will like. I’m writing for myself. I want to learn about the world, and writing is the way I do it. You can’t know people’s tastes anyway. No one could have predicted Perfect Storm would be a hit. A fishing boat that sinks in a storm? The publishers didn’t know. Readers don’t know. Nobody knows.”
“The stories we tell in fiction – stories of warning or celebration, stories of illustrative possibility – are important. When the shit really hits the fan for a civilization, artists can become more important than ever, in helping to bend a culture back to another direction, away from the impending and onrushing brick wall.
I believe this. I believe that by crossing the path back and forth enough times, as if weaving something, fiction can become as real as iron or wood, that it can rust, rot, or burn; that it can nourish, nurture, or inflame. I believe that it can decide actions and shape movements, sculpt us more securely or intelligently(as well as more passionately) into the world, just as the continents on whose backs we are riding sculpt our cities, towns, and cultures.
I believe fiction can heal things, and I think we would all agree, now more than ever, that we can use some healing, and that we need it daily.”
“Cheat your landlord if you can and must but do not shortchange the muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” – William S. Burroughs
There’s nothing like trying to heed the call of the Muse only to see it trampled by the call of something else – like the need to make enough to pay the rent and put food in your belly. Somehow, there comes a time when you realize that you can only do one or the other, but not both.
But I’m not going to begrudge Burroughs. He’s right. As an artist, you answer the call of the muse no matter what happens. And somehow, when the work is done, you put away that artist hat and put on the business h at. And you’ll make your art work.
You have to.
“Writers should spend days and days and days thinking of a plot that they can sum up in a single sentence that makes thousands of people, upon hearing that sentence, WANT to read the book.
It’s not easy, but it’s possible. If I could do it every time, I would. Hook readers with a sentence, draw them in with characters they sympathize with immediately, make the stakes costly, run the reader and your protags through the wringer, and end with a twist or a reveal or a save that no one saw coming and that leaves people thinking about your story for weeks or years.
Just do that. And yeah, it’s damn hard.”
-Hugh Howey (found in the comments here)