Wednesday, 17 November 2010

On Being a Writer

Jeff VanderMeer dishes out some great advice on his website about writing and the experience of being a writer.

Among his tips are that you remember how throwaway the digital world can be, when compared to what is real and lived, and not to become despondent if your magnum opus doesn't immediately make waves. Those are very important tips, I think, because too often writers get disheartened at the first hurdle and either give up or reject the writing community altogether.

For example, young writers who've written less than perfect first novels, and then get that novel rejected, sometimes go the route of self-publishing or the route of trashing the literary establishment--and flounce off to never return again.

I've been there myself, troglings. My first novel, In the Garden of Gethsemane, was a mess. Ask Tracy Canfield. Ask Deb Hoag. They can vouch for its awfulness. If anything , it was like a sequence of writing exercises as I tried to find my voice. And that's cool. I needed to get that book out of my system. But I didn't realise that at the time. The book is unmarketable and unpublishable. But I was convinced it was the next Ulysses. But with vampires. And dying angels. And two female characters named after popstars (Kelis and Mutia). With Mutia overthrowing God.

It just wasn't going to happen.

I considered self-publishing. And you know what? I'm so glad I didn't. Not because I'm snobbish about self-publishing (I'm not: it presents certain challenges and faces certain justified criticisms, but it's an option, like any other). No, I'm glad I didn't because publishing that book could've really hurt my writing career. Most likely it'd have sunk without note, but what if it landed in the hands of someone important and I was forever labelled the deluded kid who wrote that piece of trash?

I'm probably being too tough on Gethsemane. Those parts that worked achieved something really beautiful. But too much of it didn't work.

Sometimes a young writer needs to slow down, take a deep breath, and get what's coming to them when it's due. Similarly if your book is actually great, and you believe in it, don't give up after the first bad review. Sometimes like wine your audience needs time to mature, to establish itself, and to find your book.

Anyway, ramble over. Check out Jeff's post.

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